The Best Novel I Ever Taught
During the summer of 2018, I tried reading a few novels. I had a baby and a toddler at the time and only made it through The Hate U Give. I read the first chapter and thought, “Man, my students would love this.” I left it at that for a while because we weren’t ever given any supply money, and our English department didn’t have money for new books either.
The more I read though, I knew my students needed to read it. The year before, there were some Black Lives Matter rallies in Chicago. One of my Black male students told me he wanted to go into the city to join in, but he was afraid he would be killed. I’ll never forget that conversation, and I knew this novel was more relevant than ever.
I started creating resources for the novel to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. I didn’t know if I would ever get to teach the novel, but I wanted to help other teachers who could. (Click here to check out those resources.)
When school started, I put together a Donors Choose grant for a class set of The Hate U Give. It ended up being over $400, so I wasn’t hopeful that it would get funded. I had a few donations from family and friends right away. Then it sat with nothing for over a month.
A co-worker found out I was trying to teach the novel, and she was all in. She put together a Donors Choose grant too. Hers was immediately funded by a local church, and I was crushed. I had a week left to finish my grant and had over $100 to go. One of the women at the church who funded my co-worker’s grant heard about mine. Women at the church pooled more money and made it happen for my kids. I was so thankful.
In my first hour class the very first day we read, students seemed attentive and engaged. I turned the audiobook off after the first chapter and asked the class what they thought so far. A student who had failed the previous quarter and had very little interest in school was the first to comment. It was so funny that I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “I’m not gonna lie. When you said we were going to read this book, I was planning on taking a nap. But this shit is good!”
I knew from first hour on day one that it was worth the effort, and it only got better from there. Even now, years later, the novel is still making an impact. This year, I had quite a few sophomores repeating freshman English because they failed it last year. The first day we read it, one of those sophomores asked if we were going to be reading the whole book. He had just failed the previous quarter, so I thought he was going to complain. When I told him we were going to read the whole book, he was excited and said he was going to pull his grade up. Because he was excited, his classmates got excited. Boys who hadn’t done work in months started encouraging one another and fist bumping each other for getting good grades. This boy who failed third quarter ended fourth quarter with a B, and he took his classmates along for the ride.
This novel continuously shows me the power of connection. Most of my students don’t consider themselves readers, but they make it through 444 pages because of the connections. They connect with Starr and her struggles with identity. They connect with DeVante and Kahil because of their hard choices and the desire to take care of their families. They connect with Kenya and her challenging home life. They connect with Seven for being that protective older brother. They connect with the novel because it’s one that feels so real.
The Hate U Give may not be a perfect match for every classroom, but it has been for mine. There is nothing better than kids coming to class excited to read, especially when they’ve told you all year that they aren’t readers. It just takes one good book to get them started. Whatever that book is for your students, I hope you find it.
Resources for The Hate U Give:
The Hate U Give Printable Novel Unit
The Hate U Give Mega Bundle (Print and Digital)