Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Book Room

I feel accomplished today.  Sore... but accomplished.

I went to work this morning with my department chair, LeighAnne, and together, for 2 hours, we tackled the book room.  The book room had become ridiculous.

In June, another teacher, assistant principal, and I had cleaned out two huge flatbed dolly trips worth of old, falling-apart, unused books and resources.  We shipped all of our out-of-adoption textbooks back to the district to store, sell, recycle, worship -- whatever it is that they do.  We didn't finish everything, but we felt accomplished.

And then the new school year arrived.

With the influx of about 50 new faculty, staff, and administration, the changes to our school were already overwhelming.  With the construction, renovation, and re-shuffling of classrooms, things seemed damned near impossible.  We each had to move in to our rooms in strict windows of time, and so many of our new-to-us teachers walked straight into a hot mess.  Some of the returning teachers did too.  *raises hand*

Every closet they opened, every bookshelf they saw, every desk drawer they slid, there was stuff.  It was packed in tightly.  Years and years and years of accumulated papers, transparencies, workbooks, and resources -- all just left.  And since many of those teachers weren't even teaching the subject of all that stuff, they simply did what they had to do.  They packed it up and called a veteran.

This veteran did what I do best.  I advised them to store it in the book room, and I'd deal with it later.

I always say that I'll deal with it later.  I'm not very good at defining "later".

But "later" became today, and off LeighAnne and I went.  I wish we'd taken a "before" picture.  If you think hoarders only exist on television or in that creepster house down the block, you obviously don't know many teachers.  We are, by our very nature, savers.  We so often pay for supplies out of our own pockets that you will see us pick up every pencil stub, stray marker, and freebie we encounter.  We will find a spiral and tear out the last 3 clean sheets because God only knows, some kid in the very next class will need paper.  We are masters of duct tape repair and salvaging lost time.

That nature, paired with the outrageous amount of resources thrust upon given to us by our school, our district, and our government and you wind up with -- the book room.

(Pro-tip:  if you're moving -- whether it's a house or a classroom -- don't leave your crap behind.  Put it back in its rightful place.  Put it in the trash can.  Put it in the hands of someone when they have time to deal with it.  But don't just leave it there.  If you haven't used it, they're not going to use it.  If you don't want it, they don't want it.  And if it's broken, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, get rid of it.)

So not only did we have the crap resources left behind in those classrooms to contend with, we also had just every day run-of-the-four-decades-old crap resources that had been stored in our school since God was a boy.  In fact, I'd bet that some of that stuff was in the moving van from the former site to our current building (which is 20 years old).  Literally, these dictionaries were stored in there still.  There were more than 60.
Proof. 1969.
And this one? 1977.  It's only a year older than me.
I've changed a great deal since 1977.  
And, in true teacher spirit, when LeighAnne joked about their discovery on social media, several people tried to shame us out of recycling them.  They were literally falling apart in our hands and had gone unused for 13 years, but there has to be something else we can do!

We did.  We released their spirit.  Now they have a chance to become new books or new dictionaries.  Maybe even new dictionaries that can explain "twerking" or a "derp".  (God, help us all.  Maybe I should have spared those poor books.)

We unpacked boxes and boxes of novels.  Books that should be in the hands of kids and not taking up space in a closet.  Books in a box make me insane.  Although, in the same box, I discovered both of these.  I don't even get how these were in the same box.  Or room.  Or school.  They will be available in the book room shelf sale next week if you're interested.
Are you kidding me?
We found dozens of brand new binders.  Mountains of unopened construction paper.  Boxes of composition notebooks.  Folders.  Textbook CDs.  Audio books.  Personal audio book players.  All unopened.  All unused.

There were hundreds -- LITERALLY hundreds -- of old test practice workbooks.  Most were for a test that our state doesn't even administer anymore.  

And speaking of, dear Texas (and actually ALL OF AMERICA), kids don't learn more by "practicing a test".  They really don't even learn how to take the test better.  They just learn to really, really, really hate testing.  And often -- school.  Those workbooks no more encourage good thinking than they encourage good teaching.  So, schools, districts, states, feds -- stop buying them for us.  They're a crutch.  Instead, I'd love for you to use some of that money to invest in teachers.  Invest in adult education.  Invest in serving my students (who have no breakfast) more than just Pop-Tarts and string cheese (that was on the menu last week -- truth).  Invest in a school counselor who has time to actually counsel (and not just make schedules and organize massive testing opportunities).  Invest in a social worker for my campus.  

Or maybe you just ask us teachers what we need.  I think I can guarantee that it's not more test practice workbooks.

I also found teacher's editions with 30 different guidebooks, test generators, and auxiliary crap resources.  Literally. Thirty.  I don't need 30 teacher workbooks to sort through.  I'm too busy with IEP's and NCLB and ARDs and PEIMS and TEAMS to sort through your box o' crap resources.  I don't even use your Teacher's Edition because A) I went to college and actually took real live thinking courses in English and 2) the print is far too small for my tired eyes to look at while I'm also actively monitoring my classroom.  If you want to really help me out, here's what I need:  large print. 

On our second trip to the recycling bin, LeighAnne and I joked that if we really wanted to make the bucks, we'd write a textbook.  There are no less than 143 optional materials you can get with your textbooks.  Or we could create a standardized test.  That's where the real dollar bills are.  

"I might as well become a Satanist while I'm at it."  That's the reply I got from LA.  She has a point.
This was just the first recycling load.  We were gutsier with the second.

I think my biggest issue with today, however, was one I feel often.  That book room made me feel like a big ol' wasteful American.  My capitalist, white-bread guilt engulfed me.  The sight of all those workbooks, all those resources, all those unopened boxes of good stuff made me so very sad.  And it made me really angry because I have a school full of impoverished kids and our government's only solution is to throw money at the problem.  Money with strings and hoops to jump through.  Don't get me wrong -- my district and my school, in many ways, have started to learn about BETTER ways to spend (with technology and career path training and community outreach), but sometimes I want to lasso my local, state, and federal politicos with all their miles of red tape.   It's exhausting and frustrating.

Then again, our only solution was to lock it all up in a closet, so maybe we haven't been much better.  

At least it's a cleaner closet now though.


  1. I'm with you! Why have a kid take the same test over and over again?! He generally just keeps making the same mistakes, and when he gets the same results, he feels like banging his head against the wall and dropping out of school!! Administrators: Please don't spend money on practice tests. Please spend that money to train teachers and to really help kids. They deserve it!! :)

  2. Deanna, I truly believe that THE test is what runs good teachers and potentially, good students out of schools. I really don't know what is wrong with the the Iowa Basic Skills Test or something similar that we can purchase. Since we started developing our own we have dropped to something like 43 in the nation. Pretty sad statement, and if it makes you feel any better I think most bookrooms are like that. Teachers file cabinets have outdated, unwanted materials they just can't part with. You are a devoted saint.