Don’t let me be misunderstood
Posted by lpearle on 2 March 2015
In my last post, I said that I was a failure – except, not really. My programs are strong and by any standards other than those insisted on by the leaders in my profession a great success. Which is why I’m not sure that the national association supposed to speak to and for me actually does… but that’s another post.
What upsets me is the rabid insistence (and it is rabid: there’s no discussion, no middle ground, just this way and no other) that the effective library program is one that promotes deep inquiry and co-teaching by technology/instructional leaders in the school, and if others wander in or want to schedule time, well… maybe you’ll give them some crumbs, while reminding them that you really only work in co-teaching situations. That working on a fixed schedule is somehow akin to living in a dictatorship against which you should rebel, rather than trying to work to still provide a great program. And that the only “real” school librarian is the one who is “certified” (I much prefer “credentialed”, but perhaps that’s because I don’t have state certification – and many librarians I know who do have it run bad programs).
It’s like the “I’m a librarian, I don’t do clerical work” crap I hear at times. But I digress.
Here’s an example (one of many) that lets me know that my program is not only aspirational, but effective, and possibly great:
Several years ago, I was working with middle school classes on a fixed schedule. This was less than ideal, as we met twice in a seven day cycle, and sometimes there were long – and I do mean long – gaps between classes. Even better, this was only half of the class for one semester; I saw the other half earlier in the year. It made for awkward integration into their research project, as I could go over things in class with only half of them. Anyway, we worked on how to do research (I prefer FLIP-IT to Big 6, but whatever works for your students is best, right?), evaluating sites and so forth. Then, towards the end, inspiration hit.
One of my nieces was on the trip to Mexico that brought back Mexican/swine/H1N1 flu to the US, and was actually quarantined (another digression: is it really quarantine if you’re attending baseball games? and by “baseball game” I mean the NY Mets, in Shea Stadium?). Then a school nearby said it was closing for two weeks as a sort of self-quarantine. My mother got worried about me, about how I would do since I have some autoimmune issues. The next day I walked in to class and said, here’s the project: we’re going to research this flu and the end product will either be me telling my mother than I’m a (then) 45-year-old woman who can make her own decisions OR she’ll write a note to the Head of School excusing me from work because of the flu. The students loved it! Rather than a project they had to do because the teacher wanted them to, when they really didn’t care about the topic, here was something they were concerned about and heard about at home.
Two years later, when these students were in Upper School, I was leaving and a candidate came in to teach a sample class. He asked about how one started to do research and one boy – you know, that boy, the one sitting in the back and never quite paying attention – raised his hands. He remembered the acronym, remembered the steps but didn’t quite have the wording right. So, here was a class totally separated from the curriculum, on a fixed schedule, not really doing “deep inquiry” and two years later that boy remembered what he’d learned to do.
That’s not the first, nor the last, time something similar has happened. Could working with this group on a flexible schedule, with deep integration into their class, have had that effect? I don’t know. I suspect the answer is “no” because no matter how deep and rich the project is, if it doesn’t capture the student’s interest, they just won’t care. And in a K-12 institution, very little comes from a student’s deep interest in a topic, and far too much from the teacher’s need to have a research project or the curricular requirements.
We, as a profession, need to celebrate these little victories while aspiring to move our programs further. We need to stop making people working in the trenches, in conditions that are not ideal (multiple buildings, unfair student:librarian ratios, fixed schedules, no budgets, etc.) feel shamed about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. If the library is used – as is one I know of – as a study hall and the librarians supervise “credit recovery” let’s not shame them for not fighting for more. Perhaps they already are. Perhaps they know that if they do, they’ll have even bigger problems in their school. Perhaps they have already gotten as much concession as they can and are happy to have survived that fight.
Shame on the shamers. It’s one thing to say (implicitly or explicitly), “here’s to what you should aspire” and quite another to say, “shame on you for not doing a better job”. We need to reach out, to provide tips and tricks and support. It’s shaming when we say there’s only one way to be effective, it’s shaming when we say that if you don’t follow a prescriptive set of standards, you’re not being a good school librarian. We need to be less rabid and more open-minded to the different ways programs are effective, to encourage aspirational dreams and confer greatness on more of our peers because they’re doing good work, just maybe not the “effective” work AASL envisions.