A Teacher’s Toolbox

I am a teacher. For those of you who aren’t, let me stop for a minute and explain our love-hate relationship with textbooks in the current educational environment. We don’t really get to choose our textbooks. Usually, a committee (sometimes of our peers, sometimes of administrators who haven’t taught in years) makes the choices. It IS fun to be on the committee b/c you get advance copies of the books approved by the state/county to choose from. (yep, someone else even further removed has already made choices for you). Once the book is chosen, as a teacher you have to spend a LOT of time getting to know it. Yes, the information is always pretty much the same, but there is still a LOT of room for variation in style, quality, tone, and read-a-bility. What goes in level 1 or level 2, where the cut-off is, which ideas are linked together, etc.

Think about it: picture the least informative, most dense, incomprehensible book you ever had in school, and then think about the ones that were actually kind of cool, even if you wouldn’t admit it. And there are the ancillaries (workbooks, teacher’s editions, testing materials, blah blah) to peruse. It’s exciting. It opens up possibilities of doing new stuff. You take it home, you re-do lessons, you create new ones, you get excited about your subject all over again.

And then, a year or so later, just when you’ve got it all figured out, some nim-wit re-writes the pacing guide and standardized test for your subject. The wonderful, new, sparkly book you have totally bonded with is out of sequence. Chapter 12 should be Chapter 1, there’s NOT a chapter on X b/c when the book was chosen, that skill was in the NEXT course in the sequence. You get the idea. The marriage is no longer working. But, ever the competent professional, you re-adjust, supplementing from your own personal textbook library, the internets, the file-cabinet of doom, your co-workers’ stash of goodies, and you make new stuff. Hopefully in 5-7 years, you’ll get a new book that will match. And the cycle starts again. (or, if your district is in the budget crunch we’re in, you won’t get new books for another 10-14 years, by which time there won’t be enough left for a class set anyway- but that’s a different soap box).

EVERY once in a while, you might look at the textbook and realize, “Hey. Someone WROTE this mammoth. I could do that.” or, if it’s not such a good choice, “What was this idiot thinking? I KNOW how to do this and the book doesn’t make sense to me.”

Textbook writing, especially for the k-12 market has to be intense. Not only do you have to know the subject, but in the margins of the teacher’s edition and in the ancillaries are complete instructional guidelines, pedagogical tips, how-to’s (how to work with different learning styles, disabilities, etc). It’s a two-for: content AND educational pedagogy. Today’s award is for the well written text book.

The TEXTY awards are awarded by the Association of Text and Academic Authors. They are awarded in 2 divisions, k-12 and collegiate, in the following subjects:

Subject areas awarded are:

  • Accounting, business and economics
  • Communication, education and performing and visual arts
  • Computer science and engineering
  • Humanities and social sciences
  • Languages and literature
  • Life sciences
  • Math and statistics
  • Physical sciences

The author or publisher may nominate the book/series/title. If there is no worthy candidate in a subject, no award is given. For a list of winners, click HERE.

The same group also awards the McGuffey award. This one has special relevance given the circumstances I described above. It honors texts that are at least 15 years old and are still selling well and relevant. There’s nothing worse than an outdated textbook. (For example, the one I use now for Spanish had the students describe celebrities all the time. Great when it was new, but now I spend as much time identifying the outdated references as teaching subject/adjective agreement).  The link above will give you a list of winners.

Sadly, I’ve never taught from one of these. I THINK I recognized a few from my student days. I wish this award carried a little more weight with the folks who do selection, but money is often the deciding factor.


4 Comments on “A Teacher’s Toolbox”

  1. Miss Anderson says:

    Amen to the “rewriting the pacing guide” bit in particular. We are going through that right now with this switch to the Common Core Standards, and it’s a nightmare for the SS teachers. They have THE WORST TEXTBOOK IN THE WORLD. It’s extremely dense and high level, while introducing concepts that are 100% new to most of our students…Asia, Africa, Europe, South America). But now, even their terrible textbook is defunct. The curriculum changed from continents to time periods and nothing is usable. With $0 for new textbooks.

    I was completely unaware that there are textbook awards, though. I learn something new every day!

  2. Geoff W says:

    That is really interesting. I took a copyediting course and my instructor copy edits a lot of textbooks and it’s an interesting market. You don’t realize how much goes into them with all the ancillaries.

    The awards I guess are a good idea, but from what I’ve learned it’s generally a bunch of minions who rewrite the textbooks and a lot of them write for all of the various companies and some professor’s name is latched on.

    • Sadly, I know that’s how it works for a lot of the “bigger” publishing houses (Glencoe, McGraw-Hill, etc.) The winners all seemed to be smaller topic books. I wish more attention was paid to making the textbooks good & lasting and less to meeting the ever-changing testing requirements. Hopefully the push toward a national set of benchmarks/curricula will help.

Are you out there? Hello? Anyone? (Thanks for reading! )

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s