I have been given a tentative teaching schedule for next year. While this schedule has not been confirmed, I wanted to start thinking about what major works I want to teach in case the schedule becomes a reality.
- 9th Grammar, Composition, and Literature
- 10th American Literature and Composition
- 10th Writing Seminar
- 11th British Literature and Composition
- 12th Drama and Composition/Short Story and Composition
I have taught all of these classes before with the exception of British Literature, and that is a class I have been itching to teach for years. A love for British Literature influenced me to become an English teacher in the first place. You may not know it, but I wrote a teachers’ guide for Beowulf for Penguin-Putnam. I am an Arthurian legend freak. I am a fiend for the Romantic poets.
These are some of the works I’m considering:
- Beowulf: This is a given. What I haven’t decided is whether to go with the textbook’s excerpt or a copy of the Seamus Heaney translation.
- The Canterbury Tales: My sophomore-level Brit. Lit. course professor required to read this in Middle English, but I have no plans to do this with my own students. I think a study of the original language of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales might be interesting from the perspective of language development, and I may do some lessons on that subject. I think it would be fun to ask that students read selected blog posts from Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog.
- Hamlet and Macbeth: I should pick one or the other, but I’m not sure I can, as I think both are important. Something to think about.
- Pride and Prejudice: The ninth grade Honors students read this for summer reading, but the class I’m teaching is College Prep, so there might not be a conflict; however, I am of the opinion that the novel is more appropriately placed in the 11th grade British literature curriculum.
- Frankenstein: Students have heard so much about this book in our culture; they might enjoy actually reading it and comparing it to the popular vision of the Frankenstein monster.
- Wuthering Heights: I read this one in British Lit. in high school, and I liked it.
- Jane Eyre: This would be an either/or prospect. If students read Wuthering Heights, we wouldn’t do Jane Eyre.
- The Importance of Being Earnest: I think I would opt for this over The Picture of Dorian Gray simply because it’s a play and I’d like a balance of drama and novel.
- The Lord of the Flies: The other Brit. Lit. teacher has made this one a staple of the curriculum. I wouldn’t have to teach it, but I have to admit I would like to. It’s a great book. I think a lot of schools do it in 9th or 10th grade rather than in Brit. Lit.
Despite the fact that I am a huge Arthur nut, I have decided not to do Sir Gawain and the Green Knight mainly because I don’t want to overkill with the Middle English literature in a high school course. I also don’t want to do Le Morte D’Arthur, mainly because while I enjoyed the hell out of it, I’m not sure the students would appreciate it. And since I don’t think any other Arthurian material approaches Malory with the exception of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which was written by an American, I will probably content myself with a unit on the Matter of Britain starring some of the shorter works by both medieval writers and nineteenth century writers like Tennyson.
If you have taught British literature, which of the above books have you had success with? What would you teach? Obviously, I’m not choosing all of it; I just mocked up a list to start from.