August 2015, I was teaching 8th grade English for the first time at a small private school. I had spent hours all summer poring over the books I had scavenged from the room where the same class was taught the year before. The prior May, I had taken home several teacher editions of books to familiarize myself with material taught at this specific grade level. I felt confident, armed with my newly completed, color-coded, self-authored scope and sequence.
Then came the plot twist.
I arrived for our first teacher workday in August to find that the only class set of student books that the school owned for this class was nearly thirty years old. Because it was so old, this book was the one resource from which I had not taken any material for my scope and sequence. As soon as I realized the issue, I hustled to the curriculum director and asked for books.
All the money was gone.
Textbook needs had been assessed, books purchased, and monies depleted in May. I was tardy to the textbook party. The result of this was that I’d either have to use the 1989 textbook – complete with problematic verbiage and a few now-defunct historical perspectives – or be true to my own convictions and teach the class without a book.
Thinking quickly, I combed my memory and searched Google to find out the name of the company who published the textbook I had used most frequently for other grade levels. From there, I found several used booksellers on Amazon, printed a cost estimate for a class set of them, and re-approached the curriculum director, hopeful that some miracle would provide these books for my class.
(Apparently, tardy to the party + money is all gone = $325 cannot be found for textbooks from this century.)
So I had to think long and hard about how I was going to teach this class. Had I really reached the point of charging a class set of textbooks to my almost maxed-out credit card?
So I channeled all the energy from my frustration into a creative solution: wish list the books. The school’s biggest annual fundraiser provided teachers the opportunity to ask for special things for their classrooms. This might be the year I asked for textbooks as my special thing.
But in the end, I chickened out and asked for a few smaller items. I received enough cash donations, miraculously, to fund my smaller items and my textbook wish.
When I tell you this whole scenario absolutely broke me, I mean it truly. As soon as I placed the order for the updated textbooks, I started looking for another job. And although it didn’t come to this, I was willing at that point, mid-autumn, to leave my teaching position immediately if a position came available elsewhere. (If you know teachers, you know a situation has to be dire for a teacher to consider this.)
As I drove home from work today, talking to my mama and venting frustrations, I couldn’t help but remember this incident from four years ago. It utterly changed my perspective as a teacher. Mind you, my heart has always been in my job. But I learned in the fall of 2015 that no matter how much I view my job as vocation; no matter how much energy I am willing to expend so my students get my best; no matter what sacrifices I’m willing to make so they get the materials they need – it can’t come at the expense of my own peace of mind.
If we take time to reflect on all of our individual workplace experiences, I think many of us have had this moment: when you realize the job can’t be your end. At the moment we start to compromise our integrity, turn a blind eye, or conversely, become so fixated on the problems that we ourselves become toxic to those around us, it’s time to step back.
Reconnect with our reason for being there in the first place.
And wish big for our lives and jobs and selves – not for textbooks.