It’s Impossible to Teach Without Books

My wife has been a teacher in Oklahoma for five years and has never had the benefit of working with a new textbook. If she had been working in education longer, then that number would be higher. This is a major problem for Oklahoma teachers that sadly, needs to be spelled out. Textbooks are necessary as they give teachers a guided framework to teach students, useful resource material, a means of assessment, and a shared source all in one holistic package.

At least, they used to. Now teachers don’t get even that much. I’ll get to the reasons why, but first you need to realize what life is like for a teacher without classroom books for her kids.

If you’re lucky, you at least get consumables. Consumables are classroom materials that usually include a book, as well as a workbook with tearaway assessment materials (worksheets) that the kids use as their practice and to take grades. While these are better than nothing, they don’t meet the rigor and quality of real textbooks where the assessments are made from ruled paper. The big problem with them, however, isn’t that they don’t provide as much as the texts. It’s that they are very expensive solutions to only this year’s problem. Because they are consumed every year, there is little to nothing to use again next year. While we can complain that we have textbooks in classrooms for ten to 15 years… they’ve done the job for 15 years. Imagine ripping out all the portions of the text that provided activities for the kids to practice what they learned or for the teacher to know if they are getting it. That’s what a consumable solution looks like year two. Of course, this is usually how it works — with a giant pile of garbage created every year and a new set of consumables being purchased each and every year. Did I also mention that the sets are rarely the same requiring the teacher to completely redo her program to accommodate this new solution?

While this isn’t ideal, it makes the job of teaching at least possible. Without at least this solution, your life looks very similar to my wife’s for a few years, which was an abject nightmare.

Imagine that you’ve worked all day, from 7:30 AM to around 5PM herding 80 lbs malcontented chickens. Then you finally get home. Ah, the glories of rest and the comforts of family. But no, now work starts.

If you don’t have a system of integrated resources that align to your lesson plan then you have the happy duty of making one… from scratch… every week. You learn to respect the writers of textbooks when you get to do it yourself. That means all the lessons, the assessments, the testing, the lecture material, and it has to be colorful and entertaining or else it won’t compare to Call of Zombies VI. I’m a professional writer now, so trust me when I say books don’t write themselves. To do that on top of being a full-time teacher… with a family? You must be joking. Obviously, no teacher has the ability to literally write a textbook for her class every year. So for four years, my wife spent hours, upon hours, upon hours searching the internet either on Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers (like Etsy but teachers sharing assignments they created) for assignments and modules to allow her to teach her required subjects. Note that this means she has to spend her own money for assignments that aren’t integrated into the state-mandated curriculum in any way. But this is what happens when the state doesn’t provide your school with the resources to buy materials for you.

Maybe you’re thinking that this is a good thing, that if they create the curriculum then they are better able to do their jobs — teach kids. You’d be incorrect, as this robs them of how they teach. Think about when I went to Iraq with the Marines. That job is hard enough, right? We can agree there. Now imagine if I had to also buy my own gun and equipment. Worse, how well do you think our warfighters would be if they also had to build their own equipment? The job is designed to push people to their limits already in challenging and dynamic environments. Adding, “gunsmith” to the billet shouldn’t be necessary too. The same is true for teachers, yet we are basically sending them to war without weapons, armor, or a strategy, and telling to make do with what they personally buy from the internet.

But wait, there’s more! No matter what option she takes, she is still going to have no books to work from other than what she prints out herself. Did I mention paper rationing? Yes, on top of having no books, no consumables, and basically making the teachers invent their own curriculum this year, and when all teachers are doing what my wife is doing… that means they have literally nothing to teach their kids with! Frankly, that paper rationing started a minor revolt this year and the superintendent buckled.

But you want to know what is even crazier? It isn’t even a matter of not having the money to buy textbooks. The textbook companies are literally not even printing them. This is due to the chaotic nature of Oklahoma education standards placed on schools by the state. The standards determine what is and isn’t taught by Oklahoma teachers (You thought it was teachers, huh? Yeah right.) What happens when something doesn’t align with the current standards? It’s no good. It has to be thrown out. A brand new classroom set literally has no place in the classroom because of all the things it doesn’t teach decided upon by some committee in Oklahoma city because parents and activists threatened to say mean things on Facebook. Yeah, that’s how the system works. So textbook companies can’t do that. It takes years to create a new edition and they can’t keep up with states as fickle with their standards as ours. That’s why they threw up their hands and said “fooey with the Okies!” and stopped printing books we could use.

I’ll talk about the problems with Oklahoma’s standards later, but next, I want to illuminate you on something you’ve probably been asking yourself ever since this started, “Why not just use updated technology?”

Why not indeed…

 Next Article: The Myth of Classroom Tablets or Start at the Beginning

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