"n" word and reading groups

Discussion in 'Secondary Education Archives' started by EngTeacher15, Mar 27, 2007.

  1. EngTeacher15

    EngTeacher15 Companion

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    Mar 27, 2007

    I'm a first year teacher and I teach 9th grade. I teach in a mostly white school, but we are becoming more and more diverse every day (especially compared to what the school USED to be). About 1/4 to 1/5 of each class is African American.

    We are getting ready to start To Kill a Mockingbird, and yesterday we had a big long discussion about the "n" word. I gave them a lot of historical background and explained why the word is used in the book. I had a particular student who came up to me after class and was crying. At first he was looking towards the ground, and I didn't know he was crying. He sat patiently has he waited for the rest of the students to leave the room. When he looked up, I saw he was crying--and so much that he couldn't even talk to me. This student is African American, and I have a feeling it has to do with the discussion we had in class. I don't know if it has to do with the fact that the word appears in the book or that we're reading the book. I tried to call his name when he started to walk out of the room, but he was too upset to stop and talk to me. This is the same student who came up to me before class to ask if he HAD to read the book. What do I do?

    Also, while we are reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I was thinking of putting them in some sort of reading groups. I think it is going to get boring real fast if we all take turns reading around the room. Any ideas?
     
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  3. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Mar 27, 2007

    You take this to your department chairman this morning before school and ask for advice. This needs to be ironed out right away, before his mom goes to the principal.
     
  4. AbbyR

    AbbyR Rookie

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    Mar 27, 2007

    I agree - you need to go to the principal. I would also have a talk with the child. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird - it remains one of my favorite books - but I might have a hard time using it in the classroom. Let us know how it goes.
     
  5. trulyblssd

    trulyblssd Companion

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    Mar 27, 2007

    I am black and I teach at the high school level. I taught Mockingbird at the beginning of the semester. I too, had a huge discussion on the “N” word and how it is used as slang as well as in a derogatory fashion. I think it is easier for me being black to teach a book like this, but does that mean that it shouldn’t be taught? No! I love this novel.

    If you are going to teach it I wouldn’t’ let them get into groups. You have no way of monitoring all the snickering when it comes to that word. I have the book on tape and use that for some chapters and I read it aloud in other chapters. The students really like it when I read, because I get into it. There is another teacher here on campus that teaches it with the movies. She reads a couple of chapters and shows part of the movie until they are finished with the novel.

    I also incorporate the Scottsboro Boys trial into the novel so that students can see the historical relevance of the novel. This helps curve some of the uncomfortableness, because now it’s history and not just some lady trying to write a book about black people. I think that you are going to have students that are unsure about the novel, but once they meet Scout they will fall in love with it. I hope everything works out!
     
  6. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Mar 27, 2007

    Intolerance is like a wound that's full of dirt - whether one is not tolerated or whether one is not tolerant. Literature is one of the means by which such a wound can be cleansed. The process is painful, but without the cleansing, there can't be healing. Sometimes it takes tremendous courage - and sometimes the courage comes as a result of confronting the situation.

    To be able to read To Kill A Mockingbird placidly is to have missed the point.
     
  7. GardenDove

    GardenDove Habitué

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    Mar 27, 2007

    The book is essentially about racism in the South. I don't know how it would have any literary integity without the 'n' word. I think this book is totally appropriate for this age group. The movie, with Gregory Peck, is so good, it's one of the only movies that I thought was better than the book.

    This 'n' word shouldn't be any more taboo than any other cuss word. It has it's place in literature. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, a perfect book for children to learn about these things.
     
  8. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Mar 27, 2007

    Go to your Department Head first as Alice suggested, I would even send home a letter to parents saying that you are beginning to read this book and mention that is uses some dorgator language, and for them to call you with any questions or concerns--just to cover your butt.

    I would have them work in groups though to discuss the reading, etc. also try doing some Socratic Seminars; just don't give a quiz for every chapter there are other ways to asses it as stated above. When I taught this book I also did some of it on tape and every 4 chapters we would watch some of the movie. Try to relate it to factual events as stated before, and come up or find as many fun activites and projects as possible. Make reading this book fun; try googling to find activites for it. BTW edhelper has a novel unit for this book.
     
  9. english9teach

    english9teach Rookie

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    Mar 27, 2007

    This is my first year as well and when I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, I had the same reactions. I found it funny that the Caucasian students had a much bigger problem with the "N" word than the African American students did.

    First of all, having a discussion about the Scotsboro Trials helps greatly. Secondly, I found it helpful when an African-American student spoke up for the book. He said "Hey, you feel uncomfortable reading about this? Imagine how I feel? But it's a part of history that we shouldn't forget." If you could find a similarly-minded student, it might end some of the arguing. Sometimes kids will listen better to their peers than they will to you.

    I also had a student who simply refused to read the book. I called his parents personally and they agreed that To Kill a Mockingbird should be taught. They tried to talk to him about the history and its importance but in the end, he was still unwilling. I assigned an alternate text and made him write a report to cover the missing work.
     
  10. hatima

    hatima Devotee

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    Mar 27, 2007

    I don't know what to tell you about your situation. But my Junior year of high school was really hard in english. One of the book used the N word profusely. I very much disliked the book, "Their eyes were watching God." My english teacher was like I am she I acknowledged the word was there but did not read it. I had been raised to know it was a racist word. I never heard it until two African American classmates got into a fight my sixth grade year. They were rolling on the floor calling eachother various names including the Nword. I was shocked. I grew up in diversity and I didn't know it was an issue, especially the way I heard it. The next encounter happened in high school. Myself (I am white) and a few of my Hispanic friends called eachother the Bword is casual non confronting discussions. It was stupid. Also some African Americans would call eachother the N word in the same tone, a casual hey whats up. But an exchange student who was very new to city life called them that an almost got pounded. In his defense at 16 he honestly did not know he did something wrong.

    To get us through "Their Eyes Were Watching God." We did just what you did, we talked about the history behind the word, the evolution of the word, and its equivalents. She also explained she would not say the word but would pause when she came to it. We also discussed the limited casual use of the word at the school.
     
  11. teacherwannaB

    teacherwannaB Companion

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    Mar 28, 2007

    GardenDove-
    I must respectfully disagree with you. The "N" word has a huge historical signifcance in this country- much more than any other cuss word. If I stub my toe and say "s%#t" I'm far less likely to offend someone than if I say "N". Poor example- but I know you get the picture. The N- word is a loaded term and it raises feelings much more intense than most other cuss words,and students need guidance to be able to express these intense feelings in a healthy manner. The N-word was a term used to degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize an entire population of people. This dehumanization of a whole group of people largely contributed to a war- obviously the N- word is not your average four letter word.
     
  12. GardenDove

    GardenDove Habitué

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    Mar 28, 2007

    Yes, but the 'n' word, just like a cuss word, belongs in a book about people who used it. It has a literary place in a book like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' that examines racism. The book would be unrealistic if the white racists didn't use the word.

    Of course it's an emotionally charged word, duh. But that's why it's important for kids to read the book. Would you suggest pretending like that chapter of history didn't exist?
     
  13. teacherwannaB

    teacherwannaB Companion

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    Mar 28, 2007

    Thats what I was responding to, explaining to you WHY the N- word is more taboo than other cuss words. No where in my post did I say or imply that the word didn't belong in the book. OF COURSE IT DOES. What I suggested was to help guide the students through the feelings that are behind the word in a healthy manner- not just ignore them OR the word.

    *****
    Have a good one!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 28, 2007
  14. GardenDove

    GardenDove Habitué

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    Mar 29, 2007

    Well, that's what I meant. To Kill a Mockingbird is just so excellent, all children should see the movie too. It really exposes the ugliness of racism and the ignorance that accompanies it.
     
  15. Suburban Gal

    Suburban Gal (formerly Elizabeth) Banned

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    Mar 29, 2007

    I substituted for a D65 TA at the beginning of the month and had to go into a 7th Grade LA class that was reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I was a little surprised that 7th Graders were actually reading it. Yet to my suprise, they were doing a pretty good job of tackling the book.

    If you look at the district's middle school report card 88% are white and 3.4% are black. All of Mr. B's entire class was white, except one (he was black) and not one single white student had a problem with the "N' word in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact, the black student didn't even have a problem with the use of the "N" word in Harper Lee's novel.

    Since I came in mid-way through the book, I'm not sure if their teacher and the TA I ws subbing for took time to explain the historical context of the word or not, but I did come into a classsroom where the kids were actually enjoying the book. The 2 white students I wound up pulling to read for all kept telling me over and over again how they just couldn't enough of the book. Even the one black student who was with them couldn't agree more.

    As for the reading groups, Mr. B would just have his kids do silent reading their seats. After 20 minutes or so or that, he'd then get up in front of the class to discuss the pages with his kids. Following a brief discussion, he'd have them do some worksheets, which the kids were allowed to do in groups. I think this method worked pretty well for Mr. B so it's definitely soemthing you may want to consider too.

    Good luck rcayia whatever you choose to do from here.

    P.S. --- Mr. B had the kids make Lane Cake for extra credit. That's probably something you may want to consider as well. I think it'd definitely help lift from some of the boringness you all are feeling.
     
  16. BigJim

    BigJim Rookie

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    Mar 30, 2007

    Good advice....You might also try directly with the Principal.
     
  17. kamteach5

    kamteach5 Rookie

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    Mar 30, 2007

    I have taught for 24 years and at various grade levels and this year I am back in 8th grade. One of our novels is Slave Dancer which is full of the "n" word. I have several black students in my classes and live in an area that has black population that has been part of the community for many many years. I was really worried about this whole issue and was quite uncertain how to deal with it. As we read the book I would find it necessary because of various reading levels and having students who might not really be reading I would read portions of the book aloud. The first time I came across the passages with the "n" word I found I could not read that word aloud and would substitute the word slave in it's place. I explained to the students that it was a slang term as many different culture groups are identified by slang terminology and although the author of the book used that slang term did mean I had to say it. I also told my 8th graders I would not tolerate any use of the word, knowing I might have a few or two that might use reading the book as an excuse to use the word. I was so impressed with my 8th graders, not only non of the students ever used that as excuse to make fun of anyone my black students handled the situation extremely well. They completed the assignments and never expressed having problems reading the book. At the end when I asked the students to write about their favorite and least favorite parts hands down their least favorite part was the treatment of the slaves and the use of the slang.
     

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