Monday, October 22, 2012

Why I Love Teacher-Librarians

Four years out of the classroom.  Believe me, it’s not like riding a bike.  I stare at the sea of faces and struggle to remember names, to get the knack, again, of using my peripheral vision to know who is stirring up trouble in the corner, where a fire is being lit, when sad eyes signal more urgent need in a sea of hand-waving and chatter.

I have three classes to teach.  I can’t catch the rhythm of the blocks again and prepare too much or too little, lose papers, miss files, forget important messages.

I reach out like a drowning person and ask the teacher-librarian, Kate Girard, if she’d like to co-teach a unit on poetry with me in the library.  I hold my breath.  She agrees.  She thinks I have something wonderful planned and is looking forward to it – I was, after all, the District Coordinator for Literacy and Learning.  I know things.  I have ideas. She expects great things.

I work late into the night looking for something.  Anything.  I pilfer a unit from the Calgary Science School.    The link to the lessons was no longer working, but the blog post gives me the gist.  Kate sounds a tiny bit wary after reading my cobbled-together plan, but is willing to go along.  I bring the students.  I've barely learned their names.  Thirty grade nine students.  We’re going to write a poem.  I struggle to appear confident.

Our first day was not bad.  The students, I think, were a little subdued, uprooted from their familiar setting, put in the library with an extra teacher and a peer tutor (who happens to be one of my English 11 students).  The second day was less fortunate.  Kate asked questions gently – did I think the students would be clear on the task?  Did we need other examples to help them?  But we’d run out of time, talking only in snatches between classes.  We plunged into a disaster that Kate tells in her deliciously funny blog post.  She writes that teaching with me is like “Dancing with the Stars,” that she is excited to see me in action.  And what action!  Her prediction that the students would be unclear about the task came true and though she was thankfully diverted by technology glitches, I watched the lesson fall apart, my mind empty of solutions.

She graciously allowed me to return to the library the next day.  I was learning.  She quietly took a greater role (thank goodness) in planning.  Things looked up.  We waded through just one more disaster – predicted by Kate, of course – when I blithely insisted that they could find poems on their topic.  The rapidity of the degeneration was breath-taking.  My grade 11 student tried to help, her eyes soft on me, gentle, supportive, kind.  Kate and I, more synchronized, regrouped quickly, and changed the task.

After school that day, cautious after this second disaster, Kate and I did more careful co-planning.  We continued our planning in emails that evening and early the next morning.  Kate noted (at just after 6 am) that she would be in a little late, since she was waiting for more light to pick apples (really!): we had agreed that for our focussed writing chunks, we would pass around snacks.   I'm not sure everyone knows how very common this uncommon dedication is.  But I wish they did.

I'm on my own again with the grade 9s, but I feel more confident, more ready to take charge, more sure of where I'm going.  This last week has been a blessing.  I've had the opportunity to sit next to most of the students in the class and simply listen, talk, help in real ways without even having to worry about the rest of the class, just devoting my energy and attention to each one.  I've had a week to get to know my students that would have been impossible otherwise.  I am on-my-knees grateful that we have teacher-librarians in our schools who have time to support, collaborate, connect, co-plan.  Kate writes about “dancing with the stars.”  She’s right.  But she’s confused about who the star is.

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