Category Archives: Teaching

The Joy of Reading

Over the past 24 years in education, I have developed a philosophy of reading that goes against the grain more and more in this age of Common Core, information literacy, family literacy, and all the other literacy buzz words. Here are some situations that I’ve witnessed over the years both as a teacher and a librarian:

  • A teacher getting rid of any personal classroom library books if they don’t have an accompanying Accelerated Reader test.
  • Requiring students to read 30 books per semester outside of books read for classroom assignments.
  • Forcing students to check out books in the library based on reading range. Books deemed too high or too low are not allowed.
  • Schools reducing library funding to less than $300 per year for new books.

I could post many more, but I thought I’d stick with the first situations that came to my mind. All four scenarios are joy-killers. Let the rant begin…

Situation #1 – The obvious one here is that some wonderful books were tossed aside just because they didn’t have an AR test. Really? Since when should we let a test decide what we provide as reading material for our students. Oh, wait…that’s what our state does with all of the testing it requires. We teach to the test. Okay, so maybe this behavior hasn’t been modeled well for teachers. But in any case, leave the books there!!! You never know which book will impact a student notwithstanding its accompanying AR test. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing reading testing programs and other standardized testing. Moderation is the key.

Situation #2 – Seriously, I know a classroom of students who are currently required to read 30 books per semester. If you read a book with 400 pages, it counts as two books. I know a student who was reading a book with 377 pages. This student stopped halfway through the book and didn’t finish it because it was taking too long to read. There was a fear of not meeting the goal, so the book was set aside in favor of reading a shorter, less interesting book. I commented that the book was within a mere 23 pages of the 400 page promise of having it count. I thought the teacher would make an allowance. Nope. It would have only counted for one book. student with booksThis particular student loved to read from an early age. Albeit the student reads slowly, but the comprehension level is high which earned the student a spot in an honors program. The student no longer loves to read. Reading is seen as a chore and is no longer enjoyable. I am crushed beyond belief.

Situation #3 – In my particular district, we teach Guided Reading and Self-Selected Reading in an instructional block for grades K-6. Teachers choose what the students will read during Guided Reading in order to frame instruction. In Self-Selected Reading, teachers choose the books that go into the tubs. The students can choose what to read from the tubs, but the choice ultimately belongs to the teacher who fills the book tubs. So, would it not seem appropriate to let students choose what will be checked out in the library? Granted, in the higher grades, we have students working on various projects where they may need to check out books based on the project. However, can they check out other books for recreational reading? Of course! So why in the world do we have teachers who say “No, you can’t check out that book. It’s too easy.” Or, “No, you can’t check out that book. It will be too hard for you.” By golly, let the kid figure it out for stallion

Librarians are guilty of this as well. I once had an 11th grade student who was reading through the Black Stallion series just for fun. He was ranked first in his class, graduated as valedictorian, and is now doing exceedingly well in college. While taking several AP classes, he just wanted a book to kick back and enjoy. A fellow librarian commented that he shouldn’t be reading books that low anymore. “Why the heck not?”, I asked. As adults, do we ever kick back and read fluff? Yes, all the time! So what harm is there in letting a teenager enjoy a book about a horse.

Situation #4 – I will be the first one to admit that my particular district has been great with funding. Yes, my budgets have dropped, but they still provide us with an opportunity to spend at least the recommended amount per student. I’ve spoken with a librarian who had a school similar in size to mine and had a $200 budget. Another librarian was in a large urban district where each school was given approximately $300 to purchase books each year. Seriously? You can buy new athletic gear for sports teams, spend oodles of money on new iPads, but you only have a $300 book budget when it’s a researched and proven fact that the school library success is directly tied to student academic success. Those districts should be ashamed. Again, let me reiterate, my district does not fall in this last situation.

Okay, my rant is finished…for today. I’m ready to head to school with a smile on my face and try to encourage kids to find something they like to read whether it’s chick lit, a graphic novel, a military book, or maybe even a book about a black horse that saved lives. Onward and Upward…


Currently reading: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

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The “Tough?” Decision to Stay in Education

Recently an award-winning educator made a difficult decision to leave teaching after 6 years. You can view the entire Washington Post article here. I can empathize with Josh Waldron. At more than one point in my career I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” I even strongly considered taking a one-year leave of absence to teach at an Amish school just for a change. However, the potential loss of health insurance for my family during that time kept me from going that route.

Back to Josh Waldron. He addressed five key areas/issues in education.

  1. Tear down the hoops. In other words, teachers are spending far too much time on unnecessary tasks that supposedly monitor growth and performance.
  2. Have a plan for the future. Quite often schools are simply in survival mode and are not planning for sustainability. This has quite a bit to do with teacher salaries, curriculum, etc.
  3. Scrap obsession with flawed assessments. I hear you loud and clear.
  4. Build a community that supports education. More on this later…
  5. Fairly compensate educators. See #2.

While I completely empathize with Josh, I feel as if I need to present another viewpoint in support of staying in education.

1. Recognize the hoops and make choices. Let’s face it, no matter the industry, a worker will most likely face “hoops”. These are seemingly benign tasks meant to satisfy the whim of a person or group that sees a particular need. Are they frustrating? Yes. Are they necessary? That’s debatable. When I left the classroom after 15 years and headed for the school library world, I expressed my concerns to my principal. I felt as if I was never with my class…in my classroom…focused on learning. I looked back in my plan book to count the number of uninterrupted five-day weeks during my last year in the classroom. I’m talking about five days in a row with no standardized testing, no convocations (sorry, Ronald McDonald), no 2 hour delays for professional development, etc. During that particular school year, I counted exactly four uninterrupted five-day weeks. I’m sad just thinking about it eight years later. But I recognized my growing frustration with those “hoops” and chose to leave the classroom for the library.

2. Have a plan for your own future. If you can’t see yourself in education for the long haul, do what Josh did and get out while you are still young and marketable. I made some big changes during my career, but they all involved staying in education. I chose to return to night school and summer school after 5 years in education and  earn a Master’s Degree in elementary education. At the time, I was able to earn a higher salary with a Master’s. Also, my first teaching job was in first grade. I knew I’d go nuts staying in that grade forever. I patiently waited and was able to move to a 4th grade position after seven years. I loved teaching 4th grade. But during my 8th year of teaching 4th graders, I started to lose that spark. I recognized it for what it was and accepted it. I chose to leave the classroom after 15 total years, got a second Master’s Degree (online while continuing to work) and switched to the library position I currently hold. Embrace change. You might surprise yourself.

3. Recognize that there will always be obsessions in education. It seems to be an unsaid rule that there will be obsessions for the latest “tricks of the trade” in education. After 23 years in education, I’ve witnessed that proverbial swinging pendulum. Remember the old portfolio days for educators? I think it was in the early to mid-90s when we had to develop portfolios as educational tools for educators and students. Guess what? Two years ago I had to build a portfolio for my yearly evaluation. Best Practices, block scheduling, open classroom concept, independent study, curriculum mapping, Common Core, etc. The list of obsessions could go on forever. Testing is the current trend. Our days are filled with acronyms…NWEA, ECA, ISTEP, AR…and on and on. I just keep telling myself, “This, too, shall pass.” However, in order to see a trend go by the wayside, a person needs to be willing to stick it out. If that’s not for you, get out now.

4. Build a community that supports education. I feel fortunate in this regard. I am in a conservative community that, for the most part, values education. Do we see more parents at a basketball game than at parent-teacher conferences? Yep. At the high school level, do we have a very active parent athletic booster club but no parent-teacher association? Yep. We certainly have our shortcomings. However, on several occasions, I’ve had parents come up to let me know they are praying for our schools. I am thankful.

5. Fairly compensate educators. This is an age-old issue that will most-likely never be solved. I currently hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary education, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology specializing in school library media. I will most likely never earn more than $65,000 per year. That is a fact. But you know what? I knew that fact and accepted it when going in to this profession. My wonderful husband has helped me realize that I should never complain (it’s a Biblical thing, too). Look at the perks of my job:

  • bad weather delays and/or cancellations
  • professional development
  • at least 8 weeks off in the summer
  • 2 weeks off at Christmas
  • 1 week off for Spring Break
  • current contract hours are 8:00-3:30

My husband is in the water-quality industry. He has a good job working for a small business owner. He enjoys his job. However, he has to go to work even in a travel emergency. He’s only gone to a few professional development workshops during his 20+ years with the company. And after these 20+ years, he currently gets a little less than 3 weeks off per year for vacation time. I am not going to complain. We have a family insurance plan through the school, and I’ve been able to set money back for retirement. However, if your demographics and spending needs are forcing you to live paycheck to paycheck with a teacher’s salary, get out now. If you want to stay in education but make more money, look at going into administration, technology, or move to an area of the country where the cost of living may be more feasible for you and your family.

Thank you, Josh Waldron, for your article and your opinions. While I was reading it, I was nodding my head in agreement the entire time. But then I realized that, if I was so much in agreement, why was I still in education? I needed to do some self-reflection. After really giving it some thought, I know that I am exactly where I need to be at this particular point in time. And it’s perfectly okay.


Currently reading: More Than This by Patrick Ness

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name… (sing with me)

Those of you who remember the 80s will know about the TV sitcom, Cheers. The theme song says, “Sometimes you want to go/ where everybody knows your name/ and they’re always glad you came./ You wanna be where you can see/ our troubles are all the same./ You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” The show took place in a bar where the bartenders took care of newcomers and regular customers alike. It was a place where people could share joys with the bartenders or shed a tear in their beer. (Wait a minute…that’s another song.)

Anyway, I view my library as a type of “Cheers” bar…no alcohol, of course. Duh…we’re a public school. But I liken it to Cheers when students and staff alike “belly up” to the bar (my circulation desk), and tell me (bartender/librarian) their troubles and joys. I smile and nod, try to ask the right questions, and I give helpful advice when needed.

Lately, however, I’ve had a different dilemma. Most likely because I have a son who is a senior, many of the students feel more free to share things with me. A big item to share is their dislike for certain teachers and/or assignments. I refuse to take sides, and mostly will back up the teachers. After all, we adults need to stick together (wink wink nod nod).

I have noticed an increase in the number of students who feel as if they should get shortened assignments and extensions on the due date. Seriously?! One student was bemoaning the fact that he had to turn in an assignment a few hours early because he was going on a field trip that day. He thought he should get a one day extension on the project. I asked him when the paper was assigned. Lo and behold it was assigned almost 3 months ago, and he still wanted a one-day extension. Needless to say, I pointed it out to the student and did not take his side. I could tell he wasn’t impressed with me at 8:00 in the morning.

My next customer walked by 5 minutes later spewing random hurtful comments about another teacher who assigned a rather large assignment. This poor child thought is was simply “too much”. I gently/firmly reminded this student that, this assignment will seem like a piece of cake when he starts getting his assignments in college next year. He just rolled his eyes and walked away. I fear I may start losing “customers” if this trend continues.

It’s time for a reality check, kiddos. We’re glad we know your names, and your troubles seem all the same. But there ends my sympathy. And thus ends another episode from the place where Shirley Temple and Arnold Palmer  are found in the biography section (92), a Long Island is in the geography section (974.7), and a grasshopper is in the insect section (595.72).


Currently reading: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

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Did you catch the Super Bowl video about the Oreo cookies in the library? Here it is if you happened to miss it. Don’t worry…I missed it. Obviously I haven’t learned to stay in the room for the commercials. Duh! But never fear, people pointed it out to me, including one of my kids. Kudos to them for thinking of their librarian friend and mom.

The first time I saw it, I laughed due to the absurdity of it. But then I started wondering. Is that how strict I am in my library? It’s definitely not ingrained in some of my students to whisper whenever in my hallowed stacks. Do I welcome the buzz that comes with junior high and high school students?

After much introspection, I hope I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t mind the buzz and noise when I see groups of kids working together for a research project. Or, and I LOVE this one, when I hear one student discussing the merits of a particular book with another student. “Sarah, you have GOT to read this book. It was, like, sooo good. I literally could NOT put it down. They should make a movie out of this one.”

The noise that I have a hard time dealing with is when Romeo Joe scams his teacher to get a bathroom pass out of class, but decides to prowl into the library to pounce on an unsuspecting female. You know the type. He walks in, scans the room, finds a girl he knows, sits down next to her while she’s trying to work and then turns on the charm causing aforementioned girl to immediately giggle and twirl her hair. Thus causing Romeo Joe to walk out 5 minutes later with a puffed out chest and Herculean-sized ego intact. I have dubbed this as “uneducational noise”. This is the type of noise that irks me. Yes, I occasionally get irked.

Thanks to Nabisco for the Oreo commercial and choosing to use a library in it, even if it is a parody. Hey, we need all the press we can get.

Currently reading: Every Day by David Levithan

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Drop Bears and Velcro Crops

With the recent news of Notre Dame football player, Manti Te’o’s, girlfriend hoax, I could not but help to think of my students. Starting with “Stranger Danger”, we want our students to be safe out in the big bad world. With technology standards in hand, we try to preach and teach about cyber-bullying, safety on the Internet and social networking. In the classroom we also try to hone their research skills on the Internet. However, more and more I think we need a course in “Internet Discernment”. (Sorry…this is my own made-up term…but I like it).

Yesterday, before I heard about the Te’o incident, I was emailing a colleague of mine about yet another Internet hoax found through Google Scholar. This teacher is trying to get it across to her 7th grade English students that, while there are valid things on the Internet, there are also scams. Here are a few examples:

California’s Velcro Crop (includes a graph)

Anti-Alien Abduction Helmet

Indirect Tracking of Drop Bears Using GNSS Technology (Drop Bear hunting in Australia = Snipe hunting in the US)

The Dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide (water)

The country of Ruritania (fictional)

Burmese Mountain Dogs (the pictures should be a good clue that this is a hoax)

I could add so many more, but I’ll run out of room. My point is that, while technology is great, there are flaws. Of course, this is not new. Remember these literary hoaxes?

Angel at the Fence
The Hitler Diaries
The Education of Little Tree
A Million Little Pieces

There’s good and bad everywhere. My job is to help the staff and students in my school discern between good and bad. Before I go off to dispel the myths from our big bad world, I’d better arm myself with my anti-alien abduction helmet and California Velcro. And where did I put my bottle of dihydrogen monoxide???

Currently reading: The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen (no, this isn’t a hoax)

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

On Thursday, December 21, I received the best Christmas present ever of my professional career. Even as I think about it now, I turn into a big pile of goo.

I taught 4th grade before becoming a librarian at the high school. One of the benefits has been seeing the last group of former students of mine grow and mature into wonderful young adults. One student in particular stands out. He was a little Amish boy who didn’t want to be in school. His dream, at the time, was just to be by himself out in nature. He would have loved to try out the survival skills needed to be Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Who needed math, English and Indiana History? I felt for him because I know the feeling and love of being in solitude, enjoying the the quiet stillness of nature. But the part that bothered me was the fact that he was one of the best creative writers I had ever seen during 15 years of teaching. I still have a book of poems from that class in my office at school. His poem about watching deer is a highlight in that book. One day, my patience with this little guy had reached its end. He made a bit of a smart comeback when I confronted him about his lack of effort. Needless to say, we went out into the hallway for a “Come to Jesus” meeting.

Fast forward 8 years. This little Amish boy ended up deciding to forgo joining the Amish church and finish high school instead. He homeschooled in junior high and entered the public school system again when he was a ninth grader. I was surprised to see him one day as I was getting ready to do a book talk in his English class. For the next 4 years we enjoyed small conversation and saying “Hi” in the hallways. About 3 weeks ago I found out he was graduating at the end of Semester I in December. I saw him in the hallway, told him congratulations and asked him what he was planning for the next year. Imagine my surprise when he said he was joining the Marines. We were both in a hurry, but I was hoping to finish the conversation later.

On Thursday, we both found ourselves in the hallway during class. He promptly came up to me, held out his hand and we shook hands. Then he said, “I’ve wanted to tell ‘Thank you’ you for a long time. You’ve always been a special teacher to me, and I could tell that you cared about me. You know, I remember that speech you gave me in the fourth grade. At the time, I wasn’t so happy about it, but I thought about it quite often afterwards. You were right, I could do a lot more than I was doing. And I just really wanted to tell you ‘Thank you’.” Well…I held it together, but I get teary-eyed even now thinking about it. We talked more about his decision to go into the Marine corps and his Amish family. I wish we had more time to talk. And I wonder if he’ll ever know how profoundly his ‘thank you’ has affected me.

Sometimes, I’m sure we all wonder if we are truly doing our calling. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But there are times that I question. However, that student was placed in my path for a reason in 2004, and I was placed back in his path for a reason in 2012. We each taught the other in ways we may never fully comprehend. What a blessed present this truly has been…

Currently reading: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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