Apparently last week was National Library Week. I missed the memo. In fact, I didn’t even know that National Library Week is a thing. Our school library is entirely across campus from my classroom, so I don’t go there nearly as often as I should, but it’s a wonderful place. My town library is right down the street from me and is a great place to walk to with the kids on a nice day. Libraries are perhaps our most under-utilized resources in our towns and schools. In honor of a belated National Library Week, I present a short list of reasons why I love the library.
- Books. For free. Just a few weeks ago I wrote about the need to get our students to read more. Libraries present a great opportunity for this. My wife will read this and argue that I should stop buying books and go to the library more. I got a thing about owning books (which is why I LOVE the annual book sale that our town library does), but I like the options the library affords me and so many others to grab a book for free.
- Speaking of books, I get a great deal of pleasure from simply browsing the stacks. Even more important, I have found some of the best resources this way. I remember browsing the stacks in college looking for sources for essays and coming upon some incredibly surprising sources. Just taking a gander at titles in the Chaucer section let me to some great stuff that helped me immensely in that one particular class.
- Solitude. Sometimes I like to be around people and having a grand time. Other times, I like to sit alone peacefully for a short while. Every library I’ve ever been in has some tucked away areas to just sit and read. How great is that?
- The immense wealth of information available. I love libraries for their books, but libraries are so much more. My students in particular have no idea just how much libraries offer. Our school library has access to an incredible amount of information via online databases, which I impress upon my students every year, but that is far from a complete list of what libraries have. Libraries usually have back issues of magazines and newspaper-especially if you are willing to try your hand at microfilm and mircofiche. I had to do it a couple times back in college. I found some pretty cool stuff. I remember coming across a copy of Life magazine from the 1950’s that was pretty cool. Also, I’ve found that most town libraries have entire sections dedicated to the town’s history. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool. So often people think google has all the answers. When google doesn’t have the answers, the library probably does.
- Library networks. If your library doesn’t have the book you want or need, chances are it can get it for you. Pretty much every library I can think of has an inter-library loan service in which they network with other libraries to get you what you need. Oh that book you want is only available on the other side of the state? No big deal. We’ll have it here for you in a couple of weeks.
- Programs. God bless the librarians who are willing to put together programs for their patrons. The town library puts on all sorts of story hours and lecture nights and gaming clubs. There’s even a lego night at my town library sometimes. Our school library sponsors poetry competitions and in November spearheads an initiative for National Novel Writing Month. They even put on a March Madness bracket tournament between teachers and students. What an awesome way to expand outreach to the greater community.
- Librarians. My students in particular, but people all over, don’t realize how awesome librarians are. These are people who have degrees in library science. I could not imagine ever going to school for something like that, but luckily for us, they have. Every librarian I have ever met is extremely friendly and legitimately wants to help you find information. Librarians know where everything is in the library or how to get it. If you want a wealth of information, talk to a librarian.
Sometimes as educators, I think we get really focused on huge changes and we forget that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference. I am a firm believer that we should be using students names more often. I greet my students individually at the beginning of class, but I am sure to not just say “Hi” but instead greet them by name. When I call on students, I use their names. I don’t think enough teachers do this. I find that we don’t naturally use people’s names when we talk to them, but I think we should. I have heard that there is research to support my claim that using students’ names increases achievement though I’ve never read it personally.
Several years ago (6 maybe?) I had a student named Joe in my junior English class. Joe was one of those students who didn’t do any of his work.. At the end of the first quarter in which he had written none of the assigned essays, his grade was barely even in double digits. I raised his grade to a 50 to allow him the opportunity to pass with a strong second quarter, and I pulled him aside to tell him this. His second quarter was no better than the 1st and he ended up failing the course miserably.
The following year, I would see Joe every day in the hallway on his way to English, so I’d say “Hi Joe” every day. Midway through the year, Joe came to see me to ask if he could interview me for a self reflection assignment he had to do. He proceeded to ask me a variety of questions regarding how I perceived him as a student: did I think he was lazy? unintelligent? uncaring? etc.
When he was done asking me these questions, I asked him why he chose to interview me. After all he had done very poorly in my class. Surely there is another teacher with whom he has a stronger relationship. His answer: “because you remembered my name.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He responded, “Every day this year on my way to English you say, ‘Hi Joe.’ No other teacher has ever remembered my name.”
I was not adequately prepared for the amount of reading that was expected of me in college, and I was one of those kids in high school who actually enjoyed reading. My students don’t believe me when I tell them how much I was expected to read in college. They inevitably claim that the reason I had so much reading was because I was an English major. This is no doubt true that my reading load was heavier because of my major, but even if I only account for the reading that was expected of me in my non-English classes, the amount of reading is huge-way more than was expected of me in high school.
I remember distinctly one of my religion courses (Stonehill is a catholic college) as one of the heaviest reading loads of my entire college (graduate and undergraduate) career. We had both books and scholarly articles to read constantly. No kidding, the reading expectation was at least 100 pages per class. While my other classes had slightly smaller loads, it was not unusual for me to have to read 75+ pages for my science, history, and education courses. And often times, this was pretty dense reading too.
This is a kind of round about way of getting to my point: with all the initiatives and technology in education today, high schools are not generally promoting a culture of reading. Quite frankly, this is too bad. We may assign reading, but we don’t hold them to it. The number of seniors and juniors who tell me that they have never read and assigned book is astonishing. They have gotten through their English classes solely relying on sparknotes and other non-reading related assignments to boost their grade. We rarely give students free choice reading assignments for fear that it won’t work with some new initiative or we won’t be able to accurately assess their reading. (After all, why bother asking them to read if we can’t assess it? Please note the sarcasm there!).
On that note, here are a five quick thoughts I had about promoting a culture of reading in school:
- Fill classrooms with books. Get high interest books for your students. I’m talking about all teachers here, too, not just English teachers. But don’t just have books for students. Get books for the teacher too. Show them that you read as well. This is especially important for non-English teachers. I don’t have enough books in my classroom. Neither do you.
- Make sure the school library still makes books a priority. A number of school libraries are turning into tech centers. Technology is important, but don’t let it overtake the library completely. Keep books at the forefront!
- Talk about books! I’m amazed at the number of teachers who say to kids or around kids that they don’t like to read. This is right up there with English teachers who tell kids they don’t do math. Why are we disparaging each other’s subjects?
- On that note, show kids that you read. I have a colleague who has a space on her board that says “What Mrs. ____ is reading” and she lists what she’s reading. I haven’t been in her room in awhile so I don’t know if it is still there, but I hope it is.
- I was recently reading about a retired principal who was saying that if he could do it all over again, he’d start each day by greeting students and asking them what they are reading. What a great idea. Talk to kids about books.
We can point to any number of excuses as to why kids don’t read as much as we want them to, but a more effective use of our time may be to try to do something about it. These 5 suggestions are a start. I’d love to add to this list.