Friday, September 2, 2011

Reading in the Deep End

I promised in a previous post that I would tell you more about my job, but then Hurricane Irene hit, and other posts just became more dire.

Now that Irene is gone, let's talk details! 

Because it is appropriate to do so, I'm going to refrain from using any names when I talk about my school libraries.  It just seems like the right choice to me.

So, I was hired last week to take over two completely different school libraries in the same district.  My first day with students is on Wednesday, and my head is still spinning.

This past week I spent some productive and supportive time with the school's program for new teachers.  It was comprehensive, inclusive, and most importantly - real!  Most of the teachers who led us through the orientation were new teachers themselves just a short time ago.  They all acknowledged our feelings of fear and inadequacy.  They completely understood where we were coming from and assured us that everything was going to be ok.

I understand that I have landed in the goldmine of school districts.  I've heard so many horror stories of administrations who don't support their teachers - or worse - don't even know their librarians exist!  But this district is definitely not the case.  I'm so honored that they chose me to serve them and I can't wait to start.

Well, ok, maybe I can wait.  I'd love a few more weeks for my head to stop spinning and so I can get acquainted with my libraries, but that's just not going to happen!

My husband, who is a teacher, keeps telling me over and over that what I'm feeling is normal.  He calls it "pre-teaching jitters".  He said that even veteran teachers feel it and it's just part of the experience.  He told me that you have to stop hyper-focusing on the details, and instead to just embrace the big picture. 

I just have to stop worrying and jump into the deep end.

Which of course just filled my mind with ridiculous images of stereotypical librarians flailing around in the deep end, trying to keep their glasses on and an armful of books above water.  I wish I could share with you the image in my head, but I just couldn't find anything online that was perfect.

So, you're still waiting to hear about the details right?  Enough of this feelings and mushy stuff. 

One of my libraries was maintained by the same librarian for many years.  It was obviously cherished and the librarian had a real feel for the psychology of color.  The walls are covered in gorgeous murals, kites hang from the ceiling, and everything about the place is just gorgeous.  When I walked into that library I felt privileged indeed.

My other library is where the fun is really going to happen though.  This library has had different librarians over the years, and inconsistently at that.  While its caretakers have done an amazing job with the resources they had, there are so many exciting ideas I have for the place!  I always dreamed that I would get a library that I could really build myself; a chance to design my own program.

I read last night in New on the Job:  A School Library Media Specialist's Guide to Success  that...

"there is no way you can accomplish everything in your first year"

and

"it takes at least five years to establish an exemplary program"

I know the veteran librarians reading this are probably saying "duh" but to a recovering perfectionist like myself, that was a hard pill to swallow.  I've already written out a score of goals that I would like to complete, and it was very hard for me to accept that few of them would be happening the first year.  Especially because I will have very little time in this position and very little budget.

Unlike my experience as a librarian in a middle school during my field experience, almost every single period of the day is filled with a class.  I have no idea if this is normal for all middle schools, but in my field experience, teachers asked to come to the library depending on the projects their students were doing.  It wasn't a set schedule.  In elementary school, it is.  Every child comes to the library every week.  I have about 600 students between the two schools with lesson planning to do grades 1-4.  Granted, I LOVE teaching - it's a reason why I wanted to be a school librarian as opposed to a public librarian.  However, it's frustrating to realize that I can't fix the library overnight and give these kids and their teachers what they need.  Instead, it will take time.

I have been asking lots of questions, both in my school and out, about how I should start the school year.  I've decided that I'm going to throw circ out the window for the first two weeks.  I don't have passwords yet to log in to the system and I'm not familiar with it.  (Anybody wanna give me a crash course in Alexandria?)  At first I was really worried about getting all of that up and running before the first day of school, but that isn't going to happen either.

So instead, I'm going to focus on the kids, which is where I should have started anyway.  I'm going to get to know them.  I'm going to play name games, give library tours, maybe a scavenger hunt.  Then I'll probably build the rules of the library with them.  I say build because a) I don't really have any written up already because I don't know THESE SCHOOLS and b) kids respect rules more when they understand where they came from. 

Simultaneously, I also want to start getting to know my parent volunteers.  I hear exemplary things about the participation of parents in my community.  Like I said, goldmine district!  They're ready and eager to help and I'm not shy about delegating, so I'm looking forward to the system we're going to create together.

That's the plan.  Reading in the deep end; treading water and trying not to drown.  Questions?  Comments?  Life-saving pieces of advice?!


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