I have to admit, although I am overjoyed at my new job and absolutely love my work, the looming discussion of budget cuts is making me a nervous wreck. It has definitely affected me, not only in how much money I’ve been putting away lately and how much spending I have personally cut back on, but in the decisions I make for my class as well.
Last summer, I spoke with so many teachers who had gotten pink-slipped. They all had thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of learning materials stored away in their garages—materials they had purchased themselves. Some of those teachers were unable to find jobs again or changed careers altogether; of the ones who were lucky enough to find new employment, some were unable to get the same placement or grade level as before and had to go out and buy all new stuff. Granted, most districts supply their teachers with money to help them supplement curriculum materials, but the budgets aren’t necessarily huge and sometimes teachers are forced to go way out of their way and wallet to get materials that their students really need.
I’m usually one of those teachers who jump at a new learning game or book that will help my students. But lately, I find myself walking around the learning store just long enough to convince myself that I can actually make half the materials or just teach the subject a different way, so I will put the items back on the shelf.
The uncertainty so many of us have been carrying around day-in and day-out has sparked conservation on every level. I’ve made lists that span from how I can stretch a single learning tool for as many tasks as possible, to how I can keep from buying more books and make the ones I have last longer and be more functional. When I arrived at my new classroom last fall, I discovered the teacher before me had torn her workbooks apart and kept the pages in page protectors somewhat cataloged in binders. I found that this method not only keeps the pages nice and makes for easy copying, but because the workbooks are dissected, I use them so much more frequently than I would if they were just on a shelf. It was a lesson in really making my books work for me. While that has helped me stretch my existing books, I have also been making a lot of my own worksheets, data sheets, and planners to keep from buying new, expensive workbooks.
While this conserving mentality has helped me keep my sanity, it has also changed how I teach and how I feel when I am teaching. I think all of this extra time spent creating and planning has drawn me a little closer to what I am teaching. I feel so much more in control of how we are learning, even though I am still following the same guidelines and standards that I always have. I can catalog my own lessons that correspond closely to our textbooks, but still feel like I am tailoring the lessons for my students.
It’s not like this is the first time I’ve ever created a task, but really I think it’s the consistent making of worksheets and activities for each subject that has changed the way I view our curriculum. I have “go-to” books for certain subjects, and I know what the worksheets look like and how I can use them, but when I am making my own worksheets to teach a concept I’ve gone over a hundred times before, it makes me think about it like it’s the first time I taught it. I may even be putting the same old graph or information on the paper, but I enjoy considering how I can creatively present it and make the pages and information work around the lesson. In some ways I prefer this to planning a lesson around how I am going to break down and present an already-made worksheet.
Even with the pending budget cuts, there is still so much to be enjoyed and created to take my mind off of the stress and uncertainty. It’s hard to be a teacher sometimes, especially when I am constantly feeling insecure. But I feel like the growth and experiences I’ve gone through so far this year have made it all very much worthwhile.