Lately, I’ve been receiving e-mails and TPT questions like this: I really want to teach The Hate U Give. I know my students would love it. I know they NEED it! But I’m getting pushback from my principal/school/district. What do I do if my school won’t let me teach The Hate U Give?
In this post, I want to offer a few ideas for getting your unit approved and some alternatives if teaching Angie Thomas’s novel just doesn’t work out. While I could absolutely turn this into a soapbox about censorship, I’m going to guess that we’re on the same side of that debate since you’re here.
However, I want to preface all of this with a warning
You know your district, students, parents, and administration better than I do.
Don’t do anything that will put your job in jeopardy.
By all means, push where you can, fight if you feel you can win, but don’t risk your job. Even if you are willing to sacrifice your livelihood for the sake of fighting censorship, stop to think about your students. They need teachers like you–teachers who seek to diversify their curriculum and really stop to see their students. Taking yourself out of the game doesn’t help them. Live to fight another day.
Ok! Warning over.
Now, what do you do if you’re worried you won’t be allowed to teach The Hate U Give?
First, before you jump into teaching The Hate U Give, get permission.
Make sure your principal is on board and that the district has approved any curriculum changes. I am lucky in that I work at an alternative school. Our Literacy Coordinator knows my kids need a different approach. As long as I vow to stick to the same standards and learning targets, she pretty much lets me do whatever I want. Once she was on board, my principal didn’t see an issue with it.
If you’re a new teacher in a large district, reaching out to someone you may have never met before can be intimidating. I feel you. Do it anyway. Ask a coworker, your principal, another English teacher, or anyone you do feel comfortable approaching in your building and ask about who to contact. It’s the Coordinator of Literacy’s job to field questions like this, so don’t worry about wasting anyone’s time.
Be prepared to discuss why you feel the curriculum change is needed.
My main point when seeking an alternative book choice was that our current African American literature unit was outdated; the challenges of being black in America have grown and evolved since Maya Angelou’s teen years.
I also pointed out that I worked with a highly disengaged student population (many of my students end up at my school because they failed elsewhere). I hoped to increase engagement by offering a book that mirrored my own students’ speech, experiences, and love of family and community. The Hate U Give, I told my Literacy Coordinator, instructional coach, and principal (all of whom I worked with while creating my unit), would, hopefully, be literature that my students would connect to. (Spoiler alert: it did just that! Read about my experiences actually teaching the novel here.)
Whatever your reasons are, just make sure you have them.
Hopefully, your district will be so impressed by the thought you put into your classroom that not only do they give you permission, but they throw a raise in too.
If not, try…
Getting Permission From Parents
If your district is a little uneasy, offer up parent contact. My district gave me permission, but I still sent out letters letting parents know that we’d be reading a controversial novel. My letter did not ask for permission, but merely informed parents. You may decide to pass out permission slips and require that they are turned in.
Contact with parents always makes me nervous, but it’s actually a great opportunity for parent outreach. In these notes home, I also offer extra copies for parents
What if only some students have permission?
I have been pretty lucky so far. Only one student and his parent have refused to participate in my unit. My super supportive school pulled him out and put him in our online lab for that English credit. That won’t work with every student, school, or situation.
If some parents are wary, you could do literature circles instead. There are so many great books out now about police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and America’s social justice system. You could have students pick from a few of these and still have some of those courageous conversations in class. Only allow the students with permission to read The Hate U Give. The rest could pick from other novels with milder language.
Some titles I would recommend to pair with The Hate U Give are Dear Martin by Nic Stone and All American Boys, co-written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. If this appeals to you, I really recommend both my The Hate U Give bundle and my Dear Martin bundle. I designed the reading journals, reading questions, and quizzes to be used this way.
If you did run literature circles with these resources, ideally students would all have the same assignments. So for example, everyone could answer the first writing prompt for their book on Wednesday and on Friday they could each take the ten-point quiz that goes with their novel. (The only exception is that The Hate U Give bundle has six writing prompts and the Dear Martin journal has five. I would still require those that read THUG to answer all six but then drop the lowest score.) I am hoping to work on a similar bundle this summer for All American Boys so that I can run literature circles with the three options.
What if I’m not allowed to teach The Hate U Give at all?
Like I said at the beginning of this post, don’t put your job in jeopardy. If your district can’t see past the language in the novel or doesn’t want to take on having these heavy conversations, then I’m afraid you’ll have to let the novel go.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have these conversations in class. If there’s just too much swearing in the book for your district, I really recommend Dear Martin as a whole class alternative. While not as deep or comprehensive on the issues, it still brings a lot of flaws in the American justice system to light and encourages a meaningful conversation. It also has the benefit of being shorter and a lower reading level if you are short on time or have some struggling students.
If your THUG unit never gets off the ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be in your classroom. If you can’t formally teach it, feel out your district’s response to the book. Decide if you can get some copies onto your classroom library shelves. Book talk it and make sure it gets into the hands of students who need it. Make sure the title is on your list of recommended reads or put up a THUG poster. Just because the students can’t study it, doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t read it on their own.
Did I miss anything? What was your experience getting this novel into your classroom? Let me know in the comments!