The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Week 2 of The Hate U Give

One teacher's experience teaching The Hate U Give for the first time

I spent soooo long prepping materials for my The Hate U Give unit, that I almost don’t know what to do with myself now that I’m actually teaching it! The first week of the unit, I was anxious every class period: what are my students thinking? Will they like it as much as I did? Do they think I’m pushing some kind of political agenda–and, if they do, is that a bad thing? I’ve also been holding my breath, waiting for some kind of negative feedback from my coworkers. While I did receive approval to teach The Hate U Give, it’s not exactly on the official curriculum, and I’m worried that it’s only going to take one person being offended by the language in the book to ruin my fun in teaching it.

Now that I’m two weeks into the unit, I thought I would share the initial reactions and results of teaching this novel, and what better way than sharing with you the good, the bad, and the ugly?

The Good

My students are having an easy time relating to the text and overall, I’m having some really positive responses. As an English teacher, one of my greatest hopes is for my students to become lifelong readers. I believe that introducing them to rich, relatable texts is the best way to show young adults that reading is a pleasurable pursuit. One student told me that this is the best book he’s read since middle school. He even has urged me to keep it on the curriculum for students next year (this after only one day of reading).

Word has gotten out too that I’m teaching something new, something controversial, and I’ve lent out a few extra copies to other staff members. The adults in the building are loving the novel too, and as students see them carrying around their own copies, students and adults are engaging in conversations around The Hate U Give. Students excited to talk to adults about books? I can’t be anymore pleased!

Overall, students in general just seem more willing to read in class or take home materials to catch up on missing work. It’s magic to look up and see the whole class turning their pages at the same time (they’re all following along!), and I’m seeing less texting and napping than I usually do while reading in class.

The Bad

My only complaint with The Hate U Give is that it is a long text. At 444 pages, it’s probably the longest book many of my students have ever read. We have block schedules (which mean 90 minutes classes for us), but also very low students which means the reading has to be done together in class. Most of our class time is now listening to the audiobook, which means less time for grammar, supplemental texts, and work time. It’s the end of their senior year, too, and attendance is slipping. As into the book as students are, they’re still the same students, and I’m worried some are falling behind now that the initial excitement over the novel has evaporated.

I’m also a little worried that the academic part of this unit may be too much for my students. Usually, there is a lot of modeling and scaffolding for every assignment, but with the book’s length, there just isn’t as much time for that. I just graded the first round of writing prompts and they weren’t great–not awful, but many were missing essential pieces of the assignment, like a quote from the book or their conclusion sentences. However, their quizzes–quick, multiple choice tests just meant to check their general attentiveness and understanding–are all coming back with wonderful scores. Maybe the lack of academia progress has nothing to do with the text, but just their general skill level? I’m asking them for more independence, more thoroughness, and more thoughtfulness, so perhaps it’s the level of the tasks that are holding them back.

I love the story and wouldn’t want to sacrifice any portion of this book, but I do wish I had more time to break down assignments for students and help them one-on-one more.

The Ugly

Ugh, I knew it was going to happen. Someone was going to complain or feel singled out by the text. They shouldn’t. One of the reasons I chose The Hate U Give was because I felt it was a balanced story. There are good and bad white characters, good and bad black characters, good and bad cops, but I guess the topic of police shootings are too controversial today, no matter how the story is told.

I teach high school seniors about to graduate and vote. I do believe the literature they read should be relevant. It should and get them thinking about the issues in our country that they will inherit.

A student left my class and told the dean he was uncomfortable reading this book in class. He liked me and the class, but he was never going to succeed with this book. It wasn’t going to reflect his views. He didn’t want to talk about something so controversial with his peers. His mother called, said she had done her research about the book and supported his son. They opted instead to switch him to an online class.

At first, we suspected race may have been the issue. After eighteen years of reading literature from dead white men, I can see how a modern story from a socially aware African American girl might be jarring in a classroom. The rumor is this student is dating a pretty flagrant racist, and he hangs out with some other students with questionable beliefs. However, I have never known him to be anything but compassionate, so it surprised me.

I asked the counselor to speak with him while she adjusted his schedule to include the online course. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t exacerbating a delicate issue in my classroom. After their conversation, it seemed like his desire to drop the class had nothing to do with race or my teaching. He just didn’t want to have the conversation at all–talking about racism and police shootings in modern America was just going to be too uncomfortable. (I could go on a tangent here about one having the privilege to skip such conversations, but I won’t.)

I was sad to lose him–I liked having him in my class. But I also wouldn’t be teaching The Hate U Give if I didn’t believe that it had value. Since this is the first time it’s being taught in the district (to my knowledge) and it’s not officially on the curriculum list, I did send home letters to parents letting them know that the next book would contain some controversy and some strong language (note, it was a warning, not a letter asking for permission).

I have four weeks left in this unit and a large summative assessment to get through before I can label this unit a success or not. So far, though, I think students have found themselves engaged in a text (for some, for the first time in years), and students and staff are connecting over literature. I’m staying cautious, but I’m optimistic.

Curious about why I chose The Hate U Give?

Are you interested in teaching The Hate U Give, but you’re not sure how to get started? Download my The Hate U Give bundle by clicking here and begin your unit tomorrow!

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