When I originally sought out teaching The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to my high school English class, I knew I was taking a risk. I risked the time I had spent prepping the material, the money my building poured into acquiring books for students, and I tossed aside a decade-old tried-and-true district curriculum.
I didn’t know anyone who had taught this novel and had no one to go to for advice. Luckily for you, brave teacher, I’m willing to share what I learned!
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Fears Teaching The Hate U Give
In 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 was 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 worried that it was only going to take one person being offended by the language in the book to ruin my fun in teaching it.
What Worked Teaching The Hate U Give
First and foremost, nearly every one of my students loved the novel from the first page. The had an easy time relating to the text.
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).
Staff and Student Interactions
The effect this unit had on my whole school was completely unexpected. Word got out that was teaching something new, something controversial, and that it was working. I was asked to present an overview of the unit to the school (we do unit spotlights regularly to highlight one another’s outstanding work and to present new ideas).
This all kind of snowballed and I ended up lending out 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 couldn’t be any more pleased!
When the film came out, we went as a whole staff to see the movie–instead of having a staff meeting! I got major coworker points that day.
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 saw less texting and napping than I usually do while reading in class.
Instead of writing one long essay for the unit, I assigned the students more frequent but shorter writing assignments. I also assigned an end-of-unit discussion.
This actually resulted in students writing more, getting more regular feedback on their writing, and having more time to take in feedback and improve.
The end-of-the-unit discussion was also a smash hit. The teachers loved it and the students couldn’t believe how time flew that class period!
Difficulties in Teaching The Hate U Give
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.
We spent most of our class time during this unit listening to the audiobook. This meant far less time for grammar, supplemental texts, and skill work than I’m really comfortable with.
(Side note: the audiobook version is really good! The narrator is great and the audiobook itself is an excellent scaffold for more auditory learners!)
I teach this unit at the end of students’senior year, too, when attendance is at its worst. As into the book as students are, they’re still the same students, and some did fall behind as we got deeper into the book.
For many of my students, reading on their own is daunting. But having to catch up on a book this thick when you’ve disappeared for two weeks of school? Yikes.
I also worry that the academic part of this unit may be too much for some 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.
No Time to Re-teach
When I teach The Hate U Give, I have students close read and annotate the whole thing. I model and review this skill the first few times we read, but there’s not any time for re-teaching midway.
There’s also no time to model writing expectations for the writing prompts I give them. By the time they do their last one, the students have usually figured it out. But I wish I had more time to review C-E-R writing skills before the first one.
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.
Dealing with the Controversy in The Hate U Give
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.
Regardless, many consider the topic of police brutality to be “controversial,” or at least too racy for the classroom.
I teach high school seniors about to graduate and vote. I do believe the literature they read should be relevant. It should get them thinking about the issues in our country that they will inherit.
The first time I taught this book, a student felt so strongly that he left the class. Like, permanently.
He liked me and the class, but he felt 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 her son. They opted instead to switch him to an online class.
Lean on Colleagues for Support
Luckily, my school and the administration is super supportive. I mean, rather than telling me to change what I was doing, they changed his schedule.
I’ve also had other students completely disengage. Typically, these aren’t the most engaged students to begin with, but this topic does cause some to shut down.
I had one student just sleep through the reading. Every day. He never turned in anything.
After some prodding from his counselor and myself, he admitted that his father was a police officer. His disengagement was an act of self-defense, really. He was so sick of seeing the police portrayed negatively that he wouldn’t engage in the novel.
We spoke. We talked about the characters in the novel and how Uncle Carlos is actually an amazing character in the book and meant to paint a positive picture of law enforcement.
I’m always careful to play devil’s advocate during class. It’s a fine line to be anti-police brutality without being anti-police. But now I stop to talk to students about how difficult it is for law enforcement to be in dangerous situations, as well.
If your school isn’t as supportive as mine, there are alternatives you can try or teach.
So, Should You Teach The Hate U Give?
I can’t answer that question for you. You know your students, your school, and the parents you’ll be dealing with.
For me, it’s a resounding YES. My students need this book. They need this unit. And both my students and the colleagues that help me with this unit love it.
But you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. If you’re leaning towards yes, however, I have some wonderful resources to make teaching The Hate U Give easier!