Congrats on not using a textbook, Kent. Now what?

In my first job, I taught 6th, 7th, 8th, and Algebra 1 every year. My administration gave me a list of standards for each grade level and a bunch of textbooks, 3 of which were abysmal. (One was pretty good).

So that year, most of the lessons I taught were either compiled from elsewhere or written by me. And for the past seven years in three different schools, it’s pretty much been that way. Aside from that old Algebra 1 class, I’ve never used a single curricular resource as the backbone of my classes. 

Right now I teach 8th grade and Algebra 1. For linear functions, I use Moving Straight Ahead from the Connected Mathematics Project. For the Pythagorean Theorem, I am adapting a unit from a Carnegie book I got a peek at. For expressions and equations, I am adapting a bunch of Heinemann's Transition to Algebra resources (not enough white space). For intro to functions in Algebra, I am combining some Carnegie stuff with Laying the Foundation, a set of curricular resources developed by the National Math and Science Initiative. For various lessons I use Mathalicious or Desmos or Shell Centre or something else. For squares and square roots, I am writing and rewriting my own unit. And I am not the greatest at organization, so I often find myself digging through old binders or Google Drive folders looking for that activity that went so well last year.

It is completely exhausting, and yet I don’t know any other way to teach. I can’t use my district’s current textbooks because they are horrible. We don’t have money for the textbook I would prefer. I asked. So all I can do is write my lessons fresh every night and hope someone listens to me in two years at the next textbook adoption.

I don’t know how ong I can keep it up. I keep hoping that things will get easier - that I will settle into a groove and be able to edit, rather than rewrite, my lessons. But as I've grown as a teacher, I've started to see that 10 great lessons do not make a great unit. There is a level of coherence that I only just started to really notice, and it doesn't exist in many of my cobbled-together-with-duct-tape units.

I was talking today with a colleague who has been at it for a while now. She has trouble with the textbook and tried to move off it last year, but she sensed that lack of coherence and it really bugged her. So she was telling me that she's back on the book for Algebra 1 this year, but still trying to teach Pre-Algebra with the materials we are all creating or collecting.

I showed her how I am introducing Unit 2 of Algebra, with some number tricks and mobiles adapted from Transition to Algebra, and she got really excited. "This stuff is great! They will really be able to see why we use inverse operations to solve equations!" She borrowed my worksheet and made copies for her class. 

She reported back this afternoon that the lesson went well - kids were engaged and motivated. She asked if I had any more stuff like that - it's too daunting for her to make whole packets of material like that on her own. Fortunately, I do have more. One day more. Then I'll be at the copier or on Google Docs, cutting and pasting something new for my students and hoping that it all coheres at the end.

My colleague wants to use good resources and teach good lessons. So do I. But I don't know how long either of us can keep it up at this pace. And this sure as hell isn't a model that is going to lead to effective math instruction in every classroom.

I'm not the first teacher to talk about this. Chris has, Dan has, Dylan has, even the President of NCTM has. I don't have an answer. I'm just trying to add my experience to the conversation.