Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A rose by any other name…..

Librarian, School Librarian, Media Librarian, Media Specialist, Teacher Librarian, Tech Integrationist….
So what exactly am I supposed to call myself?  I’ve been in education my entire life, either as a student or teacher and I’m not sure what I am supposed to use as my title. 

I was in elementary school when the librarian was, just that…the librarian.  She was the person who would help me find my favorite book about the mouse who could ride a toy motorcycle.  That was it… I didn’t really need her for anything else and so Librarian seemed to be appropriate.  

As I made my way through Junior High, my perspective changed slightly.  Now, the Librarian was that person who was always shushing me when my friends and I were too loud or being obnoxious as we often were.  It wasn’t as “cool” to go to the library to get a book so instead we caused trouble and often were asked to leave.  

In high school, I knew I could get a book to read if I wanted (and often did) but the library became a place to meet before school to finish homework or just to touch base with friends.  The Librarian, I only thought of him when he came to a classroom to change an overhead bulb or to provide a film/filmstrip projector to a teacher. Of course, by now the title had changed to Media Specialist.  Made sense—after all he was the keeper of the film and overhead projectors—that must be what the Media part is all about—right? 

College—well the library in college felt much different.  It had a lot more stuff and everything was harder to find.  Finding what I needed almost always required a trip to the information desk as the collection was overwhelming.  I always thought it was strange that I had to look in a card catalog to find the book I was looking for and then write down the Dewey Decimal number so that I could get lost in the rows of books looking for the exact number and code that I had scribbled on that small piece of paper.  The only thing I could hear were the many warnings issued by my parents about not going into the cornfields because you won’t be able to find your way out.  I didn’t pay much attention to the title of the Librarian in college—I’m not even sure if I could have identified who it was—all I wanted was someone who could tell me exactly where I could find the periodical section and get change for a dollar because I needed to make copies.

As I entered the education world as a teacher, the Media Specialist and soon to be Teacher Librarian was the person who would help me by gathering all of the books in the library about a specific topic, put them on a cart and bring them up to my room so my students could use them to research.  Or, if we were adventurous we could spend the class period in the library with the books available while some students worked, as that is where computers were located.  Our Media Specialist became my go-to person for ordering films and videos, she was the person who supplied us with overhead bulbs, newspapers and magazines.  She encouraged me to send my project handouts to her in advance so that she could gather resources for my students. 

So here I am—the Teacher Librarian in the same school I had been teaching at for 20 years.  I applied for the position because it was posted as a combination of librarian and tech integrationist.  The tech integrationist part of the job was exactly what I had been looking for and I figured, how hard could the librarian part be?  It was during my grad classes to get certified as a teacher librarian that I learned about the roles of a TL.  I was surprised at the number of TL roles and how much they overlapped with teachers and technology integrationist.  It wasn’t from a lack of effort or professionalism on the part of the many librarians I had encountered in my life, it was my own perception.  I just wasn’t aware of what a librarian/media specialist could do for me or my students.  Is that because of the name or is it a lack of understanding of the roles of the position.  Probably a combination of both and that is something that I am really trying to change from my current position.

What is a typical day in the life of a Teacher Librarian?  I don’t really have one.  It isn’t unusual for me to fill multiple roles and wear many hats during the school day:  
Troubleshooting iPads
Meeting with teachers to plan lessons
Setting up and demonstrating resource databases
Evaluating and selecting books for the collection
Visiting classrooms
Arranging for computer lab, library space for classes
Troubleshooting computers, projectors, DVD players and Apple TV’s
Training staff in the use of Web 2.0 tools
Teaching digital citizenship

I want my library to be the center of teaching and learning in my building.  In a 1:1 environment students and teachers are able to access information from anywhere at any time.  The library should be a place where students and teachers can collaborate and create.  Access to information will always be important but now, we need to be actively demonstrating and modeling to students how to be good consumers of information and good digital citizens.  As a teacher librarian, my role is to help make all of these things happen.

So—what should I call myself?  At this point, I don’t think it really matters what my title is---what really matters is that students, staff and administrators understand what I can do and how I can help them.  The perception of my patrons is more important than what title I can give myself or what title others want to give to me.  It is crucial that if in the position of Teacher Librarian that you reach out in multiple ways to your clientele so that they are well aware of what the library program has to offer.  Start a blog, open a twitter account, share student works through Youtube, Flickr, and Pinterest, share a digital newsletter to staff/students/parents, visit classrooms, start a book club and in general—make the library the hub of your building.  Changing the perceptions of adults and forming the impressions of students is really important in building a library program that is effective.  And if your library program is effective—your patrons might not know your title but they will definitely know that you are a resource they can rely upon.  


"It took a bit of popcorn and a library snack bar to make me realize that being a librarian was about more than just giving people information.  It was about serving a community.  And if the community is hungry for more than just knowledge, then maybe it's about time to open a snack bar"
                                                                                              Scott Douglas


Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm a Lifer

I said it—it’s true!!
I just finished talking with a number of new teachers to our building about technology needs and procedures.  As I looked at their faces, I was taken back to my first few days as a teacher here. Twenty-three years ago I began my career at Bettendorf High School as a Social Studies Teacher.  I went directly from undergrad to grad school as there were not a whole lot of jobs available when I graduated and to be honest—after I student taught—I wasn’t all that sure that teaching high school Social Studies was something that I could do for the next 40 years.  It scared me.  Would I be able to manage my classroom?  Would I get tired of teaching the same thing over and over again? Is teaching and coaching going to be enough to fulfill me as a person?  These were some pretty heavy questions for a 21 year old graduating from college. 
I was a sophomore in high school when I decided that I wanted to become a teacher and a coach.  I loved school and sports.  Growing up in a town of 3500 people—it was what you did.  Everything revolved around the high school.  That sense of community is so special.  As I went through college, I prepared for my life as a teacher and coach.  My aspirations were to someday coach volleyball at the college level.  Coaching is fundamental teaching and that is what I wanted to do.  I went straight to grad school for a Masters in Physical Education, Teaching and Coaching—finished my course work and in the meantime, was hired at Bettendorf.  It was time to start making money instead of spending it and I would need some experience before I could move on. 
My first year of teaching/coaching is a blur to me now.  Shortly before I was hired, my only brother, Mike, was diagnosed with Leukemia and was hospitalized in Minneapolis.  Most of my weekends from August to November were spent driving from the Quad Cities to Minneapolis, trying to lesson plan and coach volleyball in between.  Honestly, I was just trying to survive my first year.  I was exhausted and at times just going through the motions.  My brother lost his battle on the day after Thanksgiving , of course—my life changed forever.  What you consider important after losing someone isn’t going to be the same as it was before.  I settled in and focused on becoming a part of a community that had supported me through a difficult time and began to become the high school teacher I thought I could be—I wasn’t entertaining any major career moves at this point.  I craved stability and dug in.
Later that first year, I had a colleague tell me “you’re going to be a lifer”.  Hmm…  My first reaction was…well,  unfit for print.  How dare someone who doesn’t know me that well, tell me that I would never move on from Bettendorf?  I had plans/goals and I might have put them on hold for a while but my time would come.  I was actually insulted by the insinuation that I would be a high school teacher my whole life--that I would never reach any further professionally. 
The next 15 years went fast.  Those of you who are “seasoned” know what I mean.  You blink and all of sudden you are one of the “older” teachers in the building.  Yikes! How did that happen? Of course, many things in education changed in those 15 years and the biggest difference for me—was technology.  I was excited by the opportunities that were made possible by integrating technology in the classroom and was looking to explore how I could expand my knowledge.  I started work on a Masters in Educational Technology and was beginning to feel like I could impact a lot more students in a position that would allow me to help other teachers integrate technology.  I was going through a period of rejuvenation and felt like I was doing some of the best teaching I had done in my career. 
The old adage “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…. That’s a tough one for me—as it is with most people who experience loss in their life. My sister Becki, who had been battling Colon cancer for a little over a year, died on April 10, 2008.  My heart was broken and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin.  I continued to work on my course work but I had lost the excitement that I used to have in the classroom.   All I could focus on now was to get my degree finished so that I could move on…. Are you sensing a theme here???
In the spring of 2011, our teacher librarian retired and the position was posted as a combination of teacher librarian and instructional technologist.  My concern, however, is that the last few years of my teaching career were not stellar.  Would I be able to convince my bosses that all of that would change if they hired me in this position? I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t want to take that chance but luckily for me—they (TY Jimmy Casas and Joy Kelly) did take a chance.  I’m entering my third year as teacher librarian and just finished getting my library certification.  I come to work every day excited to be here.  I look forward to working with students and teachers and wouldn’t trade my job for anything!!!
So yes…. I am a lifer, and I’m ok with that.  As a matter of fact, I am more than ok with it, I embrace it.  After all, what other job can you get that has the type of impact a teacher does—and on top of it, I get to learn every day.  To me….being a lifer is an accomplishment-- One that makes me proud and one that I will always cherish.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."  
                                                                                                           Ralph Waldo Emerson

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