I threw them out

Our school board moved from fully online teaching to hybrid in-person when February began. No transition day, no time to clear out the classrooms we had been teaching in when Winter Break began and online learning was abruptly declared. No time to move textbooks, supplies or decorations into our new classrooms. Friday we were at home teaching one set of classes; Monday we were teaching new classes in a new semester and often in new rooms. Less than ideal.

I have a prep period right now, so I’m trying to help clear out some of the classrooms that aren’t occupied this week. This gets a little complicated because teachers can’t go into classrooms with students who aren’t theirs, but there’s still plenty that can be done. For example, today I went into my old old classroom (from two terms ago) and found that my now sad-looking displays of student work were wilting off the bulletin boards. As I started to pull them down, one pushpin at a time, I spied a stack of shiny objects tucked into the corner of a shelf. Books! From a distance, I couldn’t tell which ones.

Ever willing to be distracted from a dull task, I cupped the sharp tacks in my hand and ambled over to see what people had been reading, but my heart was already sinking: these books were not appealing to readers. At some point in their lives, these poor novels had been denuded of their original covers and reclothed with paper, laminated, folded and glued on after someone used a thick marker to scrawl the title – but not the author’s name – across the front. Now the cheap covers clung somewhat desperately to the books’ spines creaking open to reveal torn, yellowed pages full of tiny print. I flipped sadly through one of the books and realized that a teacher had handed these out as a class novel last quadmester.

I’ve written several pages of unpublishable material about the infuriating task of trying to update a book room with no budget, but despite my frustration, our school is in no way left with only books whose very appearance actively repels readers. Teachers are not required to choose novels whose presentation tells students that their reading lives are not valued. We have better books than this. My initial curiosity about the books in the corner was rapidly shifting.

We have better books than this. What we don’t have right now are better books that require little prep by teachers because they have been taught off and on for 50+ years. No, wait. Even that is not true: Our bookroom houses many old “classics” that are in much better shape than this. We are trying to update our reading lists to better reflect our diverse student population, but we are far from throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have plenty of books that would have honoured our young readers by showing them that they deserve books that still feel alive.

I stood there for a minute, laminated book slick in one hand, sharp tacks gently pricking the other. I loved this novel when I was in high school, but I am nearly 50 and so, I suspect, are these books. The world has changed beyond what the author would have recognized; it may have changed into what he feared. Still, few readers are hooked by books so old they are barely hanging together. Will we have enough money to replace these books? Will we choose to replace this title if we do have money? I didn’t know. I don’t know. I can’t know.

But I do know that we have to show our students that their intellectual life matters to us. These books didn’t do that. I threw them out.

Join us at twowritingteachers.org

14 thoughts on “I threw them out

  1. I love how you crafted this post and your word choice. I also loved that you tossed the books that actively repel readers! Can your school apply for a Book Love Foundation grant? (I’m sure you thought of it.)

    Like

    1. Oh, I’ve been thinking about it. But I’m ambivalent because I’m at a comparatively wealthy school (I started with $0 rather than in the red) & I have the means to create my own library. So many young teachers need that money; makes me wonder if I should really apply.

      Like

      1. It really did! I was kind of hoping you’d be there. Some day covid will be over & I may have to meander down the east coast, visiting my blogging buddies. (Speaking of, I *read* your blog every week, but the last 6 weeks have knocked me down a bit & I haven’t been commenting as much.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you! The general idea of tossing out books is hard for me to swallow. But I do it when books start to show too much wear. It’s expensive, but it’s the price of doing business. Some books simply won’t appeal to our readers and are, therefore, useless. P.S. I’m a procrastinating declutter-er too!

    Like

  3. One reason I buy books is I want new. Old books I haven’t broken in rarely appeal to me. I have a book germ complex, except when handling rare books. Still, tossing the old tattered copies is hard. I was lucky to have a budget for AP Lit, do the kids almost always had new books to use, and I let them annotate them. This, of course, raises issues of privilege since other classes did not have a separate budget. I particularly dislike permabound books. They send a message that students aren’t to be trusted w/ pretty books.

    Like

  4. Good for you that you trashed the outdated, yellowed books. When I walked into a district as a brand new districtwide ELA Administrator, I found lots of books that I could not believe were the extent of what children were expected to read. No books for pleasure just 4 sets of old novels that were the “reading program”. I started from the bottom up to rekindle the love of reading. It was hard work but so many teachers longed for this bold move. Grants and district funds brought new classroom libraries. It was a small start to a grand idea but each year we added to the newly built literacy bookrooms and classroom libraries. I think you are on the right track. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I am determined to include the joy of reading in our curriculum, or at least in the books we offer. Most teachers are interested and some are excited, but some cling to old lesson plans (and thus old books) like barnacles. Sigh.

      Like

  5. This librarian approves and empathizes, as I’ve recently inherited a library containing books that still have card pockets and AR reading dots. (The dots, to my dismay, were in use even through last year, though AR hasn’t been in our district for several years.) Yes, I am guilty of wanting to hold on to the classics, but only if they look shiny and inviting, so I will discard a sad copy in lieu of a newer edition. Kudos to you for the gumption to toss those sad volumes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This librarian approves and empathizes, as I’ve recently inherited a library containing books that still have card pockets and AR reading dots. (The dots, to my dismay, were in use even through last year, though AR hasn’t been in our district for several years.) Yes, I am guilty of wanting to hold on to the classics, but only if they look shiny and inviting, so I will discard a sad copy in lieu of a newer edition. Kudos to you for the gumption to toss those sad volumes!

    Like

Leave a Reply to Amanda Potts Cancel reply

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s