88 pages 2 hours read

Gordon Korman

The Unteachables

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


The Unteachables by Gordon Korman is a contemporary middle-grade novel that follows a special class of “troubled” kids and their teacher at Greenwich Middle School as they learn what it means to be different, reform, and resolve a 27-year-old scandal.

Published in 2019, the book won the Red Cedar Award (BC Young Readers' Choice for 2021) and was shortlisted for several others. Gordon Korman has written over 70 titles for teens and young readers, including New York Times bestsellers The Swindle Mysteries, The Hypnotist, and The 39 Clues. This guide follows the 2019 Balzar + Bray edition of The Unteachables.

Plot Summary

Told in shifting perspectives, the book primarily follows student Kiana Roubini and teacher Zachary Kermit, with intermittent chapters from other characters. Kiana is only supposed to be in Greenwich for a few months while her mom shoots a movie. She never registers at the school and is put into Mr. Kermit’s class by mistake. Mr. Kermit’s only goal in life is to finish this school year so he can claim his early retirement.

Dr. Thaddeus, the superintendent of Greenwich’s schools, will do anything in his power to keep Mr. Kermit from reaching retirement and collecting a pension from the school. He assigns Mr. Kermit the infamous “unteachables” class. Mr. Kermit plans to ignore the kids for the entire year, but Kiana’s go-getter attitude and the influence of another teacher make Mr. Kermit and the difficult students start to change.

Throughout the book, various students in Mr. Kermit’s class offer their perspectives on how much they dislike school. Meanwhile, Mr. Kermit remains stuck in the past, haunted by the cheating scandal that destroyed his career 27 years ago. Despite his surly mood, Mr. Kermit stands up for the kids in his class, which no teacher has done for them before. To repay him, they steal the vuvuzela noisemakers for the school’s spirit week because they know he hates them and dump them in the river. When an article appears in the newspaper describing the incident and linking it to the cheating scandal, the student responsible for the scandal (now a successful businessman) takes it upon himself to help Mr. Kermit’s class.

Mr. Kermit wants to hate his former student, but he finds it difficult to stay mad at someone the Unteachables like so much. Watching his students become interested in learning makes Mr. Kermit realize he needs to do right by them and actually teach. As both students and teacher find their places in the classroom, Dr. Thaddeus discovers a rule in the district handbook that would allow him to fire Mr. Kermit if the kids do poorly on a science aptitude exam. The kids do well, but since Kiana was never registered, her score (highest in the class) doesn’t count, which drops the class’s grade low enough for Dr. Thaddeus to fire Mr. Kermit.

Determined to keep their teacher, the kids enter the science fair. The students with the winning project get ten points added to their science exams, which would be enough to boost their scores. Despite their amazing project, they finish second, but an article in the newspaper calls out Dr. Thaddeus for firing one of Greenwich’s best teachers. With protests on the horizon, Dr. Thaddeus revokes Mr. Kermit’s termination notice. Rather than retire, Mr. Kermit signs on to teach the following year. His students are overjoyed, and the book ends with Kiana deciding to stay in Greenwich with her friends.