This work by Denise M. Whiteman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Being an elementary librarian has got to be the best of every world: I get to help kids every day; I help teachers/colleagues every day; I have earned the respect of the community; I get lots of hugs every day; I can have fun doing my job; I get to read a lot every day (of course, I don’t get to read for myself much); I get to enhance my own skills in communication, technology, collaboration, research, and more! How many jobs can people say those things about?
My primary function as the elementary library skills instructor is, of course, to instruct all students in matters involving literature enrichment, technology, and research. To do this I make sure I add as much fun into my delivery as I can manage – my fun and the students’. Most teachers email me requesting supplementary materials for their own lessons. I have one teacher who likes to use the same books at certain times of the year. My memory is so bad it is a common joke in the building, but I usually remember to grab Country Bunny about two weeks before Easter and Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher before Christmas break for this one teacher (of course, last year she actually had to come ask because I forgot!). I have been told that I should encourage the teachers to visit the library to find their needed materials themselves, but there are only one or two able to do this. Usually what ends up happening is that they don’t know which materials they need anyway – and they don’t need to because I always know what they need. I feel that is my job. Their job is to teach content, my job is to provide them with the materials they need to accomplish this task. Sometimes the things they need are not where they think to look, or they can’t find them in the computer because they don’t know exactly what they want – again, I often do. I know they always appreciate this service that I consider my responsibility. Student teachers quickly learn that I offer them the same courtesies; they visit often to borrow not only materials for lessons, but for curriculum materials that I share from my “office”. Kids visit after school all the time because it is a comfortable, safe place for them to be. When we have high school kids in the building (for after school practices or during the school day programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters), they always make a point of stopping in to say “Hi!”. I know this is because of the mutual repect they have always felt in my presence, but this also makes me feel very special. How many other jobs can say that? I offered an after school program last year where I taught 3rd through 6th graders how to use Alice, a 3-D animation programming tool. The class had so many kids we overflowed the computer lab, into the library with laptops. Then I still had kids wanting to join because word got around about how much fun we were having.
In my profession, I am able to provide a needed service to kids and to adults every day. I am able to enjoy variety in my responsibilities all day every day. I love the “chaos” of having classes in and out of my room all day; I could not handle seeing the same group all day – I need the chaos that comes with variety. I feel extemely proud to be able to hold a professional position which provides me with as much personal satisfaction as I provide to others. If more people could find this same self-motivation in their own professions, this world would be an amazing, positive, happy place. Let’s go for it – YeeHAAA!!!
QUESTION FOR COMMENTS: I would dearly love to hear from other people who LOVE their jobs. What do you do? What is it about your job that makes you so happy with it?
Sometimes discipline in a school setting requires more drastic action than just what can be provided for in the classroom or the office. Our school does after school detentions, but about fifteen years ago they also started Saturday Detentions. I am the Saturday Detention monitor for our school (yup – we have Sat Det for 4th through 6th graders monthly, and we have had one or two 3rd graders signed up). I very rarely need to sign someone up myself, but there are plenty of others who do. They can get it for too many homeworks not handed in and for discipline issues. My girls are unfortunately used to the fact that if Saturday Detention is on the calendar they will be getting up with me to go. This is for my own protection; I always have someone else in the room so that I am not faced with accusations about misconduct if only one student shows up. I even had to have my husband go with me once or twice because either my girls were not available or because there were one or two “volunteers” who were there for violence incidents. I often worry about my car in the parking lot – am I going to go out sometime to find my tires slashed or my car “keyed” because some kid was mad about receiving detention? Then there was the one time when I was trying to help a kid out by making a copy of some extra practice work he was having trouble with so he was literally about one minute late leaving. The Dad came in swearing at me, using language I was totally shocked by. Gee, I wonder why the kid had detention for behavior issues? If I had not been stunned to silence I would have reminded him that we were in a school setting and that foul language (of that nature especially) was not acceptable – not to mention the fact that he was not teaching his son anything about respect or appropriate behavior. Despite incidences like these, I really do enjoy doing Saturday Detention. I get a ton of work done normally. The kids are usually pretty well behaved for me, and cooperative. My rules during detention are rather stringent. If they do not bring real work with them, I have plenty for them. They are not allowed to do any activity considered fun (no drawing, reading for pleasure, puzzles, or anything else fun). It is three hours long and they get one bathroom break – when they take it is their decision. My library chairs are extremely hard and uncomfortable so it is definitely not a pleasant experience. It is not very often that kids make the same mistake twice, so it is not really very common to see the same ones more than once, twice at the most, before they decide the behavior was not worth it. I guess that is the ultimate goal: to discourage the behaviors from being repeated. For me Saturday Detention is something I really don’t mind doing. It is a supplemental position so I willingly apply for it every year. Gee…I never have competition for that position…I wonder why?
QUESTION FOR COMMENTS: Do other districts have Saturday Detentions in elementary? Who monitors it? What rules do they follow? How do they handle it when only one student shows up, so that there are no allegations of misconduct against the teacher/monitor?
In my own experience, I have been able to apply aspects from my personal life into my lessons. I feel this adds a “human” quality that kids can relate to because they are able to see me as a real person. Some of the things I do in my personal life which I have been able to enhance lessons with include animal handling at the zoo, geocaching, and foster care. The one which has had the most influence is my work at the Erie Zoo. Animals touch almost every subject in some form, and it is difficult to do activities with classes without animals coming into play. I created a virtual field trip and started a podcast series which can serve as an introduction to the 1st grade field trip to the Erie Zoo in the Spring. Since many children’s books relate to animals, I am often able to provide little known facts that I acquired while working at the zoo. Then there is the added bonus of seeing how excited the kids get if they happen to visit while I am working.
My experience as a teacher and librarian is often reciprocated between the zoo and my school, benefiting both. I created a functional library from a room of scattered books housed in the zoo’s collection with no processing or organization. I think being a teacher makes me more comfortable working with the public there as well. I am able to relay information in ways that child patrons understand. I think I am also better able to ask things of patrons in non-threatening ways. The zoo is thankfully non-smoking. Unfortunately many smokers are not aware of this. I have seen some of the non-teacher volunteers inform a patron rather gruffly of this point. When I relay the information myself, people seem very accommodating and leave passive, if not happy, for their new knowledge.
Though not all teachers share this belief, I feel sharing my personal life with my students makes me more human in their eyes. This enables them to relate to me in ways which build mutual respect. As I have mentioned in class postings, I firmly believe that mutual respect is one of the best ways to maintain discipline. I know it sure saves a lot of yelling and stress! It is also a very commonly expected practice for students to relate their personal experiences to what they are learning. This adds validity to what we are trying to do with them and is a proven strategy for helping students understand and remember new material: relate it to what they know. I often tell my students that I will rarely ask them to do something that I am not willing to do myself. This is a courtesy I offer to them so they understand that no task is too menial to put time and effort into.
QUESTIONS FOR COMMENTS: I am interested in the views of others in regard to teachers sharing personal experiences with their classes. Do you encourage their curiosity about you as a person? Or do you believe that they are the student and you are the teacher and the two should never mix? I would also be interested in any stories you can share about how your students respond when they find out you are human.
Book reports are one of the “necessary evils” we must force our students to endure in some form. Ages ago (or so it seems!) when I first started teaching I had the students do traditional, formal book reports. They were handwritten in ink, torturous, and BORING. Then we had access to our first computer lab which was stocked with Apples. I desperately wanted my students to type their reports on the new computers and print them out for submission. Much easier, right? I had my students in for a couple sessions and they were all ready to print. That was when the “interim” computer guy did something to the network and lost every one of my students’ book reports. He apologized and I did not have the heart to ask my students to work toward a replacement report for submission. It was not until we got a lab filled with PCs that I was able to trust the technology with a class again. Losing those reports was a terrible thing to have happen, but it also made me aware of creative ways of getting the same information from students. Don’t get me wrong – traditional reports are still an important form of writing which must still be taught. They are valuable for teaching the vital processes of writing, organization of thoughts and writing, and a venue for literary elements. However, we now have more options to make this happen and much less painfully.
Since that disastrous day, I have resorted to “alternative” book report projects as opposed to traditional formal book reports. Before the recent technology pushes, I developed (with the aid of some professional materials) several styles of reports which were more fun and enabled me to get the same information from my students that a traditional report would. My favorite is one for 5th grade called “Trash Picking”. The students bring a minimum of 10 items from home which relate to the story somehow. I encourage creativity as things will obviously not match what they want exactly. They are not allowed to buy things for it specifically and nothing may be perishable or live. Pictures may be used for only a couple of the items. The students present the items orally to the class. For the book Bunnicula I have had students bring in Aquafresh toothpaste using the green and red stripes to represent vegetables and the white stripes as the vegetables Bunnicula sucked the juices from. Another basic one from the past is a 4th grade project. I would stock up on old magazines and catalogs to use as cut-ups. The students would have 5 categories for which they needed to find pictures to represent. They then wrote one good sentence explaining that part of the book. Both of these examples are pre-technology types, but they worked really well for adaptations with special needs students. A student with poor written expression was able to succeed happily. I maintained a 100% turn in rate with these projects.
Now that technology is again becoming a viable alternative for reporting techniques I have begun adjusting my curriculum. I love the power and flexibility offered by PowerPoint. Students are able to add graphics, text, and audio to relay important information from a book. Movie Maker is another tool which allows for extreme creativity using videos, images, text, and audio. Digital cameras/camcorders can be used to stage shots; Paint programs can be used to create original images. Graphic editors can be used to alter any image to make it fit their needs. Audacity and a microphone can be used to create a podcast as a news report or interview. Online comic strip creators can be used to retell a story in a graphic format. Stories can be told from the viewpoint of a character. The possibilities are seriously limitless now.
QUESTION FOR COMMENTS: I would love to hear of some other fun ideas from my fellow educators. Does anyone have some creative reporting ideas they have used with their classes?
I feel that I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with kids every day. I see so much being accomplished with them, and I see them grow into responsible young adults. There is, however, one aspect of my job that causes me stress almost every day: reading levels.
In efforts to support literacy in every aspect of our students’ education, it is obviously my responsibility as their librarian to provide the materials to accomplish this. I have color-coded the books in the library to correspond with reading levels used in the building. I have patron ID cards for every student which has the dots for their own reading levels on the back. We have an individually paced program (SME) which tracks the students’ reading levels, so the levels I am using are data driven. This way students are able to find materials at their level (or actually, a little above – for challenge). That is actually where my problem is. Human nature dictates that the students will never be satisfied with the level at which they are able to read. This means constant whining and complaining…to me, like it is my fault. We always discuss how to raise their levels. I am also constantly told, say by a 1st grader, “I am reading Harry Potter” or “Twilight”. We try to discuss the difference between reading independently and being read to – or even reading <em>with</em> them – or just carrying the book around. It doesn’t help that the bookmobile which stops at our school will provide the kids with materials that are not age/content appropriate; this is one of the places 1st graders are getting “Harry Potter” and Twilight”. Almost everyone supports my efforts to provide the kids with materials they can handle without causing them frustration. There is only one teacher who totally disagrees with this responsibility of mine. She told me that the kids should be allowed to get whatever they want because they aren’t going to read it anyway. I feel I have a professional responsibility to promote reading, as opposed to causing kids to hate reading because they don’t stand a chance of reading/comprehending what I give them. I feel I have a moral (and professional) obligation to also watch the content of the material. Just because a 3rd grader is reading at a 7th or 8th grade reading level (yes, we have a couple) doesn’t mean they should read it. Books written at the higher levels tend to deal with topics like abuses (drug, physical, sexual, etc), dating, sex, violence, adult crimes, and other issues a 3rd grader does not need to be exposed to yet. According to that one teacher’s beliefs, I should allow those 3rd graders to read young adult and adult material. I guess I relate this the same way to movie material. Just because a parent (and I know it is a parent’s choice to do this, and I would not presume to push my moral opinions at them) lets their 6 year old watch Rated R movies, does that mean we as responsible educators should give them access to them in school?
QUESTIONS FOR COMMENT: How is the matter of reading levels handled in your school? What tools are used for data collection in regard to reading levels? How do other libraries attempt to match readers to their reading levels without controversy?
As an elementary librarian I am very interested in getting as many books into the hands of kids as I possibly can. Twice every year I offer book fairs. The Fall book fair is a regular “for profit” fair and the one in the Spring (the most popular one) is the “Buy One Get One Free” fair. My justifications in a standards-based world? Read on!
Besides the obvious standards dealing with promoting independent reading, book fairs have the potential to add validity to math skills. Money is always a tricky concept for younger students. During the book fair the students need to count their money, pay with the correct amounts, and then double-check their change. It is kind of fun to see the kids who have “robbed” their piggy banks coming in with baggies full of pennies, nickels, and dimes – not so much quarters, of course! It sometimes takes them a while, but they get guided practice in counting by ones, fives, and tens. The only “real world” application I will not tackle is tax. When I am trying to work with so many kids on counting money up to the cost of their items, I do not feel it is worth the frustration to add tax on top of that. The little four and five year olds do not have the experience yet to understand why their $5 bill is not enough to pay for that $5 book. Of course, the state needs their share so I pay the taxes for both fairs from the profits in the Fall. The Spring book fair is a “Buy One Get One Free” fair (no profit is received for this book fair because the profit goes to the kids in the free books). Now try that on for confusing kids! Besides counting their money as previously mentioned, now we add on top of that the fact that they MUST find something the same price or less to get free with their purchased item. You would be amazed at how many kids do not understand that concept. It is also EXTREMELY satisfying to watch kids pool their resources. Sometimes they don’t have enough money themselves to get the one book they want – they really want it and they don’t care if they get something else with it. I love their willingness to take this suggestion: find someone else with the same problem; combine your money together; you each get the one book you want and split the change. In essence, one book is still paid for and the other is still free.
Literature standards are addressed easily in a couple ways. One way is through the author DVD that the book fair company produces and sends. The DVD focuses on authors whose materials are in the book fair. The authors talk about their writing process, where they get their ideas, the illustrations, the publication process, and anything else that has to do with the entire process of writing and publishing a book. The kids are exposed to a generous variety of genre and their interests are piqued in what the authors say about their books.
The book fair company encourages us to sponsor other events during the book fair – especially evening family events. I have always had a “Family Night” and a “Sneak Peek” event. Our wonderful art teacher sponsors an event with me during the book fair. On my Family Night she holds a “Family Clay Night” where parents work with their kids on a craft project. It is a big draw for the library, the school, and the art department. A couple years ago I started participating in the “Wish List” program. I wasn’t convinced at first that I wanted to tackle the Wish Lists because we already ask so much of people in regard to financially supporting our causes. I am very glad that I started implementing this program because the kids take a lot of pride in selecting a book to donate to their classroom. The most books are donated during the Spring BOGO fair because the parents donate their free book to the classroom – very rewarding since they do not have to pay anything extra! Last year we held our first ever “Bingo for Books”. WOW!!! This new event brought in sooo many families that I was blown away! It was almost heart-stopping to see our parents having fun with their kids playing Bingo and winning books. Every kid was promised to leave with at least two free books and some won over ten! Everyone had a great time and they did not have to pay one cent to participate. Our elementary library club sponsored the event. I used book fair points to order cases of “bruised books” for prizes. These bruised books are always in 100% perfect condition. We provided bottled water and snacks and the bingo cards were donated by a local fire department. 100 books were donated by a local family literacy program and they also let us borrow their bingo ball machine. We had about ten teachers volunteer their evening to the event. We had so many families come that we had to divide the night into two sessions – and both were packed!
Our book fairs have earned my library (and our district) huge community support. It is extremely gratifying to see the number of books we are able to get into the hands of these kids, even in the economic strife we face today. Watching parents come in with their kids for the purpose of enjoying literature is an amazing thing to see.
QUESTION FOR COMMENTS: Even with the success of these events during the book fairs I am always looking for more ways to promote reading. Can you offer any other ideas for programs? What do your libraries do during book fair week?
The following posts are created for my Instructional Media class Differentiation Supported by Technology. Please feel free to offer feedback and comments to any or all postings. Thanks! – Denise
This page is for blog postings as required during my classes for my
Instructional Media Master’s Degree through Wilkes University.
To read past postings, please see the “Pages” link to the right.