Taking a chance paid off for a McMinn County High School teacher recently, as her reward was roughly $500 worth of books for free from an author.
MCHS teacher Linda Gaskins was searching for new reading material in an attempt to help motivate her 11th grade english classes.
“My regular 11th grade reading classes, there are two of them, don’t love reading, they don’t love writing, and they don’t love school,” she expressed. “The COVID environment over the last couple of years has been very hard on the population of students who were in high school across the nation. These students who are in 11th grade haven’t really had a normal year of school since they were in 8th grade. They dealt with illness themselves and in their families. The school journey for them has been difficult.”
Gaskins noted when the time came for her students to begin a novel, they seemed less than pleased at the prospect of working from a fictional story.
“That was a huge red flag. If they were having trouble relating to a fictional character, I wondered if I could find a non-fiction novel that would have more meaning that they might engage the novel,” she recalled. “I went looking through my shelves in my classroom library and I pulled out a book that I had used many times called ‘It’s Not About The Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks,’ written by Howard Behar, who is the former president of Starbucks North America and Starbucks International.”
Gaskins only had a few copies of the book at the time and sought a method to obtain more copies.
“Normally if you are going to do another book, you get with the librarian a year in advance so that she can make some orders and you make plans for that, but this was a spur of the moment decision on my part,” she noted. “I spoke with the librarian and we did the math and we found that it would cost around $500, which was more than she had to allocate for a new book that year and I certainly didn’t need to do that out of pocket so I thought I’d check to see if Behar had a website.”
She found Behar’s website along with an e-mail address to contact him via an assistant.
“I sent her (Behar’s assistant) an email and I painted her a picture that these are children who don’t love school and don’t love reading and that I wanted to read a book that was going to help them engage with the reading process,” she said. “I told her that I really wanted to teach Behar’s book but it was cost prohibitive and wondered if he would consider sending us one class set of books ... Less than 24 hours later I got an e-mail back from her saying that Behar would be glad to send a class set of books and asked how many we needed, our school address and our school phone number.”
According to Gaskins, the book is 10 chapters that focus on personal leadership.
“It is really about being a servant leader and managing yourself,” she expressed. “This project really just mushroomed into something amazing. I started noticing the students were really getting into the book, they were taking notes, they were volunteering to read, they started having conversations about the book that were not driven by me and that is just fun. As a teacher you spend your whole career trying to foster a climate in which students engage the reason for reading process where they make a connection with an author or book and it was amazing to see them interested and thrilled in this book.”
The impact of the book continued to grow, which led to Behar joining the students in a group Zoom call.
“For my 9 a.m. class it was 6 a.m. pacific time (for him). So Behar got up at 5:30 a.m. just so he could talk to them at 6 a.m.,” she said. “In the book he talks about putting people first and they really saw this man, who is a worldwide figure, obviously wealthy and head of a really well known company living by the values that he taught in his book and it really made a huge impact on these students.”
In addition, Behar also supplied a copy in Spanish of the book for one of Gaskins’ students from his personal collection.
“I had asked them if they would help me find a Spanish copy of the book because I have a student that speaks very little English,” she recalled. “I was willing to pay for it, so the assistant and I searched but couldn’t find one that we could order so she contacted Behar who said that he had one on his shelf and that he would just mail in. So not only did he send us 30 books to the classroom but he also sent one from his personal collection.”