By Jen Baker, M.Ed, MA
When I was a wide-eyed baby teacher in teacher school, I used to think library days would be the best workdays. I’d take my kids to the library, the teacher librarian would take over as teacher for the day, and I could kick back with papers to grade and a steaming mug of tea. After all, I would be teaching high schoolers, and they could certainly handle themselves.
I already hear you laughing at baby teacher me.
Don’t worry. I quickly learned that was not the case.
I realized it was because I was doing it wrong. The library isn’t a place for me to take my kids and leave them for the librarian to babysit. It isn’t just a place for my students to check out books and read quietly. It’s a place for the teacher librarian and me to work together to do something impossible alone.
In my 13 years as a teacher, I’ve been fortunate to work with some stellar teacher librarians, and I’ve found that the better my relationship with them and the more closely we worked together, the better the outcome for my students. So I stopped going to my teacher librarian and saying, “I need you to…” and started saying, “We’re learning about this; what can you do to help my kids?”
- They know a lot of stuff you don’t (about more than just books).
Ask your teacher librarian anything, and if they don’t know the answer, they’ll find it for you. That’s their job. You can bet they’ve been asked a lot of weird questions, and their quest for answers has led them to learn some pretty strange stuff.
They also work across contents more than anyone else in a school building, so they have at least a working knowledge of most curricula. So when you’re working on that research project about a social issue in English class, you can bet they can find a way to connect that to something the student learned in their government course earlier in the year.
They also know the latest educational trends and may know of new resources available to teach your content or have a different way of looking at a task you’ve been having students do for years.
2. They are serious tech gurus.
Many of us want to include more tech in our classrooms, but we don’t know enough and are uncomfortable working with something we don’t fully understand.
A few years ago, my students researched a social issue, and I wanted them to share what they learned with a “This I Believe” speech, but my students were not having it, and I nearly had an anti-public speaking riot on my hands. Before I knew it, they convinced me it would be better for them to put together videos with images and a voiceover.
There were just two problems: not all of my students had the digital skills to do that, and I had zero video-editing experience and couldn’t teach them.
Enter my teacher librarian.
She knew a lot about the tech side, so she showed me the basics and then taught students how to edit their video and record their voiceover. We spent a few days in the library, and kids naturally started asking her tech questions and came to me for content help.
It was a win-win for everyone: I didn’t have to spend a weekend becoming an expert on the tech, she got to try out a new program the district had recently purchased, and my kids put together some powerful videos. Plus, she was able to grade the projects for their tech application skills while I focused on content.
Moral of the story: don’t be afraid of trying new tech–just make sure your teacher librarian is by your side. You can focus on the content and skills your students need to master, and the teacher librarian can focus on the tech.
3. They can take risks you can’t.
Second only to art teachers, librarians tend to be outside-the-box thinkers. Their creativity and exuberance for experimentation mean they are one of the leaders when it comes to fostering change in your school.
While I am sometimes too focused on getting students to pass the end-of-course exam, teacher librarians have time to innovate. My teacher librarian can say, “Hey, I have this cool idea. Want to try it?” and encourage me to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve never had that fail me. Even when a lesson didn’t go right (because not everything can go right), students still get something out of it and enjoy a change of pace.
4. You’ll become a better teacher, and your students will learn more.
You are guaranteed to learn something new to make you a better teacher when you work with your teacher librarian. Maybe it’s a new technique, a new resource, or just a new outlook on something, but you’ll take something away from your experience that you can use in other situations.
I love writer’s workshops and one-on-one writing conferences, but the fact is that they are hard to do in a 45-minute class period when you have 30 students in a class. When I co-teach with the teacher librarian, we split the class in half, meaning we can see twice as many students in a class period. As a result, I can spend more time with each student without feeling like I have to rush.
Plus, students who aren’t comfortable asking me for help might be more comfortable asking Mrs. Young for the help they need. They can also get help more subtly because we can spread out in the library. Some students who know us well figure out which questions they should ask me and which they should direct to Mrs. Young.
5. They level the playing field for students.
By working with my teacher librarian, I introduce my students to another resource to do well in school. For many students, it’s not an exaggeration to say she may be the best resource to get them to graduation.
Many of our students don’t have reliable access to technology or the internet, and the library gives them a place to use school devices during school hours. Our teacher librarian even has some devices students can check out and take home if they need to. I make sure my students know Mrs. Young is there for them with resources, not just books.
Our teacher librarian has volunteer tutors in the library throughout the day, so our struggling students can go there for free tutoring. She has social-emotional resources for students who need help regulating. She is an approachable adult in the building who is often viewed more as a friend or mother than a teacher responsible for your grade. She can pull supplemental resources for students who might need a bit more help.
By not working with my teacher librarian, I am taking away opportunities from my students they may not otherwise be aware of. Just the act of taking the students to the library and interacting with Mrs. Young increases their access to knowledge by making them aware of what is possible.
As you head back to your classroom this year, I urge you to try something new.
Be proactive and reach out to your teacher librarian. Let them know what you are doing in the first month, and see where that conversation leads you and your students.
Chances are, it will lead to places you didn’t even know about!