Thoughts on teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird"

I love spring. Longer days and warmer weather seem to put life back into perspective for me. I've always been a bit of a tom-boy--but I adore flowy skirts; I pull them out as soon as the weather reaches 55 degrees. Spring also means that I get to teach To Kill a Mockingbird...my absolute favorite book. I read it my 9th grade year of high school but don't remember any of it. I wasn't mature enough to appreciate literature until my junior year (that's when I fell in love with the transcendental writers and began musing about being an English teacher). I re-read the book again during my first year of teaching as I scrambled to find something to fill the last month of my 11th grade English class. The wise Language Arts teacher across the hall from me suggested I teach it, "The kids always love it," she remarked. So I took home a copy that night, started it after dinner and found myself still reading at 3 AM that night. I finished it in two days.

Since then I've taught the book three different times to three diverse groups of students. I'm currently teaching the book again to 66 students in my English 9 class. Though it's the fourth or fifth time I've read the book, I still find myself laughing at the kids' adventures and  and crying during the Tom Robinson trial. Countless times I've tried to convince my dear husband to name our daughter Scout or our son Atticus. Unfortunately, he doesn't share my affinity for the novel! Tonight my students are to read chapter 11 of the novel--where we meet Mrs. Dubose. Tonight I re-read the chapter again and am trying to plan the right activity that allows my students to see Mrs. Dubose for who she really is: a picture of courage. Like Atticus tells Scout and Jem, I want my students to "...see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do" (Lee, 116). I'm not sure what activity I'll do tomorrow with my students...sometimes I wake up at three in the morning with ideas. Hopefully that happens tonight.

I think what I struggle with so much while teaching this book is knowing that many kids probably aren't reading the book. Though I'd like to think that all of them are reading the novel, I know many (probably more than I know) will rely on Spark Notes or a friend to clue them in about the book rather than reading it for themselves. I forget that not every 14 or 15 year old kid shares my passion for a carefully turned phrase. However, I hope they notice that dream-like trance I get when talking about the book. I hope they hear the quiver in my voice when I read the chapter where Atticus tells Tom Robinson's wife that her husband (an innocent man who is deemed guilty only because of the color of his skin) is dead. I hope they understand why I have them share lessons they've learned while growing up, memories from their own childhood, times their own parents mortified them and then turned around and made them proud. I hope all of the above motivates even a few to look past the difficult vocabulary and the fact that it's an "old" book to actually read it.

If you haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird since you were in high school, you need to. It truly is a timeless classic! 

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