Reading Choices of Future Teachers: Plant a Seed and Watch It Grow
by Leilya Pitre
It is no secret that aspiring English teachers are driven by their love to books and want their students enjoy reading as much as they do. However, when novice teachers finally get in the position to teach, they often find their hands tied by school policies and district curriculum mandates. In Louisiana, for example, they have guide books for every grade of secondary English outlined with themes, topics, concepts, and texts detailed for public school teachers. There is not much flexibility that may find its way into the year-long curriculum under the circumstances; yet, when teachers are well-read, they will use any chance to introduce readings beyond the prescribed titles. This is when they remember a course on young adult literature (YAL) they have taken in college and skim the syllabus for some titles that might be fitting into their classroom.
This spring, each of the students read 12 novels assigned to them and one novel of their choice. While they read only 13 books, new titles are mentioned during each class, so their reading list is consistently expanding. Here is the latest list of the required novels:
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
- Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates (2003)
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006)
- Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña (2008)
- Hate List by Jennifer Brown (2009)
- My Name is Parvana by Debora Ellis (2012)
- Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2013)
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015)
- The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner (2016)
- Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (2018)
- I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman (2018)
- The Music of What Happened by Bill Konigsberg (2019)
As it is clear, Bill Konigsberg’s 2019 novel The Music of What Happens wins the prize in a class of 13 undergraduate English Education majors with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999) and Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates (2003) closely following. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006) and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2015) are sharing the third place.
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman (2009)
- He Said She Said by Kwame Alexander (2011) – two students chose this one;
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012);
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2012);
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012);
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012);
- Three Dark Crowns Book by Kendare Blake (2016);
- We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (2016);
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017);
- Opposite of Always Justin A. Reynolds (2019);
- When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk (2020)
To conclude, I’d like to bring up one more of my multiple students’ testimonies about the course value. It is Jacob again, and he admits: “I always thought that young adult literature was just that—“young,” somehow juvenile … because the category itself is relatively new, so I wasn’t sure of its quality. Now, after I’ve read over a dozen of novels, I have a new appreciation for it, and I can see its merit, especially for young people. I already have a few favorites and will definitely look out for new titles.” Thinking about this group of teacher candidates, I am certain they will continue making choices in favor of YAL in their classroom whenever it is possible because it is ultimately a choice in favor of their future students. The seed is planted and well nurtured. Let it grow.
Next time I write for Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday, I will share some interesting ideas for final creative projects based on my students’ work.
Leilya A. Pitre is an Assistant Professor and English Education Program Coordinator with experience in secondary school and college teaching. She taught English as a foreign language in the Ukraine and ELA/English in public schools in the US. Currently, she teaches methods courses for preservice English teachers, literary analysis, American Literature, and Young Adult literature in the English Department at Southeastern Louisiana University. Her research interests include teacher preparation, field experiences of preservice English teachers, secondary school teaching, and teaching of Young Adult and multicultural literature. Leilya is a co-editor of Study and Scrutiny: Research on Young Adult Literature (https://journals.shareok.org/studyandscrutiny), a member of National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), English Language Arts Teacher Educator (ELATE) committee at NCTE, Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), and other regional and local education organizations.