Thus concludes a month of figuring things out, extensive meetings, wondering if you’ll remember any names, skipping lunch, and staying late.
Twenty years ago, I walked into my first elementary librarian position hoping to change the world. Or, at least the school. I was uber-excited, passionate, appreciative of the opportunity, and in love with the students. I was wearing rose-colored glasses, and yet the year did not disappoint me.
Flash forward a couple of years: I could say that, “everything I needed to know to be a good librarian did not come with the MLS degree.” I was successful, but it was not without chastisement, faux pas, alienation, and blunders along the way. Let me save you a few mistakes by sharing what I learned from my “finer moments.”
- Avoid reading (or using) in the library any book or piece of literature which is used in the classroom. Get a list of all the classroom ELA core novels, stories, picture books, poems, and other curriculum-related books or works that are used vertically from K-12. If you were thinking of using any of those books…think again. There is no better way to alienate a teacher than by using a piece of his curriculum as a read-aloud. There are millions of books published, so try to find a substitute. I learned this one the hard way when I read to my fifth graders Earthlets (no longer in print) and decided to teach perspective. No happy camper in fifth grade faculty. I was fortunate that I had already befriended them, as it could have been a fatal error.
- Don’t lose sleep over the picture book section. If it’s in reasonable order, A–Z, the kids will find what they want. There are bigger fish to fry. If you get to do inventory at year-end, you can then worry about order.
- Establish a “signal” for classroom management and “practice” the signal. Every good teacher has some signal they use to collect attention. If you did not learn this in any internship, let this be your first priority. A couple of years ago as a library administrator, I went to visit an elementary school librarian who was a newbie. She was a techno-wizard and her lesson was full of tricks. But after the lesson, mayhem ensued, which even included kids literally playing tag, running around the stacks. After commending her on her lesson, I shared that classroom management had to be her first priority. Students will learn nothing if structure is absent. They have to respect the learning environment, even if you move to collaborative learning methods that include discussion. Establish a few “circles” full of learning activities (or Makerspace activities) that could be used during book selection time for those who are not “finding books.” This should eliminate a game of tag.
- Before you paint your walls, check the contracts. Once upon a time, one of the best teachers I have ever encountered, decided to paint her walls over Spring break—even enlisting the help of a few students. Her walls were drab, and brain research says kids prefer color, but she hadn’t checked with the boss. Unfortunately, we live in a working world of contract negotiation and serfdom and turfdom. She made a fatal error.
- Insert at least a simple data collection activity, such as “tickets to leave,” or a “padlet pre-assessment” if you want to make a great impression on your first observation. Chances are your administrator will be impressed. Ask your mentor coach for ideas, if you don’t know how to do this.
- Be sure you know your building-level “goals.” Sometimes, principals have their own goals. Ruminate on these goals and try to align some of your lessons, reading incentive programs, or other activities with your building-level goals. Document and communicate what you are doing to support those goals too. Don’t be obnoxious, but be ready to share your link to achievement.
So what advice would you give a new librarian? What pain can you save them? Please add to this list by leaving your own advice to newbies in the comments below, and let’s see what other lessons people have learned over time! Join the conversation!
Paige Jaeger, MLIS, is a prolific author and prominent educational consultant, delivering professional development at the local, state, and national levels on inquiry-based learning, the CCSS, and the C3 framework. Previously, she was a library administrator serving 84 school libraries in New York.