Category Archives: library school

Welcome to Acupuncture School

I’m currently in the midst of orientation day at acupuncture school, and the differences between it and library school could not be greater.  At my library school orientation, we discussed matters germane to us as future educators: licensing, standards, etc.

At acupuncture school, we began with an icebreaker to introduce ourselves to our classmates as a precursor to the extremely hands-on practice we will soon be engaging in with each other.  In a matter of days, we will begin to literally use each others’ bodies to learn, touching, feeling, palpitating, needling, scraping, and more.  To say it’s a much more intimate learning experience is a vast understatement.

And now, I am sitting in the midst of a seminar on infectious diseases.  This is important information – we will be working out in the general public, exposed to any number of infectious patients, some with your run-of-the-mill issues like the common cold, others with more serious issues such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.   I think I know more than the average person about infectious diseases, being generally interested in the sciences and having studied biology at a higher level, but I had forgotten how learning this information has a tendency to make you a little hyper-paranoid.

I am not the most health-nervy person out there – I don’t jump or take notice of every little sniffle or sneeze, but when you take a moment to stop and consider just how many nasties are out there, that we are being exposed to without even realizing it, well, it’s enough to make you really freak out if you let it.

My feelings on this first day are hard to describe.  I’m apprehensive at being able to tackle both programs at once.  I’m worried that I’m going to be in over my head, that my relationships are going to be impacted, that my skin is going to flare up again.  I’m wondering how I’m going to juggle what promises to be an intense workload.  But most of all, I’m curious to see how my brain handles dealing with two very different subject matters simultaneously.  I had a taste of it this summer with my technology class, but for a variety of reasons, my brain didn’t really feel like it was being split in two, so to speak.  This semester, I think it very much will.

No matter what, it promises to be an interesting ride.  All aboard!

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Do school librarians really teach?

The school library world has been abuzz over the last week due to an article published in the Los Angeles Times about the almost surreal treatment of school librarians (“The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians“).  The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is, like many school districts across the country, facing budget cuts.  On the chopping block are all of the school librarian positions in the district (85 in total).

The American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians make clear in their response to the LAUSD what is at stake should these cuts go ahead, and it’s sobering to say the least:

If the elimination moves forward, only 32 of approximately 700 schools will have full-time school librarians and only 10 will have part-time school librarians. This means that approximately 600,000 students will be deprived of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to compete in today’s 21st century workforce – a school librarian

That’s bad enough for reasons I will get to in another post some day, but what’s worse is what’s being done to the school librarians as working professionals.  If these librarians get fired, they obviously no longer earn any money.  However, if they can prove that they have taught students in the last five years, a necessary credential for teaching in California, then they can find employment elsewhere in the system.

The LAUSD, which is attempting to save money by firing these librarians, does not want this to happen.  More people on payroll somewhere or other means the money hasn’t really been saved.  So what have they done? Well, logically, they’ve hired attorneys to interrogate the librarians and prove, legally, in front of a judge, that they are not teachers and thus must be fired.

Yes, you read that right.  The LAUSD is using state attorneys to try and fire the librarians by claiming they are not teachers.

“When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?” an LAUSD attorney asked Laura Graff, the librarian at Sun Valley High School, at a court session on Monday.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” Graff said. “I teach all subjects, all day. In the library.”

“Do you take attendance?” the attorney insisted. “Do you issue grades?”

Are school librarians teachers in the traditional sense, that they teach English, or Social Studies, or Math?  No.  Are they teachers? Absolutely.  To try and insist otherwise is a complete sham, and the fact that lawyers have had to get involved is beyond disgraceful.

You might well be wondering “how is it that Ms. Graff teaches all subjects all day long in the library?”  The simple answer is, she’s doing her job as a librarian.  To be an excellent school librarian involves collaborating with subject teachers to find resources to help them enhance their lessons.  It means teaching your colleagues about the latest technologies that can support student learning and achievement.  It means teaching students skills like keyword searches, note-taking, summarization, and how to think critically.  It means fostering student learning through collaboration, the support of independent inquiry, and yes, teaching lessons.

In my teaching strategies class this semester, a major part of our coursework was writing lesson plans that correlated with a subject teacher’s goals.   The middle school lesson we had to teach concerned learning about the solar system.  Now, I’m not training to be a science teacher, so I didn’t teach about Jupiter or why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.  What I did teach was how to read two different paragraphs with similar information, how to compare and contrast the information in each paragraph, and how to organize those comparisons using a graphic organizer.    The skills taught in this lesson were applicable not only to science, but to any academic subject and even to standardized tests.

I may not be giving tests or taking attendance, but I am most certainly training to be an educator. If I weren’t, it certainly begs the question why I’m paying thousands of dollars and taking standardized tests to obtain a license in my state. When I get a job as a library teacher, I will be using my librarian credentials day in and day out to be an effective administrator, teacher, educator, and collaborator.  To think that my teaching skills might one day be questioned by a zealous attorney looking to achieve budget cut goals is like a slap in the face.

Luckily, the LA. schools affected value their school librarians, and many are scrambling to find alternative funding to pay their salaries for the next year, but the situation is ludicrous.  It’s another example of how far off the right path we as a country are going in our attacks against teachers and education.  We’re actively harming our future through our actions, and the devaluation of the teaching profession, school librarians included, is a truly disheartening indication of just how bad things have become.

On A Fool’s Errand?

Over the past few months, I have become increasingly confident in my decision to pursue school librarianship.  It’s an ideal fit for me and my talents, and I can’t wait to enter the field as a professional and begin making a difference.

Yet, I have my doubts.  Why? Because right now, it kind of feels like only a fool would want to enter the field of education, particularly public education.  All you have to do is read the news, or skim it, really, to hear the vitriol being directed at teachers.  Teachers have it easy, you see, they only work until about 2:30 in the afternoon, and they get summer break! And they make lots of money! And some of them don’t even bother to show up for work!

It is discouraging, to say the very least, to read about stories like that of my friend, who works in a struggling Kentucky high school and will be fighting to keep her job in the course of ten minutes Monday morningTo hear Scott Brown, the enlightened governor of Wisconsin, insisting that he must curtail the greed of teachers (while others of his party vigorously defend the tax cuts for couples making $250,000 a year or more – the inconsistency, it burns).

Here’s the thing.  I do not plan to take my job lightly when I begin working.  To plan creative lessons, to envision collaboration with subject teachers, to teach your children to have the technology and critical thinking skills they will need to succeed in life? That takes effort. Effort, planning, careful thought, and a lot of time.  Time that extends past 2:30 pm.

I am entering the field of education as a school media specialist because I believe I can make a difference, that I can help change the lives of students, and because I believe strongly in what the profession stands for.  But, Mr. President, if you want to know why more bright, young people aren’t becoming teachers,* I would ask you to open the newspaper and really read what our nation’s leaders are saying about its teachers.  We are not a culture that values teaching or teachers. We are cutting teaching positions in a time of economic crisis.  Teachers might have the most important job after parents in terms of shaping the future workers and leaders of America, but what they do is not appreciated.  Sure, everyone can recall a favorite teacher, but those fond memories do not translate into the public rhetoric or support for teachers from those in positions of power.  Until that happens, Mr. President, I suspect many of my peers will maintain the same attitude: it’s nice, but why would I go on a fool’s errand when life could be that much less stressful?

*In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama discussed his vision of education for America’s future, and spoke of wanting to encourage more bright, talented young people to pursue careers in education.

Purpose and Meaning

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a close friend about regrets in life. Specifically, how it was kind of hard at times to not feel envy when I see Facebook posts from friends off to London or Paris or NYC for grad school or work.

That easily could have been my life had I chosen to pursue a policy degree or an IR program.  I had my life plan mapped out (in vague term): grad school at a prestigious university, a career path that would involve international travel, work at the UN or a similar body, writing insightful policy and opinion papers.   But then I chose not to go down that road, because I came to the realization that for me, that kind of work would be intellectually stimulating but would not feel very purposeful.   Having worked in NGOs before, and grown up around academic/political circles, I realized that I get frustrated with the constant talk and the perceived lack of action.

More than that, though, after working in the corporate world, I realized that I craved more activity in my work life.  I desperately missed the connection I had with my students in Taiwan.  Even on one of my worst days, I didn’t mind getting up and going to school because something made me smile.  And so it was that I came to apply to library school.  It’s also why I decided to not pursue acupuncture as a full-time career, because it would mean not working with kids.

I then told my friend how my projects this semester had helped reassure me that I am on the right path.  It was such a tremendous rush of satisfaction knowing I’d created projects that the librarians needed and intended to use, and their gratitude more than made up for the hours of hard work and complaining I did while putting the projects together.   I put together projects that had usefulness, that will impact students in tangible ways,  something I struggled with as a speechwriter.  It was extremely hard,  wondering what, if any, greater purpose there was to what I was writing, if it really truly mattered beyond boosting the image of the company.

This path, the work I’m doing, it has meaning, and that means I made the right choice, and remembering that makes it easy to overcome those brief moments of envy.

On Being a Minority and Multicultural Literature

I am rarely conscious of my minority status.  I’m just not.  Call it a blessing, privilege, whatever you want, but the fact remains that though my identity is important and does shape who I am, but it’s not a definitive part of me.

Yesterday, however, I became acutely aware that I was the only visible minority in the room, and my professor confirmed my thoughts, admitting that she wanted to seek my perspective on the topic of why multicultural literature is important but didn’t want to single me out, either, for being the token minority.    I appreciate her honesty, it’s just a very weird feeling to be so acutely aware of something that usually is not on my radar, and who would have thought it would crop up in children’s literature class, of all places.

But in some ways, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  We discussed multicultural literature in class this week, and I found it mildly uncomfortable listening to a group of white women discuss vetting an author’s background to see if they (white authors) were creating authentic works of fiction concerning people of color.

Not only did this attitude make me uneasy, it also misses the point entirely of one of the articles we read for class, wherein the author summed up my thoughts on the matter quite nicely.  It’s not imperative that an author stick only to what they know, what they have experienced.  I don’t believe that for a moment.  However, it is important that the author has attempted to understand the culture/people they are writing about, that to paraphrase the author, they have gone inside that culture rather than writing solely from an outside perspective.

So that’s part of what’s on my mind after class today.

The other thing that I can’t stop thinking about is how surprisingly raw it felt as I spoke my feelings out loud to a class of peers who, I’m pretty certain, don’t understand firsthand, why I thought it was important to have multicultural books in the collection.   Maybe it’s because I’d just had a similar conversation over Thanksgiving with Julia, about how both of us felt frustrated by the lack of books that spoke to our experiences growing up not as immigrants adjusting to a foreign culture, but as Americans with two distinct, equal cultural identities.
Or maybe it had to do with my lack of sleep, but I found myself on the edge, emotionally, as I realized that as a child, there were no books written for me, or about me.  I read books about immigrants, books about Japanese-Americans living in internment camps, books about Jewish kids who identified first and foremost as Dutch or German or whatever and then as Jews, if at all, but there were no books that spoke to me, that told my story.

There were no books talking about what it’s like to have two cultural identities, nothing that reassured me that it was ok to feel confused, embarrassed, to want to fit in.  Nothing that taught me to be proud. I never read a book where the character’s ethnic or religious identity wasn’t somehow just a facet of who they were rather than being the predominant trait about them, and don’t you forget it.  I told my classmates that I genuinely believe that having access to these kinds of books would have helped me process and understand being different while being more or less the same, and attempted to convey how powerful an experience it was to get to college and find out that yes, in fact, there are plenty of books out there that talk about growing up South Asian in the diaspora.  The books I read in that class had a profound impact on me, but it took 19 years and a chance offering of a class in South Asian diasporic literature to realize that there were books written by adults, for adults, that talked about these experiences and conflicts.

But there remains nothing for kids.

And that, to me, is a big, big hole in contemporary children’s literature.  It’s not the only gap – two of the standard texts used to discuss gay parenting with humans as the protagonists, My Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies are nearing 20+ years old.  The fact is, America, and by extension, our classrooms and communities are growing ever more diverse.  California will be a minority-majority state in less than forty years.  Now, more than ever, there is a need for quality children’s literature written for minority kids, not kids who’ve just arrived from a foreign country (though acknowledging their experiences is also important), but kids who are growing up here, who are American, but who straddle two or more cultural identities in their daily lives.

Those stories need to be told, but they haven’t, and it’s made me determined that, as soon as I think of a suitable plot line, I’m going to try to write such a book.  Someone needs to do it, so why not me?

One Project Down, More to Go

It is with great relief that I have finished one of my major projects for the semester, a collection development project for children’s literature.   The assignment was to develop a part of a library’s non-fiction collection (think folktales, biographies, factual science books, history books, etc).

My particular area of focus was the Dewey 954-958.1 section, which in non-librarian speak, encompasses the history of Asia.  Only, Dewey is a little imprecise as to what constitutes Asia, so the Arabian Peninsula doesn’t count, but Cyprus does.  Russia is its own entity, but Siberia gets lumped into Asia.  Japan, Korea, China, and Southeast/East Asia have their own designations within the 900s, so my scope covered Afghanistan, the South Asian subcontinent, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon.

My goals in developing this part of the collection had two parts to it. First, the librarian I worked with wanted to have more books that represented India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where many of her students come from.  The second part came from me.  As a firm believer in being informed about the world, I felt it important to include quality books on Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq because of the prominent role these countries play in US foreign policy.  Yeah, these are elementary and middle school students, but it’s never too early to start educating them about far-off lands.

So, what does a collection development project entail? In this instance, three steps.

1. Writing up a profile of my school and its population, and identifying the collection development goals.  This is the purely academic portion of the project.

2. Evaluating the current collection.  We had to write an annotated bibliography, which usually wouldn’t happen, but the purpose was to record our thoughts.  Each book was evaluated for currency (how long ago was it published?), accuracy, bias, relevance (does it meet the needs of the collection? Is it serving that purpose?), circulation statistics (if a book was last checked out in 2001, chances are, you should get rid of it), and usefulness.  We then had to determine whether we would weed, retain, or update each book.

3. Additions to the collection, or deciding what books to purchase.  This part was actually really interesting because a lot of the time as a librarian, you’re flying blind, so to speak.  It’s simply not possible to examine, in person, each book you want to purchase.  So what does a librarian do? They rely upon reviews, catalogs, and “best of” lists to see what other qualified people have had to say about a particular book.   You read what they have to say, consider how positive or not the review is, and make your judgments accordingly.  In the real world, you wouldn’t write down the justifications, and you would have the very real constraints of a budget, but for the purposes of this assignment, we had to justify our choices with supported reviews and had no budget.

All in all, I feel really good about my final product, and I hope the librarian I’m working with finds it useful as well.  Out of the 15 books we had to choose, I’d say 11 of them were really great choices, and I hope that she’s able to purchase at least some of them.

Tomorrow marks the start of a well-needed Thanksgiving break, and in between turkey and pie, I have a good deal of work to get done.  On my plate for the rest of the semester:

1. Literary critique for Children’s Literature

2. 3-class unit lesson plan for Curriculum

3. American Civics Lesson Plan for Curriculum

4. History Frameworks response paper for Curriculum

5. Annotated bibliography for Reference

6. Non-Print Media Log for Children’s Literature

7. Reader’s Theater presentation for Children’s Literature (we will be performing the classic work Is Your Mama a Llama?)

Wish me luck, it’s going to be a long haul to December 9th.