What To Do When You Have To Teach a Subject You Don’t Like

What To Do When You Have To Teach a Subject You Don’t Like


Teaching a subject you don’t like? I feel you. Here is what I do.

April is National Poetry Month. If I were not an English teacher, I wouldn’t know this because I’m not a fan of poetry.

I possess an appreciation of poetry! I understand its contribution to the written word. I love that my students find meaning in poetry and write their own. Reading it in my spare time? Rarely happens. It’s simply not my favorite part of any ELA curriculum because I’ve never found poetry to speak to me they way literature and speeches do.

I teach it though and I’m determined to teach it the best I can. That means I’ve adapted, I’ve taught other skills as I teach poetry in my classes. I thought it might help to share what to do when you have to teach a subject you don’t like. (It will probably happen at some point).

Here are four concepts that work for me while teaching poetry – something I don’t particularly love.

1. Be honest with students.

I encourage students to have opinions about characters and plots. (And in memorable literature, we are really supposed to hate some of the characters. Tom Buchanan comes to mind). Some students dislike reading plays. Others wish nonfiction sometimes had more a story. That’s good – an opinion is better than no thought at all.

My students are normally shocked when I tell them that we’re going to read/ write poetry, but this is not my favorite unit. (It’s the same look they give me if I tell them I don’t know something and I’ll get back to them later). This lets them know I am a person and builds trust with them. With classes that truly appreciate this, I feel our discussions are more open as the year continues.

2. Model good behavior.

Who likes everything they do for work – in life – for personal gain? No one! Still, bills must be paid, the dishwasher unloaded, and sit-ups done.

I’m not great at writing poetry, but I write along with my students. I create, brainstorm, and make mistakes. I model for them that even though this is not my preferred mode of expression, I’m going to try, to do my best. That’s what I expect from them, and I want to model the same behavior.

3. Learn along with your students.

My classes and I are going to cover poetry, whether that be  through literary terms or meter. Since I do have an appreciation of poetry, I remind students of that. It’s important to show them that distinction – that you may not personally care for something but understand its importance.

When studying and teaching, I’m sure to remark on interesting ideas, a pretty phrase, an image a piece of poetry gave me. I should learn along with my students and show them that learning happens even for grownups.

This learning – maybe I’ll like poetry more some day. Maybe I’ll teach myself into loving it.

4. Teach it throughout the year. 

My first years teaching I had definitive units, probably because of inexperience and a need to map out the year. I had a poetry unit which I no longer teach as a stand-alone. I now incorporate those pieces into reading and writing lessons.

When I teach the “The Masque of the Red Death” we study “The Raven.” When I teach “A Raisin in the Sun,” Hughe’s “April Rain Song” and “A Dream Deferred” accompany it.

What to do when you have to teach a subject you don't like.

These four pieces help me cover poetry.

I get lots of assumptions about English teachers: that they will correct everyone’s grammar, that they correct people’s writing for fun, and that they love any written word. None of those are true of me. When someone asks me what my favorite poem of all time is and I tell them “nothing,” the person normally wrinkles her brow. I get it.

April is National Poetry Month and I know I’m in the minority of English teachers: I don’t care for poetry. These are adaptations I’ve made so that I can teach poetry the best I can. I can (and hope you can too!) apply these ideas when I have teaching subjects I dislike. So, to my readers… what do you do when you teach a topic that is not your favorite? What tips would you add?

8 Comments

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  1. 1
    Jackie

    I hear ya, Lauralee! I especially agree with your point about being honest with the students and then modelling your learning with them. They need to see that we are learners too!

  2. 3
    Ms F

    We should team teach! You can do grammar, I’ll do the poetry. Though I’ll admit I don’t love all poems. I have a post coming up about some mini lessons I sprinkle in throughout April since I don’t really get to teach poetry at all in my current gig! Also- I use “Mother to Son” by Hughes with ARITS because her working title was “A Crystal Stair” which is a line from that poem and Mama makes a few references to stairs throughout the play!

  3. 5
    LeahKStewart

    This is a courageous piece of writing and I truly applaud you Laura for getting this out there. Something I picked up in school was feeling of abnormality that I didn’t love all of each subject… because the teachers could so easily fit themselves into those rigid brackets of learning, why couldn’t I? Your honestly opens doors for your students to be true to themselves and their interests. Perhaps, as poetry isn’t your thing, you could also balance this by suggesting students who are interested in poetry look up another person who loves poetry such as http://sarahdenordwall.com/ or anyone else they find, there are loads of people who live for poetry, Robert Pinsky is another…

    • 6
      lauraleemoss@gmail.com

      Thanks for the idea. I’ve had students print (clean) song lyrics and gone from there in learning poetical terms. Lots of times I let students lead the way with poetry and I work around what they give me.

  4. 7
    Sarah Koves

    Wow that comment about silently correcting grammar hits home. I usually don’t even think about other’s or my own grammar in daily conversation. I am not a great speller, and people assume I am because I teach English. I am good at and like math. Why must we be so pigeon-holed?

    • 8
      lauraleemoss@gmail.com

      I don’t either and normally don’t recognize a mistake until someone will say, “oh! I should watch myself in front of you!” Trust me… I won’t correct you.

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