I took a risk in teaching The Book Thief this year to my sophomores. There has been a grand movement within the 10th grade team of English teachers to all work together and teach the same things at the same times. We agreed that we should teach a novel this spring, but we couldn’t agree on what novel to teach.
I am passionate about introducing students to literature that doesn’t SUCK. Yes, I know that language is unbecoming of a proper English literature teacher, but so many students are turned off by literature teachers teaching only the classics in boring ways. I can’t be that teacher. I won’t be the teacher that turns a kid off from reading or tunes him further out. I want to introduce my students to classics in fun and innovative ways, and literature they can connect with and love. I have 180 days to turn my students into literature lovers (I guess I will settle for appreciators). If I teach a book that I don’t even want to read myself, I am positive I will not turn any of my students into literature lovers or even appreciators.
I taught The Crucible, one of my favorite classics, in the fall, so I really wanted to do something more contemporary in the spring. My kids enjoyed the story, and I worked hard to make the classic relevant and fun for 2015. After looking through my bookshelf and the text exemplar list for 10th grade, I decided to stick with what I believed was right for my students. We read The Book Thief. What a powerful novel! My students have recently written blog posts with their review of The Book Thief. You can check them out by exploring our class blogs listed below to see their personal reactions to the novel. Add your comment and let them know what you thought of their words!
By taking a risk and going against my team, I was nervous at the results I would see. If my kids didn’t connect with the literature like I had hoped, I would have failed. As we made it though the 552 page novel, there were certainly high points and low points. There were points that we were tired of reading and just had to push on. The story was always good, but snow days and breaks sometimes made it hard to stay focused. I thought I was keeping them interested and engaged, but sometimes I wasn’t sure. On the last day of reading, I told my kids that I had a feeling I knew how the book would end. I warned them that I would likely cry, and to not judge me. I joked and encouraged them that all the coolest kids cried while reading. I even went so far as to pass out tissues to each of my students, just incase they were more like me than they cared to admit. I wanted them to feel comfortable and at ease. I wanted them to know that they didn’t need to try to hide the emotions they would likely face, but to embrace them like I was doing. I wasn’t sure if they would actually feel as I hoped they would.
As we read, the greatest thing happened. I wasn’t the only one crying. Many of my students shed tears over the ending of the book. They cried for the characters, and I ended up crying for my students. How often have high school students sat in English class and openly cried while reading a book? I have never had that experience with any piece of literature. Actually, I have never had students even come close to connecting with literature like that. My risk was worth the gain. I turned some students into literature lovers and appreciators.
I have often heard the quote that our best work happens when we break outside our comfort zones. I broke outside mine to teach a book that no one else thought was important or relevant for my students, and I had the greatest “Teacher Moment” I have ever had. The reaction of my students was candid, real, and honest. It reminded me that although it is important to work well with your peers, it is most important to always do what is best for your students. I did what I believed was right, and I introduced my students to a piece of literature that will forever change their views and thoughts on the Holocaust and humanity. I am certain that they will carry The Book Thief with them in their hearts for years and years to come, as it has stolen a little piece of them and me.