Although small schools often work from small budgets, they should always be looking for new ways to improve the resources that they use, and make sure that their textbooks are designed to be used within the framework of their school setup. For example, some textbooks (such as A Beka or Accelerated Christian Education) are typically designed to be used for homeschooling environments. Others, such as ACSI’s Purposeful Design, are more geared toward private Christian schools.
Sometimes as teachers and parents we tend to panic when faced with change. We’ve taught out of such-and-such textbook for so long, and saved all of the materials we needed, and learned how to “make it work,” that the idea of a textbook change is scary and requires too much time and effort. Not only that, it is a huge investment of money as well. A school needs to be committed to a textbook change since money invested cannot be easily returned. But it doesn’t mean that we have to be afraid of change or that we have to feel guilty if we can’t figure out the new curriculum resource right away. Keep in mind the following hints for success in working with new resources:
1. Learning to use a new textbook really well sometimes takes a few years. So here you are, in your second or third year of teaching, and your school just changed textbooks. What about all that stuff you already developed? Do you have to throw it all away? No, not really. Most textbooks are very similar in terms of the content they cover. A literature textbook, for example, may be organized slightly differently, but may include many of the same authors. Don’t be so quick to throw out all of the materials you have developed over time. Take a look at some of the “quick” tools your new textbook offers such as printable worksheets, quizzes, tests, etc., and make use of them during the first year until you can get your bearings. When you see a way to develop materials to supplement the primary resource in a way that improves the quality of instruction, the rule is “JUST DO IT!” If it works out well, SAVE IT! If it doesn’t, THROW IT AWAY!
2. Communicate with others about the snags you run into with the new resource. Most private schools have a department head of some sort. If you are having difficulties, try writing down the problems that you are experiencing and examples of how you experienced them. Do not make generalizations such as “It just doesn’t work” or “It doesn’t give enough guidance.” Instead, tell your supervisor exactly which areas of the textbook caused snags and debunk the problem. In some cases, you can sort out the issues with your supervisor, fellow teachers or even with the textbook publishers, who may be willing to send your school a representative that can answer questions. Our school recently switched to Scott Foresman language arts books for elementary. When the representative came down to speak with us, she not only gave us access to a website for additional help, but gave us her personal email if we should have further questions. For homeschooling parents, there are plenty of connective websites out there to help you educate your child in the best way possible. Make use of the knowledge and experience of others!
3. Have an open mind, and be willing to change your teaching methods. Are you used to a textbook that encouraged a lot of direct instruction? Perhaps you are happy when your classroom is quietly working in their rows or completing worksheets and homework. What are you supposed to do with a new textbook that encourages use of technology, group work, interactive instructional techniques and perhaps even a little bit of noise in the classroom? Believe it or not, it is possible to have an interactive, yet orderly classroom. For some, it may appear noisy, but when you look at the students and their independent and group work, you can clearly see that learning is taking place. Find new and creative ways of approaching your textbook. Don’t panic when you are out of your comfort zone of direct instruction. Instead, find methods of setting up your classroom and instruction that gives you the best of both worlds–a highly dynamic yet well-managed environment.
4. Realize that you will need to spend time to make your textbook work. Don’t expect the textbook to do the work for you. Don’t just spend the entire year relying only on the textbook and its accompanying supplements. Develop, create, invent, research, investigate, add, and enhance your curriculum. These skills are the responsibility of every teacher regardless of the textbook he or she is using. There is no such thing as a perfect textbook that already contains absolutely everything that you might need. If you are annoyed with the textbook for not providing better anticipatory sets, then create your own! If you are not given tips on how to approach vocabulary, complete some research on vocabulary instructional strategies and learn how to make the vocabulary in the book work for you. You may not be able to do all of your development in one year, but you can at least get a good start and build off of it next year. Don’t just allow yourself to be paralyzed in panic so that you convince yourself you don’t have time or enough creativity to pull it off. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to start or stop a teaching technique that isn’t functioning.
5. Be secure and confident in yourself as a teacher. Teachers, for some reason, tend to be very insecure about their classrooms. So many of us load up on the guilt and end up rejecting constructive criticism out of hurt feelings. Don’t be resentful when someone tries to show you a better way. Don’t automatically assume that they are wrong as a form of self-protection. At the same time, be confident in your skills as a teacher and assess yourself regularly. Ask yourself some key questions at the end of a lesson–what did I do right? What could I have done better? How can I make the lesson less boring? How can I increase the level of academic skills in the lesson? What confused the students and how can I teach it better next time? At the end of each quarter, assess yourself and your teaching methods. Ask yourself: Am I getting through to the students? How is my classroom management? What improvements can I make next quarter? What improvements will have to wait until next year? If you are constantly growing and improving, you are doing your job as a teacher. We all make mistakes and we can all improve our skills, regardless of the years of experience we may be carrying with us.