I’m a librarian. Use me!

02/14/2013
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland. Terminal, Nanoq...

Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland. Terminal, Nanoq Duty Free shop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today sent my principal an email telling him I am underutilized.

I have seven assigned teaching periods a week, slightly more than 1 per school day. Our day is eight periods long. I have open access two lunch periods every day. The rest of the time I am allegedly doing “library administration.” As far as I can tell after two years of doing the job, library administration takes about 10-20 minutes a day which I spend re-shelving books. When I still have money to spend, I might take another 30 minutes a day reading book reviews to select my purchases.

That still leaves me four more periods a day plus my contract-mandated duty-free lunch period (which I hardly ever take – I read trade magazines and answer work emails while I eat).

I reminded him that I did a lot of different things before becoming a teacher and I carry a diverse set of skills he could take advantage of and gave him suggestions on how I might be more useful to him and the school.

I could write grants. I write and win a couple or three for the library each year. My record is seven applied for, six won. When an assistant principal needed an essay for a grant proposal she was submitting that day, I wrote what she called a great one in twenty minutes. I could write more.

I could plan and do PD. We used to get a lot of PD on differentiating lessons but none of it was differentiated. When I pointed that out to my principal he said there wasn’t enough time to plan differentiating it. I managed to hold my tongue and not point out that teachers, too, are under time pressure, what with all the paperwork they have to do. I could plan differentiated PD – more differentiated than he might imagine (unconference model; Educon conversation model, EdCamp model, etc.). I could create PD on Project-Based Learning, on interdisciplinary unit design, on becoming a connected educator, and more.

I could create, or facilitate students creating a webpage for the school. Right now we have the dull, cookie-cutter NYCDOE school webpage and it doesn’t give a clue about who we are, what we do, how we do it, or any of the great things happening in our school. I’m currently working with three sixth grade classes to develop a website for our library – right now they’re deciding what will be on the site and the more artistic students are investigating other school and library sites to get design ideas (and a list of things not to do!).

I could produce an online school magazine.

I could, I could, I could.

I’ll let you know how he responds.


The Benefits of Banning Books

10/03/2012
...Sad Bear...

…Sad Bear… (Photo credit: ĐāżŦ {mostly absent})

Most librarians make a big deal out of Banned Books Week. They’re against banning books. They call it censorship.

I’m in favor of banning books. I call it marketing.

You’d be surprised at some of the books that get banned in some school districts, though perhaps not by the Texas State Board of Education banning Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See because they confused that book’s author, Bill Martin, Jr. with the author Bill Martin who wrote a book promoting ethical Marxism. I’m not for or against ethical Marxism, more than partially because I have no idea what it is, but I’m highly impressed by the educational leadership in Texas.

The Christian Science Monitor put together a nice list of 20 banned books that might surprise you.

I am in favor of banning books because a book being banned is just the thing to get a kid to read it. Okay, maybe not the dictionary. Not much of a story there (yes, some districts in California banned the Merriam-Webster Dictionary because it includes definitions of some sexual terms).

All a student needs to hear is that some parent or other authority somewhere doesn’t want them to read something because it might harm them in some way and there’s a rush to check it out of the library.

So thank you school boards, state departments of education, and other authorities that take the time and effort to promote literature in this highly creative way. You’ve done a great job!

Can I suggest some other titles you might want to take a look at?

Oh, you don’t have to read the books, just scan for the naughty bits and do your thing.

My circulation numbers need a boost.


NY Clarifies Assessment Plans for Teachers and Librarians

05/04/2012
Teachers

Teachers (Photo credit: iwannt)

The NY State Education Department has issued GUIDANCE ON NEW YORK STATE’S ANNUAL PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW FOR TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS TO IMPLEMENT EDUCATION LAW §3012-c AND THE COMMISSIONER’S REGULATIONS.

This is the detailed explanation of how Race to the Top bribes have caused the state to assess teachers based on, among a very few other things, student performance on standardized tests. Most of it talks about ELA and Math teachers in grades 4-8 because those subject are the ones for which there are currently standardized exams, as faulty as they are (I’m sure you’ve heard of the pineapple problem; the multiple choice math questions, one with two right answers and the other with none).

Teachers will also be assessed by their principal as to whether they have met Student Learning Objectives. All teachers, except pre-K teachers are included, whether or not they teach subjects covered by standardized exams.

There’s a complex explanation of how the percentages of the influence on student learning any one teacher has will be computed. Examples of the math involved in that are not likely to show up on state tests because I doubt whether most mathematicians would understand it.

The document makes very clear that “School librarians and career and technical teachers are teachers in the classroom teaching service and are, therefore, subject to the new law beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.” (page 17)

How are SLOs for Library/Media Specialists established if these teachers do not 
have regular classes scheduled and only schedule on-demand/teacher-requested 
basis for specific topics and projects? (page 41)
Districts/BOCES will need to determine their specific rules around which courses must have SLOs when contact time varies following the State’s rules and the general principle of including the courses with the most students first and making practical judgments about how to consider different course meeting schedules like those in this example.
Huh?

Through the NYCDOE Looking Glass

04/03/2012
A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop

A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the NYCDOE says it is going to close 33 schools because they are low performing.

But, for no apparent reason, it changes its mind about closing seven of them, but not the other 26, even though some of those 26 perform better than the seven on a variety of measures.

Then the NYCDOE says it is going to ban about 50 words from standardized exams because those words might upset students. After all, students who daily face dangers in their neighborhoods that most of us cannot imagine might get distressed if the word ‘dinosaur’ appears on an exam.

Once again, it changes its mind – this time after a public outcry – and says it is okay to use those words after all.

So either it is all right to damage students or the words were banned  for no reason. Take your pick.

Tonight the NYCDOE is conducting a public hearing to discuss whether to shoehorn a new K-5 elementary school into the building that currently houses the middle school where I work, as well as the pre-K and kindergarten classes there’s no room for in the elementary school across the street.

Most of my colleagues think that no matter how many parents come and say it is a bad idea because almost all of the classes in the school already have more than 30 students and putting the new school in will mean the middle school will have about 50% fewer classes, the NYCDOE has made up its mind and the new elementary school will take precedence. I suspect that is the case.

If the girdling occurs, it will have some major, perhaps fatal, impact on our library’s existence and my job as librarian, but I am not worried.

The NYCDOE has a very bad record of sticking to its decisions, most likely because the decisions appear to be made on a whim, and whatever they decide is like – pardon the phrase – pissing in the wind. Everyone gets wet, but especially them.

Meanwhile, after making such a big case about the public’s right to know about those teacher ratings, you know, the ones filled with errors and based on spurious information, our mayor is refusing to make public a report critical of the City’s 911 system, particularly the revamp done during his administration because it failed during a snowstorm.

Which is your position, Mr. Mayor? Does the public have a right to know or doesn’t it? Or is this just one more case of a flip-flop, a particularly self-serving one at that?

No, don’t answer. What you say doesn’t mean what it appears to, and it is all rather confusing.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Keep everyone confused and pretty soon they’ll just give up trying to understand.

That’s when it really gets dangerous for us.


Meeting a Different Student Need

03/18/2012
English: A painting of a teardrop I did.

Image via Wikipedia

Something had happened but I had no idea what.

An announcement told students and teachers not to move to their 7th period assignment when the bell rang ending sixth period, it was being extended…indefinitely.

I had the high-level 8th grade class, the ones I taught social studies to when they were in the 6th and 7th grades. I’ve written about them before

. We’re comfortable with each other and used the extended time to talk about the high schools they’d be going to in September.

The halls were strangely quiet as we’d been told not to give any passes for any reason during this time.

Like many, if not all schools these days, we have procedures to lock down classes if an unauthorized person gets past security, or if anyone has a gun, but those codes had not been given. It wasn’t even a drill.

We waited.

Finally, after about a fifteen minute delay, everyone moved to their 7th period assignment. I still had no idea why we’d been detained.

That is when the four 8th grade girls came into the library sobbing, wailing, and shaking. I feared the worst, that someone had died, perhaps even a student. The girls were so distraught they couldn’t talk. Finally one calmed down enough to tell me that the boyfriend of one of these girls had gotten so upset about something that girl said to him that he had punched his hand through the wall of the cafeteria. In doing that he had sliced the back of his hand open and was bleeding profusely.

An ambulance arrived to take the boy to the hospital. Only after that, permission to move to 7th period came.

The girls were deeply upset. All four had witnessed the punch. One of the girls, a hold over, older than the other by a year or two, said she’d never seen a boy cry before but the puncher was crying while the nurse and an assistant removed his hand from the wall.

The girls worried that the boy would bleed to death. I said it was highly unlikely, but they told me of pools of blood in the cafeteria. Again, I reassured them, telling them that the body has a lot of blood, can afford to lose a pint or two. I also knew from my frequent blood donations that a pint of blood looks like a really large amount.

Middle school is a difficult time for most students. Bodies are changing, emotions are expanding, interest in members of the opposite gender grows, accompanied by worry about one’s own attractiveness. At the same time, there is little time in their school day to ease up, to reflect, to react to trauma.

Not one of those four girls is a reader. They’ve never checked out a single book in the 12 school months I’ve been the librarian. I don’t have a strong relationship with any of them. Still, they came to the library when they needed a place to react, to emote, to be comforted and reassured.

They came to the library when they needed to feel safe.

Earlier that same day one of the veteran teachers, and not one who has been particularly friendly to me, came in to use copier, looked around, and thanked me “for making the library look and function like a library again.”

New books, organized shelves, new decoration on the walls, automated checkout and an online catalog have made the library a more active, more dynamic, and a more attractive place. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in little time and with almost no budget.

But what pleases me most is one of those things that will never show up on any evaluation of how I do my job. There’s no standardized test for it and it is not on any principal’s observation form.

I’ve made a safe place for students.

Nothing is more important than that.


One Year as a Librarian, and What a Year It Has Been

12/18/2011

On a late Friday afternoon about one year ago my principal told me I was going to be the school’s librarian starting the next week.

At the time I knew nothing about being a school librarian and was taking over a disaster of a library. 

Three weeks later I enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Queens College. This past week I completed my 21st, 24th and 27th credits in 11 months while working full time. I’m very tired.

I reorganized all the books in the library, twice. I began automating the library, a process of putting barcodes on all the books and scanning them into our now online catalog. Oh yeah, I had to learn that software (and thanks to Shannon McClintock Miller for turning me onto it).

Five unpaid Saturdays were spent in 7-hour long training sessions to learn more about my job, I won a small technology grant. I presented at the NYC school library system’s fall conference.

My library was selected to be part of a pilot program of having a shared catalog and other collaboration with the New York Public Library.

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

That meant learning another system of library automation software.

Oh, I’ve also been teaching information fluency skills, trying out two different website development tools, finding and sharing resources with my colleagues in my school and in my district.

In my free time, I taught a class at SUNY Empire State College, helped organize and run EdCampNYC, and managed to lose the last half of a 60 lb. total loss that I’ve managed to keep off.

So much for this year.’

Next year?

English: 2012 Calendar, sized as A4 page

I’ve got a lot more work to do.

I need to improve my teaching, redecorate the library and try to find the money for a renovation.

I need to finish my degree. After 27 credits in 11 months, thanks to budget cuts it will take me another 11 months to complete the final nine required credits.

I need to continue to weed old, outdated and damaged books from our collection and finish the barcoding and cataloging.

I also need to purchase books, magazines and databases with the twin foci of providing quality recreational reading options and better aligning the collection to our curriculum.

I need to continue to learn my job and continue to be thankful to all the members of my PLN, including my colleagues in the NYC school library system who help me do so.

Yes, I still have a lot to do, but right now I need to rest, to get to know my wife and son again, to take some time for myself.

I’ve earned it. Haven’t I?

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$4704

10/15/2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghani...

Image via Wikipedia

$4704

…pays for about 1/10th of one second of advertising in the Super Bowl this year.

$4704

…pays for 1.5 seconds of the US’s involvement in Afghanistan.

$4704

That’s my budget for library media for this entire school year.

$4704

That includes all audio-visual materials, books, magazines/ periodicals/newspapers, maps/globes, tapes, microfilms, and computer software for use in the library.

$4704

That’s $6.25 per student enrolled in the school last October.

$4704

That $6.25 per student rate was set by the NY State legislature in 1999.

$4704

US total inflation from June 2000, to June 2011 is 30.93% according to inflationdata.com

$4704

Inflation in the rate budgeted per student 0%

$470

“Most school libraries managed to escape the economic trials of 2010 largely unscathed––with the exception of those in high-poverty areas, which saw significant declines in spending on information resources and in collection size.”
American Library Association report on the State of American Libraries.

$4704

My school is in the poorest Congressional district in the nation.

$4704

Perhaps I should be grateful that my budget has not gone down.

$4704

I’m not.

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Dirty books!

05/14/2011
Books

I’ve been going through all the books in my school’s library and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.

Our school opened in 1956 and I’ve found books that were there when the first students arrived. I’m not talking about ageless fiction; I’m talking about books on fast-changing technical topics like cameras, automobiles, telecommunications and undersea exploration.

Computers were not such a big deal in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, so I’m not really surprised that prior to this year our collection seems to have only three books on computers, all of them featuring pictures of giant room-sized mainframes and massive desktop units.

Our one book about the latest developments in medicine was published in 1975. I guess research has stood still since then.

But my most startling discovery has been the dirty books. I’m don’t mean a little risqué, I’m talking about true filth. In a middle school library!

The woman I’m replacing, our librarian since 1956, told stories about her strict parochial school education and was happy to display her precise parochial school handwriting. I’m stunned that she’d allow dirty books in the library.

I’m not talking about a volume here and there, I’ve discovered boxes of dirty books, shelves of them, some wordy and some filled with pictures. It’s a disgrace.

After all, we all know what dirty books lead to… dirty thoughts.

Also dirty hands, dirty clothes and dirty faces.

Who knew a library was such a hazard?

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Is it worth $69.64 to you?

02/12/2011
USB flash drive

Image via Wikipedia

In December I became the librarian at my school, replacing the woman who has held the position since the school opened in 1956.

I’m really enjoying the work. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I’ve made some immediate changes. I’ve started a long-term plan for bringing the library into the 21st Century, but in order to follow-through and turn those plans into reality I have to jump through some hoops.

Every middle and high school in the state of New York is required to employ a certified school librarian, now called a school media specialist. That is why I am a graduate student once again.

In order to get temporary certification so I can continue being a school media specialist in September I have to have 18 credits toward my Master of Library Science (school media division) degree by the end of August.

Do the math. Credits come in little packages, three at a time and I need six of those packages in the next six months. I’m taking three classes – nine credits – now and will take another three classes over the summer.

Taking three classes while working full time is taxing, but this essay is not about that marathon.

This is about one session of one of the classes. At least I hope it is only about one session.

The class is called The Technology of Information and it is a required introductory course. We had our second session earlier this week.

Students are not allowed into the computer lab in which we take the course until the professor arrives so we were all hanging out in the hallway outside chatting and checking our email and text messages on our smartphones or Blackberries. When the professor arrived we all filed into the lab, sat down and logged into the computers, launched the browser and navigated to the class website before the professor took over our computers remotely to broadcast his PowerPoint for the lesson that would teach us about…

…the parts of a computer.

Yes, friends, we spent the next 155 minutes learning that the keyboard we had just used is called a keyboard, that the mouse is called a mouse, that computers are filled with wires in circuits that connect every part of the computers with the central processing unit (CPU) through the mother board.

We learned that peripherals are called peripherals, expansion slots are used for expanding the capabilities of the computer, and that those little USB drives use a different kind of memory than the typical internal hard drive.

We got to look into an opened-up computer, circa 1999. We even got to hold an actual CPU, an actual hard drive and a circuit board in our not-quite-eager hands.

Die of an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor (actua...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Help me decide: was this a well-developed lesson that was differentiated for auditory, visual and tactile learners, or was it an insult to the notion of graduate-level education?

What would you pay for a lesson like that?

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Jumping Through Certification Hoops Should Be For Everyone

01/10/2011
Cathie Black Visits Hillcrest High School, Dec...
Image by lancmanoffice via Flickr

I’ve spent the day learning about the hoops I have to jump through — a 2nd master degree, for one — to be certified as a school librarian. Oh, and I have until August to get 18 of the 36 required credits if I want to be able to do the job I’m doing now next year.

I think our new school’s chancellor should have the same opportunity I have, get half the credits for an education leadership degree to be allowed to continue to do her job past Labor Day.

If I worked at an elementary school it would not be an issue but certified librarians are required at all secondary schools.

That I’ve done more in one month in and for the library, and for the students and teachers who now can use it than the certified librarian (certified in 1956, btw) did in the past six years is apparently not as important as having that piece of paper certifying me.

That I can teach the students and teachers about technology and how to use it effectively and safely where the certified librarian thinks the electric typewriter is a threat to society is not as important as having that certificate.

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...
Image via Wikipedia

If the certificate is that important for me to have, shouldn’t the school chancellor have one, too?

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