The Tools I Need by Dylan Teut
I’ll always remember my undergraduate literacy professor and one of my mentors, Dr. U. In one of our conversations when I was an undergrad college student, I mentioned that my mother was a bit concerned about how many books were accumulating in storage at my home. I knew Dr. U had a large stash of books herself, so I was hoping to glean some advice from her experienced mind. She advised me, “Oh, Dylan, tell her they’re your tools and you can’t do your job without your tools.”
It wasn’t hard for me to understand what she was saying. Of course it is difficult to do a job when you don’t have the right tools on hand. While trying to assemble a piece of furniture recently, I found myself at a roadblock when I needed my screwdriver and it wasn’t in my toolbox. I absentmindedly left it somewhere else in my apartment and didn’t bother to put it back. The project sat unfinished until I located the screwdriver the next day.
Could I do my job- teach- without books? I’m not talking about textbooks- I’m talking about books of all genres, fiction, nonfiction, etc. The stories we all know and love, and the sources of information we turn to when we want to find out more. Could I walk into a classroom each day using only the tools of a whiteboard, markers, manipulatives, or other objects and do my job effectively? Could a reading teacher effectively do his or her job using only a textbook and other tools?
I didn’t- and don’t think I could. Not only would I not be able to teach reading, but the quality of my writing, math, science, social science, art, and other subject areas would probably diminish rather quickly.
Books are my tools- the stuff I need to get the job done. What is my job? My job is to instill a love of reading in my students that will last a lifetime. As a first grade teacher I have other responsibilities as well, but I care the most about reading because it is the heart of all the other subject areas. Whether I have future engineers, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, teachers, managers, or anything else in my room, their success will depend up on their success as a reader.
There are two sections of first grade at the school where I currently teach and the other first grade teacher and I swap sections for a portion of the afternoon. She has my students for social studies class and this past week, they came across something about Amelia Earhart. They came back to my room and said “Mr. Teut, we have to find out what happened to Amelia Earhart! Will you help us?”
The only way I knew how to help them was to use my tools- put a book into their hand. I went home and combed through my collection of books and did not find anything on Amelia Earhart. I jumped on Twitter and asked for recommendations, and soon I made an Amazon purchase so I could help steer these curious girls in the right direction.
The books were delivered two days later and have been devoured not only by the two girls, but by everyone else in the class. I didn’t have to do the job- I put the tools into the hands of my students and they did the job themselves.
I could have told these girls to execute a search on Google, but I would have neglected one of the most valuable teaching tools there is- good non-fiction books. I’m certain the books I ordered don’t reveal the answer to the mystery of Earhart’s appearance, but I’m sure the books will curb the girls’ curiosity.
Haim Ginnott is quoted as saying, “Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.”
Oh, Mr. Ginnott, how untrue this is. Our goal- to make lifelong readers- is indeed attainable. If teachers have books, and lots of them, they are adequately equipped to do the job set before them.
Books are my tools. My grandpa works a lot in his shop and it seems he is always at the local Menards or Lowe’s picking up the latest version of the tools he needs. I’m always picking up the most up to date tools I need. Dr. U was right. Books are an educator’s most valuable tools. Books are the tools I need to do my job- and, books are the tools I pass on to my students to use so they can do their jobs.
Dylan Teut is a first grade teacher in Belvidere, IL. You can find him reading, working on his master’s degree, or serving in the church music department. He also directs an annual literacy festival at his school. You can find him on Twitter at @dylanteut.