Tag Archives: education

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.

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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.

My Favorite Teacher(s)

One of the first realizations I had when I began teaching English was “my God, this is really hard.”  The time, effort and dedication it takes to be a good teacher.  Being an exceptional teacher is even harder, but I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one in my life.

My good friend writes a blog called Teaching Ain’t For Heroes.  A few days ago, she asked her readers to talk about their favorite teachers, which is what inspired this entry. Though I had many wonderful teachers afterwards, especially in college, there was something special about my teachers in seventh and eighth grade. I look back on those years with a golden glow, and a lot of that is due to them.

These teachers encouraged me to explore my intellectual curiosities, they challenged me, and brought forth an enormous outpouring of creativity.  Most of all, they helped imbue me with a sense of confidence at a time I badly needed it.

The first teacher is Jeff, my seventh grade English and history teacher. I don’t remember much about English class other than learning how to write five paragraph essays, but history class remains vividly clear.  Jeff managed to make history come alive as we learned about the founding of Islam, the Crusades, and the Italian renaissance. Even art history became interesting in his class.  The spring of seventh grade, I got to go to Italy with my family, including a trip to Florence.  I had the time of my life, seeing works of art that we’d talked about in person, and I relished being able to teach my parents all that I’d learned about Italian renaissance art and architecture.

I also remember researching destinations for a travelogue, places I still wish to visit one day.  Most of all, however, I remember learning about and dressing up as  Margaret Paston, a medieval English gentlewoman, for our end-of-the-year renaissance feast.  Her life story fascinates me, and I still entertain dreams of writing a book about her one day.  Jeff’s class opened my eyes to the world.  History is not an easy subject to make come alive, but he definitely made history class one of the highlights of my day.

Another favorite teacher is my middle school Latin teacher, Lainey. From the beginning, she noticed my enthusiasm for learning about Ancient Rome and allowed me to explore it to my heart’s content.  It’s because of Lainey that I got into creating my own websites using HTML in middle school, that I read obsessively about Caesar, Anthony, Cleopatra, the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire, and that I had the nerve to submit (and get published) in a Latin newspaper. When I discovered an online game about Ancient Rome, Lainey gave me full permission to play and explore it during lab time.  When I finally saw the Roman Forum in person, I stood nearly breathless with wonder thinking “that was the Temple of the Vestal Virgins! That’s where Cicero gave his orations! ZOMG!”  Again, like Jeff, Lainey’s encouragement and support helped nurture a love of history. As a librarian to be, I’m also struck by the fact that Lainey’s willingness to embrace technology helped teach me many vital internet skills. Lainey’s class functioned the way I hope to have my library classes one day: to teach kids to not only use technology, but harness it to explore and learn and further their own interests.

In eighth grade, I had two teachers who made a huge impact on me because of the way they encouraged me.  I suspect they don’t even know the impact their words had on me, but even now, some eleven years after the fact, I can picture their comments to me in my mind’s eye.   Sally, a wonderful, caring English teacher not only sat patiently with me as I tried to negotiate the complexities of English grammar (to this day, a horrendous weak point), but taught me that my words had power.  The assignment was to write some kind of fiction piece, I think, in relation to the book A Lesson Before Dying, and I can’t remember exactly what I wrote (though I have the paper somewhere in a folder), but she not only asked me for a copy of my writing, she told me in her comments that my piece had made her cry.  It was the most astounding feeling, realizing that I could provoke emotion in someone through my words, and, more importantly, that Sally wasn’t family, who routinely praised me for my writing skills.  This counted for real.

My history teacher that year, Kathy, was an equally wonderful and had wonderful lessons and projects (well, she and Sally both), but what I’ll always remember is our final exam that year.  We were given the choice of writing a creative piece that demonstrated our knowledge of American history.  I’d never really written historical fiction before, but I had an idea and I ran with it, writing the story of a girl living in Revolutionary War America.  Kathy loved it, and told me that she believed I had a future as a historical fiction writer.  Ever since that day, it’s remained a dream of mine.  It’s hardly coincidence that every novel bar one that I’ve dreamt up has been a work of historical fiction.

The last person who deserves a mention for making my middle school years so incredible is actually my principal, a woman who is retiring this year, Barbara.  She let my best friend and I run wild with our imaginations decorating the school dances when we went to her to complain, and never told us that our ideas were too insane.   You always knew you could go talk to Barbara for help or to talk, and her kind and gentle demeanor put you instantly at ease.  I can’t imagine a better principal, and I wish her all the best as she enters a new phase in her life.

So to Jeff, Sally, Kathy, Barbara and Lainey, I extend my deepest and heartfelt thanks.  Thank you for helping shape me.  For giving me confidence.  For teaching me it’s ok to be smart and to love learning.  For inspiring me as I strive to become the kind of educators you are. Thank you a million times.