Teaching British Literature

I think most secondary school teachers and college professors go into teaching because they have passion for a particular subject, but even within the confines of a certain subject, teachers play favorites — especially at the college level. When I was in college, I took courses such as Late Romantic Literature — we studied Byron, both Shelleys, and Keats for ten weeks — and Celtic Literature — a class that continues to inspire me so much that I still kick myself for not saving my notes. I decided to teach English because I loved British literature. It has been my experience, however, that English teachers must reach a certain stage in their careers before they are able to teach British literature, which is considered by some to be a plum assignment. In this, my tenth year of teaching, I was finally given the opportunity to teach the literature I was most passionate about, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

My British literature class finished Macbeth on Wednesday, and I really enjoyed teaching it for the first time. I had a great time with everything we did together this semester. My students seemed engaged, and I hope they learned something interesting. I am really hoping to teach two sections of British literature next year. Some of the things we did this year:

  • Created our own Brave New Worlds using wikis
  • Wrote résumés for Beowulf
  • Attended a performance of Macbeth at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern
  • Read historical fiction (most of my class read Grendel, although a few read The Other Boleyn Girl — next year, sign up sheets!) set in the time period we studied
  • Learned a bit of Old English from Ms. Skott, who is team-teaching the course with me
  • Memorized Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy

Stuff we didn’t get to that I really wanted to do:

  • Dr. Faustus
  • Historical fiction wikis
  • Create our own Canterbury Tales
  • Macbeth research projects

I hope I’m afforded the opportunity to do these projects next year.

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7 thoughts on “Teaching British Literature

  1. It was my junior year Honors British Lit class that really cemented my desire to become an English teacher. When I became one, I was lucky enough to not only get the Honors British Lit class, but to be able to co-write the curriculum for a course called Shakespeare's Comedy, too. I've noticed that teaching British literature creates an impression in some people that it's somehow more literary or more highbrow than American or other regional literature, and I've never been able to figure out why. Your mention of the "privilege" of teaching these classes just caught my eye.

    I'm glad you're teaching your kids Old English, too. My honors kids spend the first week or two of the course learning Old and Middle English, and when we move on to The Canterbury Tales, we reinforce the Middle English with a ritual roundtable reading of the previous night's tale in ME (just enough to give every kid a couplet; maybe 40-45 lines). Adding that emphasis on the language (including playing around with the OED) gives the kids something they really don't get in any other course, and most of them love the fact that they get to learn about their linguistic heritage (and hear how it sounded a thousand years ago).

    I'm doing Macbeth with my sophomores right now – I don't think they're as into it as I am, though. Poor them.

  2. What a range of English teachers! During my undergrad, British Literature was my least favorite area. (The exceptions are Jane Eyre and everything Shakespeare.) I'm getting my Masters in Teaching now, so I haven't had to deal with the prospect of teaching it, but I'm not looking forward to that day.

  3. Dana,

    I haven't taught British literature in four years, but I'm teaching it again this year. Here's a link to our school site that contains lessons I am updating as I reacquaint myself with the material. One of my favorite assignments is the Macbeth wrongful death suit letter. I hope this link will help others. Thanks for your website.
    http://garrett.ccsdschools.com/class_profile_view

  4. hi…I am not a teacher but I am really interested in your thought so I would like to say that "keep it up" becuase it is a great and holly passion. Thanks

  5. I am interested in you Beowulf resume assignment. Would you be willing to share your lesson plan or materials for that one.
    I could give you our write your own Canterbury Tale in exchange. Please email me if you are willing to do a trade. Thanks, Stacey

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