I remember a fourth grade teacher who was who wanted her students to be good at writing and to love it. She worked hard on her writing lesson plans so that her students would enjoy the process. One day I stopped by her class to tell her something important. She met me at her door, and we talked while she kept an eye on her students. The conversation ran a little longer than I had anticipated. The kids got antsy and began talking with each other. The teacher turned to the class and said, “Is this how you behave when I am speaking with a guest? Settle down right now or you will be writing two paragraphs on how we act when I have a visitor.” With that one comment she told students writing is not fun; it is a punishment.
The teacher unthinkingly reverted to a “teacher default” response. It is sometimes said that teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach. I don’t believe that’s true most of the time, but when stressed or upset they say and do things the way teachers used to do. It’s like the jokes about women becoming their mothers and using the same phrases as the previous generation.
The first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st– Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.” Many of you include “developing lifelong readers” or some variant of that in your Mission Statement. Even without it in the statement, it’s a goal we hold very strongly. How do you send that message?
You probably put new books out on display. You talk to students about what they are reading. You recommend titles to students based on what you know of their likes and interests. And you share your own enthusiasm for books. All are wonderful way to send your message.
But do you then do something that sends a very different message? I know countless elementary librarians who won’t let kids borrow a book if they have one (or more) overdues. The message becomes: getting books back on the shelf is more important than having the student read.
The argument offered in most cases is you are teaching the child to be responsible. And besides, you can’t afford to lose books. What is more important, responsibility or developing their reading habit? Of even greater concern to me is imposing a flat rule without taking into consideration different circumstances kids have. For example children of divorce may their divide time between two houses. It’s easy to leave a book at one parent’s home and not be able to get it back in time for their “library day.” Give kids some leeway. Ask them when they plan to bring it back. Have a reminder card you can give them to help. Instead of requiring responsibility, help them learn it.
If you are helping a student and a teacher comes in wanting to talk with you do you end your conversation with the kid quickly so you can respond to the teacher? This lets the student know that he/she is not as important to you as adults are.
Do you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment? The phrase shows up often in Vision Statements, but posted library rules – a list of “no’s” usually – sends a message that behavior is what really counts. Do students have to speak softly while teachers can speak loudly? Watch for your double standards.
Librarians often resent they are not regarded as teachers. You teach every day and with all types of students. Sometimes it’s a whole class. Other times it’s one-on-one. Are you sending the message that you are a teacher or are you sending another message?
I witnessed the worst example of this a number of years ago. Teachers have always dropped into the libraries where I worked. Sometimes to plan a lesson, but often to gripe about something. While I never joined the complaints, I was a listening ear letting them know I recognized how upset they were. One time, my co-librarian was listening with me to a teacher’s mini-rant. Her response was, “You teachers….” And I knew she had created a gulf between her and the teacher. It always needs to be “We teachers,” in what you say and how you behave.
Unless we start noticing on some of our instinctive responses we are likely to send mixed messages to students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Think about how you want to be perceived by these members of the educational community. Then work to be sure your interactions promote it.