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View Full Version : What do English teachers think of YA novels?



black ink
05-27-2009, 09:28 PM
When I was in high school (from 14-17 years ago), I was in college prep and AP English classes. My teachers really poo-pooed the YA of the day (think VC Andrews) and because I was something of a literary snob at the time, I followed my teachers' leads and read only classics all the while shunning YA.

Sad, huh?

Anyway, I would have thought that attitudes had changed. In fact, when I was in college studying to be an English teacher myself, many of my profs reported teaching YA along side the classics. It was actually in college that I really got into YA lit. And of course, now I adore it! (I didn't go on to teach English, otherwise I guess I'd know the answer to my question!)

I've recently talked to a couple English teachers (not much older than I), and they most definitely don't teach or read YA and, in fact, see it as lesser, much like my English teachers so long ago. They do both teach advanced classes, so I'm not sure if that makes a difference.

What do you think?

black ink
05-27-2009, 09:42 PM
Oops, sorry. Posted in wrong forum. Mods, can it be moved? <producing virtual brownies as an apology>

JamieB
05-27-2009, 09:55 PM
One of my best friends is an English teacher and she teaches advanced classes and will work in a YA book, especially in her summer reading lists.

Medievalist
05-27-2009, 10:01 PM
One of the useful techniques is to pair a classic novel, say The Scarlet Letter, with a YA novel--say The Witch of Blackbird Pond, or, say, pairing The Red Badge of Courage with Across Five Aprils.

These are ancient YA novels, but I've not taught HS for a very long time. I might even pair The House On Mango Street with The Invisible Man, for instance, today.

mlhernandez
05-27-2009, 11:04 PM
I've never understood that attitude among English teachers. They whine and wring their hands over students who won't read but refuse to modify a syllabus to include current works. A novel like Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games would be perfect for a class discussion. You could pair it with an old school dystopian novel like Brave New World for an even greater impact.

I was in high school not too long ago, and sure, our AP courses covered the classics but we also read two or three current YA titles per semester. That was a smart move on Mrs. T's part. We were all reading fiends and emerged from those courses widely read. Win-win situation there.

nconner
05-27-2009, 11:06 PM
I taught English at both the high school and college levels. (Grad school, too, but that's a whole different context.) In high school, I think anything that can get kids reading, thinking, and enjoying books is a good thing--I actively encouraged students to choose and read YA novels.

In fact, I thought that the curriculum often sprang the classics on kids too early. It made it much harder for some kids to associate reading with pleasure. Also, when I was an English professor I got really tired of hearing, "We already read this in high school" for books on my syllabus. I always said, "Not like you're going to read it with me." But there was a strong sense among students that they could read a book once and then cross it off some list, which worked against the idea that successive readings of a rich literary work could reveal new layers of meaning.

When my daughter was a tween, I didn't object to her interest in the popular series novels of the time. She's just finished a master's in library science, so I don't think it did her any harm. :)

Nancy Holzner

Nivarion
05-27-2009, 11:29 PM
I'm sitting in english class. Ms. Nobel doesn't have an opinon.

Soccer Mom
05-27-2009, 11:57 PM
Oops, sorry. Posted in wrong forum. Mods, can it be moved? <producing virtual brownies as an apology>

I think it's fine for discussion here, but I can move it to YA if you want.

It isn't just YA that gets dissed in schools. I remember teachers strongly discouraging my tastes for genre fiction. Romance novels and mysteries were treated as worthless wastes of my time. Meanwhile, The Red Badge of Courage was being crammed down my throat. Blech.
I read what I was supposed to for school and then read what I wanted for pleasure.

They keep trying to get my eldest to read fiction so he can get AR points. He has to do so since those are the rules, but he likes nonfiction.

black ink
05-28-2009, 12:47 AM
I think it's fine for discussion here, but I can move it to YA if you want.

It isn't just YA that gets dissed in schools.

Very good point. Let's leave it then :)

MissKris
05-28-2009, 01:06 AM
I think this is a great place for this discussion. In my AP English I read a ton of classics and it wasn't until college (where I studied Women's Studies and English) that I was able to get away from the dreadful, dry lit that we were forced to read in high school. And I was a voracious reader (even of certain classics)!

When I began my master's work in secondary education I had a fantastic prof (the third time I'd taken a class with him) who really piled in the YA lit. It was great. We questioned the value of the modern curriculum, talked about language use in the secondary classroom (not swearing, but dialects, ESL issues) and read, read, read.

Here in Washington state I see a good number of English teaching buddies incorporating more YA (and genre fiction and graphic novels, etc.) into their classrooms and reaping the benefits of it. The kids are more interested in discussing things that are relevant to their own lives. That doesn't mean they don't get the classics; they do. It's just mixed up more.

dragonkid
05-28-2009, 01:10 AM
I am a teen, not an English teacher, but I have seen prejudice against YA novels and genre novels in schools that varies in intensity from apathy to hatred. To be honest, very few high school English teachers seem to have read many YA novels, which may be a large part of the problem. Some are willing to discuss novels that do not fall under the “classic literary fiction” umbrella if their students show interest and initiative, however.

If we want to see more genre and YA fiction on high school syllabuses, I think it’s in part up to high schoolers to show their teachers the breadth of worthy fiction that’s out there and explain why it should be included. My current English teacher and I have an ongoing discussion about Philip K. Dick’s short stories, for example, but he never would have given them to me to read if I had not told him how much I enjoyed other sci-fi/fantasy short story writers and why.

happywritermom
05-28-2009, 01:11 AM
When I was in grad school, I found there were two different types of English majors who became teachers.
_ Type A loves to teach. These future teachers just lit up when they realized that they had gotten through to a student and had helped that student to become a better thinker (because, really, that's what the study of literature is about). They take the traditional literature classes, but they also take classes that move beyond the cannon--Hispanic literature, African American literature, Jewish literature. Really cool, underrated stuff.

_ Type B excelled in English in high school, but didn't know what to do in college. These folks majored in English simply because they loved to read and it was easy for them. They didn't know what else to do after college, so they went onto to grad school to study English some more. Suddenly, the final year rolls around and panic sets in. They will, soon have to get jobs. So they take the education courses and get their certificates for teaching high school English. They don't like to teach. They don't know how to teach and they feel that their mastery of literary theory and analysis elevates them above the rest of society. These folks stick to the cannon (the traditional stuff) because it is what they know. They don't want students coming to them with papers that explore new works in new ways and they certainly don't want to give "A"s to students who read V.C. Andrews. When they do teach the traditional works, they teach them in tradition ways without taking into consideration the differences in learning styles. They don't want to make literature too accessible because, then, they wouldn't be so special anymore.

It's a shame because so many people are turned off from reading in middle school and high school by works that they can't relate to and, therefore, can't enjoy. That's why I appreciate so much of the commercial literature out there that others bash. It gets people reading, people who didn't like to read before. Someday, their tastes might change and they might even pick up a Steinbeck.

Brindle Chase
05-28-2009, 02:32 AM
It's a shame because so many people are turned off from reading in middle school and high school by works that they can't relate to and, therefore, can't enjoy. That's why I appreciate so much of the commercial literature out there that others bash. It gets people reading, people who didn't like to read before. Someday, their tastes might change and they might even pick up a Steinbeck.

Amen!!!! This is why we told our daughters teacher to suck an egg, when she tried to discourage the books my daughter reads. She likes middle grade and YA books. The stuff they try to get her to read bores her to tears. I want my daughter to read and enjoy it. I could care less how "literary" a book is... I'm not a lit snob.

I've read Tolstoy... liked it... I've read Brust... and loved it... which is better? To me, I'd take the "hack" over the "master", any day of the week, because the story was more enjoyable. I've never graded a book on its "literary-ness". I've read books lit snobs rave about and chucked them against the wall, just to stay awake and keep reading. (literally!) It works both ways of course, but I want an exciting story, and some of the best storytellers, aren't favored by the lit snobs.

bethany
05-28-2009, 04:49 AM
I teach Speak every year, and Night (not YA but high interest)

Next year I'm doing Hunger Games and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes as well (using Survival as a theme)

However, as a Sophomore English teacher my curriculum isn't as set as it is for the 11th and 12th grades, and as a published YA author, nobody insults YA to my face.

Sage
05-28-2009, 04:56 AM
There are quite a few teachers I know who write YA. I bet all of them teach it too ;)

Sadly my high school curriculum didn't let us read anything but the classics for school.

mlhernandez
05-28-2009, 06:05 AM
Next year I'm doing Hunger Games and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes as well (using Survival as a theme)



Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was a book my younger brother--stereotypical jock who never read unless forced--picked up on a whim and read in one evening. He wouldn't stop talking about that book and basically handselling it to his friends.

It was amazing--and odd.

Clair Dickson
05-28-2009, 06:05 AM
Interesting question. I never understood any opposition to books that kids read. I'm an alternative high school teacher (yes, both interpretations are apt ;-)

I don't actually teach many YA books at the moment, but not for any prejudice. The two classes I like teaching most are my two Movies vs. Books courses. The books I chose were all books with two (readily available) movie versions to show.

My criteria for picking books usually has two parts-- is it a book I can stand reading again and again? And is it something that I can get the student's interested in? I'm lucky in that I get to pick all my books =)

Sometimes I wonder about the people who disparage a certain set of books-- just how many books have these people read? Do they have a statistically significant sample? If I had only read Sherlock Holmes, can I really say I dislike ALL mystery?

And what about taste? At least one of my colleagues in the English department (heh, there's all two of us now ;-) prefers the classics, the things she read in high school and college some twenty years ago. But she realizes that it's a preference and that there are many other books that can meet the same requirements that Michigan wants us to meet.

C.bronco
05-28-2009, 06:08 AM
I'm a sometime English teacher, and think YA novels are great. That's why I wrote one.

C.bronco
05-28-2009, 06:09 AM
P.S. My Senior Thesis in high school whas The Psychology of Horror Fiction- a topic sometimes perceived in the same way. I compared King, Lovecraft and Straub. I think I got an A.

neener
05-28-2009, 08:39 AM
When I taught (9/10 grade) I used YA all the time. Depended on my purpose; sometimes I was looking to introduce them to a "classic" & sometimes I was trying to teach critical reading. YA works as good as anything (better than a hard-to-understand classic for most kids) for the latter.

Some people are just snobs. You know who you are.

black ink
05-29-2009, 12:31 AM
Thanks for the comments everyone. I'm nodding my head in agreement with every word. I wonder where the failing is. Is it with the university programs or with the teacher him/herself or both? As I said, my program was full of professors who felt that classic literature was best taught by showing teens how it applied to them and their world. YA lit was the perfect vehicle, but not the only one, of course. I joined NCTE at the time, and they promoted a similar view. Perhaps my experience was not typical.

Clair Dickson
05-29-2009, 02:46 AM
black ink-- I think YA lit has really gotten attention in the last, maybe decade. Positive attention and, it seems to me, that publishers have launched an explosion of books, some of which have really caught on en mass. I think that's where we're starting to see a shift.

That and... consider, how old were your teachers? The ones who were opposed to YA books? Now, not all old teachers are set in there ways, but I had teachers who'd been teaching for twenty, thirty years and were making photocopies of old mimeographed worksheets (how's THAT for readability?) Some had NEVER updated their assignments and lesson plans in years. That, as a teacher, is mind-boggling to me. Did these teachers really think that in their first couple years of teaching, they had hit on the PERFECT set of lessons, etc, and there was no need to explore new lessons, ideas, assingments, etc. that reflected the changing world and population. (Like the video we watched in Biology, in 1996, that insisted that by 1982, the U.S. would be on the Metric system!)

black ink
05-29-2009, 04:52 AM
black ink-- I think YA lit has really gotten attention in the last, maybe decade. Positive attention and, it seems to me, that publishers have launched an explosion of books, some of which have really caught on en mass. I think that's where we're starting to see a shift.

That and... consider, how old were your teachers? The ones who were opposed to YA books? Now, not all old teachers are set in there ways, but I had teachers who'd been teaching for twenty, thirty years and were making photocopies of old mimeographed worksheets (how's THAT for readability?) Some had NEVER updated their assignments and lesson plans in years. That, as a teacher, is mind-boggling to me. Did these teachers really think that in their first couple years of teaching, they had hit on the PERFECT set of lessons, etc, and there was no need to explore new lessons, ideas, assingments, etc. that reflected the changing world and population. (Like the video we watched in Biology, in 1996, that insisted that by 1982, the U.S. would be on the Metric system!)

It's true, my teachers were part of an older generation and the extent of their YA knowledge was probably Catcher in the Rye. It's the teachers now (granted, from my very small sample) that really surprised me. They aren't very old, in their late 30s actually. I'm still not sure if they're an anomaly or not.

Your mention of the mimeographed copies took me way back. Scary! I remember trying to decipher a few of those in high school! :D

mamaesme
05-30-2009, 12:36 AM
My Mom's an English teacher turned Writing Coach turned Librarian and we had this discussion a while ago. YA is like a mine field. Some of the writing is good, and some is horrible, but if it gets a kid to read, it doesn't matter about anything else.

So few kids continue reading after being forced to read the "classics". It annoys my mom (and myself) to bits. Being forced to read isn't going to help anyone learn more, read more or even want to touch a book.

In short, if the book makes a kid read, no matter the genre/author/writing style, it gets a plus in her book.

Dave.C.Robinson
05-31-2009, 03:39 AM
I'm not a teacher, but I am a parent. My partner's daughter is 16 and reads mostly YA teen romance books; I can't stand them myself but will happily buy them for her. Our seven year old daughter loves everything from space and superheroes to fairies. The eighteen year old boy went from WWE books through Sports Illustrated and manga.

If they'll read it, we'll provide it.