You are well aware of the many roles you have as a school librarian, but whether you are at an elementary, middle, or high school the one you will be evaluated on and judged by is your teaching. To a great extent this translates into how well you manage your classes. Do students follow instructions or do they get out of hand? Can you deal with disruptive students? How often do you send students to the office?
Classroom management is not a usual topic in library school which makes it particularly challenging for those who have never taught. But even seasoned teachers who move to the library are not as skilled as they thought they would be. The library environment is very different from the classroom and while some procedures work the same, it is not always the cases.
Managing When You Are on a Fixed Schedule
Most elementary and some middle school librarians operate on a fixed schedule. Teachers happily drop off their students and go off to their duty-free period. When it’s over they are waiting at the door to pick them up. The teacher is well aware of how “her” students are as they head into the library and how they are when leaving – and they judge your abilities to manage the class.
Note they think of it as leaving their students with you, and that’s part of the challenge. The students are not truly yours. You get them at best once a week. Even learning their names is a challenge. You don’t have regular assigned seats. The environment is open. There are bookcases where students can get conveniently “lost” and anyone can drop in, interrupting whatever flow you may have gotten going.
Rules and Guidelines
You undoubtedly have rules for the library, but they can work against you. Negatives bring forth negative responses. Any rule that begins with the word “no” can spark resistance. Focus on the positives and encourage students to be their best.
You can keep it simple with these three basics: Respect yourself, Respect others, and Respect the library. Have students explain what these mean. If you introduce these at the start of the school year, engage students in a discussion with them supplying examples for each of the three.
If someone acts out later in the year, remind the student of the rules. Ask what would be a better way to behave. Having them tell you is much better than you lecturing them.
Classrooms have routines and the library needs them as well. Always greet students at the door as they entering. Make comments, such as, “That’s a nice t-shirt,” or “I missed you last week.” Use their names as soon as you learn them.
Book return is customarily first. Have two students handling that, arranging the returns on a cart. Keep alternating who has the job and don’t limit it to the “good kids.” You want all students to develop a sense of ownership of the library.
Have one students direct the class to where you want them next – by the computers, at tables, or your story corner. You should be there as soon as possible. Praise positive behavior and ignore as much as possible those who are not settling in immediately. If necessary, ask that student about the “rule.”
Whether it’s a lesson or story time, always have a focusing question to get them thinking and talking about the topic you will be presenting. Encourage them to ask deep questions. As the lesson or story draws to a close, have a wrap-up question that guides them into summarizing and synthesizing the lesson.
Direct students in an orderly way to the next phase which is usually book selection and checkout. Be sure they know where to go while waiting for the whole class to complete this portion. As they line up to leave, keep fidgeting to a minimum by having them share what they most remember about that day’s library period. Greet the teacher as you turn the students back to their classroom teacher.
You are bound to have at least one class that always seems to be difficult. Without realizing it, you often exacerbate the problem. If all you can think of when they enter is, “I can’t wait until this class is over,” or “I wonder how much trouble they will cause today,” you are setting yourself and them up.
Your body language is signaling your thoughts and kids pick that up. You wouldn’t like it if someone dreaded seeing you, and your reaction to that person would be very negative. Students are no different.
To reduce the potential for confrontations, change your attitude. Think, “I wonder if I can find Bill the perfect book today,” or “I am going to get a smile from Diane, she seems so lonely.” Look for positives.
But what about a student who walks in the door in a hostile manner? First of all, recognize it has nothing to do with you. Something set him or her off before coming to the library. Try saying something like, “You look as though you are having a tough day. Is there anything I can do to help?
Managing on a Flex Schedule
In most middle and all high schools, librarians have flex schedules. There are much fewer challenges when teachers are with their class, but you do need to deal with drop-ins. Because of the numbers, the noise level can get quickly out of hand. Teachers in the library will take note of how well you handle this. And the last thing you want is for an administrator to show up because they have been alerted to the situation.
In brief, positive rules work here as well. So does smiling and keeping a positive attitude. A sense of humor helps most of all. Keep it light.
Go over to a noisy table and quietly ask them to lower their voices. Be friendly as you say it. If they argue that another table is noisier, let them know you will be dealing with them, but for now this is the group you are addressing.
Only in the direst situations should you raise your voice to quiet the whole library. As soon as you do you have announced you have lost control of the library. You can get away with it perhaps twice in a school year.
When you have an orderly (not silent, not even mostly quiet – just orderly) library, you will be respected as a teacher. It may seem odd, since this is not specifically about your teaching, but it is how you will be judged.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is on my mind a lot as I discuss Classroom Management in greater detail in an upcoming book I am writing for ALA Editions.