A Suggestion for High School English Teachers

29 Feb

Nerd Alert!

Happy Wednesday!  I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but since the idea came to me about 3/4 of the way through a bottle of wine, it kinda slipped my mind 🙂  Since I saw that Julie is posting her review, as well as a link roundup, for The Paris Wife on Thursday, I figured it was high time I got to writing!

For my whole life, I’ve been big into reading.  I’ve almost always had a book that I’m making my way through, and have been known to immerse myself so fully in a book that I cannot be spoken to until I have finished.  Books are like TV marathons, but better.  You fall in love with characters.  You become invested in their lives.  And it doesn’t end after an hour.

However, when I was in high school, I often struggled with the required reading that we were given.  In fact, I only recently read Rebecca, which was on my freshman year summer reading list.  Not sure what I did at the time to prepare for the test, but I suspect Cliffs Notes were involved.

And that’s the issue – the test.  High school english teachers are tasked with the job of getting 14-17 year olds to read books, the subjects of which are perceived to be uninteresting, and then take a test on them.  Taking a test on a book removes all of the enjoyment.  It forces you to focus on mundane facts and names, while losing the general feeling of the story.

I only remember a handful of books that I was required to read in high school, and one of them stands out far beyond the rest.  Pride and Prejudice was, and is, one of my favorite stories – and not because I was forced to read it and take a test on it.  It’s my favorite because my teacher allowed us to watch the Colin Firth TV version after we finished each portion of the book.  I remember counting the minutes to English class because I was so excited to move on with the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  Plus, Colin Firth is pretty dreamy, am I right?!?!










Although the movie was definitely a highlight of my classes, I also read and enjoyed the book.  This is not something that can be said for all of my high school required reading.

I promise there is a point to this, and it wasn’t just to get a picture of a wet Colin Firth on my blog…

The Paris Wife

A few months ago, I downloaded The Paris Wife.  I had been searching for a good book, and figured this one would fit the bill.  I tend to enjoy historical fiction, and didn’t really know a whole lot about Ernest Hemingway’s personal life.

The Paris Wife is told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.  It follows Hadley’s journey to Chicago at the age of 28, where she meets a 21 year old Ernest.  He is dynamic and intriguing, and the two immediately fall for one another.

It takes us with Hadley and Ernest to Paris, where Ernest builds his career, and the two mingle with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald.  The reader is presented with a portrayal of Paris in the ’20s, where people are fueled by a love for literature and art – and, of course, Absinthe.  We get to know Hadley, and understand her struggle to find herself while still supporting her new husband.  I imagine this is something that many women struggled with, particularly in the early 1900s.  Her desire to be both supportive and independent made Hadley instantly likeable and relatable.

We also get an easy-to-read glimpse into Hemingway’s often-tumultuous life.  The author, Paula McLain, effectively presents a fictional autobiography, that leads the reader to believe that they are truly seeing Ernest, and Paris, through Hadley’s eyes.  The research that went into this book is clear, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get lost in a good read.

My Suggestion

Shortly after finishing The Paris Wife, I rented Midnight in Paris.  I tend to be only so-so on Woody Allen films, but I really enjoyed this one.  Again, the viewer is presented with a fun glimpse into Paris in the ’20s.  I found myself more and more intrigued by this group of artists, and wanted to learn more about their lives.  While I was watching the movie I was so interested, in fact, that I immediately downloaded (what did people do before ereaders?!) A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s own account of his time in Paris.








See?  There it is, sandwiched between several Young Adult novels.  I swear I didn’t download it just to boost my book list 🙂

I honestly never expected that I would read an Ernest Hemingway novel for pleasure.  It really got me to thinking about the importance that other media formats (movies, fictional novels) play in contriving interest for the original.  So, my suggestion to high school english teachers is this:

Give your students choices – maybe even take a cue from Holly Holliday and tweet them about the poignant points in the required reading books.  Show them William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as they read.










Let them watch Bridget Jones’ diary while reading Pride & Prejudice (best of both worlds – contemporary and Colin Firth).  Give a sneak peek of 10 Things I Hate About You while reading The Taming of the Shrew.  Let them read The Paris Wife before diving in to The Sun Also Rises.  Take advantage of these other formats, and get these kiddos interested in the story.  And maybe, just maybe, forget about the test.

*If you  happen to be a high school psychology teacher, please do me a favor and do not show this clip that has recently been making the rounds.

The beginning of this clip is pretty funny, and shows how we can use positive reinforcement to shape human behavior.  However, once he mentions negative reinforcement I was ready for a big ‘ol forehead smack.  Negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment!  Gah!

**If the producers of The Big Bang Theory happen to be reading this post, and are interested in continuing to use Behavior Analytic principles in their episodes, I will gladly provide consultative services.  My fee is $1 Million/episode.


3 Responses to “A Suggestion for High School English Teachers”

  1. Mary February 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    I’m glad you are enjoying reading in spite of your hectic life!
    I think having students write reviews would be as beneficial
    as taking a test.

    As an older reader I lost patience with Hadleys
    willingness to give up her life so completely to
    someone who treated her so poorly.

    I am just rereading a Moveable Feast.

  2. Joyce March 1, 2012 at 1:26 am #

    I totally agree. You’re fortunate to still enjoy reading. My concern is that required reading and testing will turn students off. I have always loved to read – for pleasure. There are times I don’t want a story to end and miss the characters when it does. But, test me on their names and I would fail…for sure. I hope teachers read this blog.


  1. The Paris Wife | Peanut Butter Fingers - March 1, 2012

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