While Steinbeck's elegiac prose has been preserved in aspic for the 80 years since it was first published, the reaction of the teenagers I teach this examination of cruelty and exclusion have subtlely altered over the last two decades I have been teaching it.

Teaching the work of an author you love can be fraught, because you really want your class to get it, not so much in an academic sense but in an emotional one.

And Steinbeck is probably the only author who has stayed with me since I was the one being taught.

I remember seeing the unusual titles on the bookcase at home when I was just learning to read and wondered what these stories could possibly be about.

Along the shelf I would read The Winter of our Discontent, then The Grapes of Wrath to Cannery Row on the broken faded spines.

My dad was a fan and took delight in retelling the story of once sharing a taxi with a couple from Steinbeck's home town of Salinas who had actually spoken to the great author.

Thankfully Of Mice and Men does still connect with the majority of pupils, year after year after year. When Carlson says the last line of the book: 'Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?'

There is generally a stunned silence in the room, as the pupils compute that yes, one of the heroes has just shot his best friend and travelling companion in the back of the head.

Similarly there can be no surprise that this short powerful novel is so popular amongst English literature teachers.

A study conducted in 2012 found that nine out of ten teenagers in England would study the book at some point in their school career, before former education secretary Michael Gove insisted that English pupils study British authors.

The attraction of the book as a teaching tool is clear; it is short, the themes of bullying, dreams and outsiderdom are universal and the language is accessible to all levels allowing pupils who might not catch the nuances of the work, to still feel an emotional and intellectual connection to the book.

I also think the morality of the book acts as a trigger for younger teenagers who around the ages of 14 and 15 are working out what their own opinions are, rather than what their teachers and parents want their attitudes to be.

I also think the mainly working class kids I have taught have personally felt how the power of dreams can keep you going when your short term prospects are rather bleak. However, their reaction to how outsiders are treated by society is more fluid.  

Teaching this book two decades ago in a former steel town in Scotland, the class were generally more shocked by hearing their respectable, be-suited teacher say the word 'bastard' than the liberal use of the 'n' word re-occurring throughout the book.

No matter how often 'bastard' was repeated, they giggled every time but the racist epithet passed with little comment.

As Scotland has welcomed more immigration into our communities and schools work to educate pupils, casual racism has almost been obliterated.

Teaching Of Mice and Men now, there is generally a pupil generated discussion around whether Steinbeck is racist to use the language or whether he is just accurately describing the society which George and Lennie have walked into.

What did shock the pupils at the start of my teaching career was the everyday nature of prostitution in the world inhabited by these characters.

One former pupil, wishing to embarrass me, innocently asked me to explain what prostitution meant. I unfortunately told him to: 'Ask his mother', meaning you wouldn't ask her that question so why ask me.

The whole class exploded in laughter as I slowly realised what I had just called his mum. In today's more sexually liberalised world, the use of sex workers by the characters in the book doesn't tend to raise an eyebrow.

Whereas the stance on racism has changed for the better, I would say the pupils' attitude towards the only female character in the book has at best stayed the same.

Curley's Wife, too insignificant to even be named in the book, is consistently bad mouthed by just about every character, and the pupils want to use the same language of 'Slag' and 'Slut' to describe her.

On her murder the pupils' reaction tends to be a depressing: 'She got what she deserved.' In fact some members of the class are more distressed at the shooting of an ancient sheep dog than the homicide of a young woman.

Perhaps this suggests that while the work on educating pupils in eradicating racism has been successful, more needs to be done on tackling sexist attitudes towards women.

Surprisingly, the girls’ response towards Curley's Wife tends to be more venomous than the boys and this has been consistent throughout my teaching career.

Over a decade ago I remember only one female pupil argued in support of the woman outsider looking to have some sort of human interaction on the ranch.

She was one of the one's who really responded to the book and understood why the female character searched for a connection in the harsh male environment.

In a chilling symmetry, not long after she left school she died in appallingly similar circumstances to Curley's Wife in the book.

She was brutally murdered, strangled by her much taller, body builder fiancé during an argument.

When I read the part where Lennie chokes Curley's Wife to death; I think of the real-life innocent woman who also didn't deserve to die, victim of the same sexist attitude that prevailed 80 years ago where it is OK for a man to assault a woman.