29 April 2015

My Path to the School Library

April is School Library Month and several librarians have chosen this month to share their path to the library world. I've enjoyed reading these stories and felt inspired to join in. So, here's mine. 
[Interesting note: I started this post in April of 2014, but never got around to finishing it. And barely made it in under the wire this year.] 

Libraries have always been an important part of my life. I remember going to my local public library as a child. I remember spending hours in libraries on the campus of the University of Georgia while my mom worked on campus. The science library had an awesome sabertooth tiger skeleton out front and it fascinated me. I was even a library intern in high school. But for some reason, being a librarian never really occurred to me when I was considering what I wanted to be. I just saw libraries as a nice sanctuary for a shy, inquisitive kid. And they were. I could have done something else with my time while my mom was working at the university, but I didn't want to. Any time she worked on campus, I'd end up on some random floor at the main library, learning about who knows what. I could have gone to lunch in high school, but I preferred to eat in the library workroom and shelf books. Looking back now, I can't believe I didn't realize then that I should be a librarian. 

As a college student, I worked at my public library, listening to public radio while shelving books. Not a bad gig, eh? I liked it. I especially liked the part where I could sometimes steal a few minutes to just browse through a particularly interesting book on the cart. I always tried to avoid shelving the picture books though, as you could fit about 3,000,000 on a cart. No thanks, I thought. The irony

The shelving job eventually led to a job behind the desk in the Young Adult department, which I also enjoyed. Meanwhile, I was wrapping up my college career and preparing to graduate with a degree* in Middle School Education. That asterisk is there because while I graduated with that degree, I wasn't certified to teach. Why? I didn't student teach. After a short practicum at a local middle school, I felt like maybe teaching wasn't for me. So, I kept working in the Young Adult department while also working overnight stocking at KMart. It was a glamorous life, full of patrolling the web browsing of teenagers and sometimes napping in the KMart toys' aisle in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, that slump was brief.

After realizing I needed a "real" job, I turned back to teaching. But I sought out jobs on the lower end of my certification; I wasn't at all interested in working in a middle school. It was a noble goal, I decided, to work with students during the most difficult years of their educational life, but it wasn't one that interested me. I'm still glad I was a middle school major, because I took some great content classes tied to my two focuses: social studies and language arts. After my first interview, I got exactly what I was looking for. I was lucky enough to land a job as a fourth grade teacher here in Athens.

That first year as a teacher, it was tough. I had 29 students and I didn't really know what I was doing. Teachers will understand what I mean. Your first year is almost always a doozy. I survived in that job for two years. I say I survived, because it was really my teacher training. Looking back, I wasn't half the educator I am today. Fortunately, I'm passionate about what I do. That helped make up for my lack of skill. So, I survived and I learned a lot during those first two years as a teacher. 

Then, I got married and left my hometown for the big metropolis of Atlanta. While there, I worked on a failed Senate campaign and spent the rest of that year remodeling houses. I'm sad to say that this was a fairly library-free year for me. I didn't even get a library card in our new town. Our little adventure in the big city was short lived and we returned to Athens a year later. My luck continued when I was hired as a fifth grade teacher back in the Clarke County School District. And it was during this time as a fifth grade teacher that I finally realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a school librarian. I think part of it was that after a few years of teaching, I'd become much better at read alouds. That may sound a little silly, but it's true. When I first started teaching, I wasn't very good. I wasn't using different voices for different characters, I doubt I was reading with real emotion and inflection, and I wasn't reading the right books. But by this point, in my third year of teaching, I was reading Roald Dahl books to my students and they were hooked! As a classroom teacher, I taught all subjects, but I started realizing that teaching reading was my favorite. Plus, the librarian at my school was a few years away from retirement. Everything sort of just fell together for me.

I enrolled in a master's program at The University of Georgia and started the fall of 2006. I'll be the first to say that I don't know how some of my fellow students did it. Many were working full time, had kids of their own, and were still giving 100% to grad school. I couldn't hack being a teacher and a student at the same time. So, after completing my first year of classes, I took a break from grad school. After one more year as a fifth grade teacher, I took a year off from teaching and went back to grad school full time. It was a great year and it really enabled me to give all my attention to my studies. I loved the program at UGA and especially its leader at the time, MaryAnn Fitzgerald. I learned a lot, made great friends, and truly felt prepared to go out and find a library home of my own.

And I was fortunate. My first job as a school librarian was at Oglethorpe County Primary School and I loved it there. The only downside was the drive, plus I missed working in Athens. So, after two years as a school librarian in Oglethorpe County, I returned to the Clarke County School District as the librarian here at Stroud Elementary School. After four years here, I'm happy to say that I'm proud to be Stroud. 

I love being a librarian. I have so much freedom to teach, I get to know every single student in my building, I get to see kids get excited about reading every single day, and I have gadgets galore. What more could I ask for, right? 

Actually, I do need some benches for our courtyard. 

13 April 2015

Poetry Month at Stroud Elementary School

I love April for several reasons. It means that summer vacation is right around the corner. It means flowers are blooming. But most importantly, it means it's Poetry Month! Most classes will get five poetry lessons in the library this month and that still feels like not enough.

In the past, I've done poetry with grades 2 and up. Poetry isn't a standard for K and 1 (although rhyming words are), but this year I decided to include everyone. It's funny; most second grade students have a basic understanding of what poetry is. We usually just jump right in. But this year, starting with kindergarten students, I tried to figure out a good way to explain it to them. And I couldn't. How do you explain poetry to a five year old? If you have any great ideas, share them in the comments. I ended up deciding to show them what it was instead. So, we read poems from some of my favorite poets: Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Judith Viorst, just to name a few. We read funny poems, poems that rhyme and poems that don't rhyme, poems in strange shapes, and poems that require two readers. That's how we started. I still don't know how to sum up poetry in a nice little description, but maybe that's okay.

We're not just reading poetry. We're also writing all sorts of poetry this month. Our younger students wrote shape poems last week and this week they're writing list poems. Older students have been learning about haiku and acrostic poems. You can read some of our poems at the bottom of this post. This week, we're trying blackout poetry. And we still have spine poems and limericks to go. 

This what the students will use to create their blackout poems.
I'm especially excited about doing blackout poetry. I was inspired to give it a go after reading a blog post from another Clarke County School District librarian. Andy Plemmons wrote a post about blackout poetry last week and I thought it sounded like a swell idea. So, I emailed the second grade teachers to find out what the students had been learning about lately, and we decided to go with life cycles. After looking up the standards, I saw that students are learning about the life cycles of local animals and plants and they're also learning about fungi during this unit. Then, I chose five books from our collection and copied some pages. The students will use the text on their sheet to create their poems. They'll start by selecting words they want to include in the poem and drawing a box around the words. Some words that were initially boxed in may be taken out and other words that were skipped might be added as the process continues. After the students are sure they have their poem ready, they will use a black crayon to cover up everything else. 

Here are a few haiku and acrostic poems second grade students wrote last week:

Sunny outside
Party inside
Really beautiful
It's so fun
Now it's spring
Go have fun

"Spring" -- D'asia

All pretty
Musically talented
Over the lights
Right sometimes

"Name Poem" -- Amora

Bee in my room
Run fast
Up in the light
Not good

"Bee" -- Bryshun

I love gummy worms.
They are so sticky and good.
Give me gummy worms.

"Gummy Worms" -- Harrison

I love you daddy,
because you are nice to me.
You are the best man.

"My Daddy" -- Tyler

And these are list poems from kindergarten and first grade classrooms:

My classroom is special.
It has movie star dress-up clothes,
triangle blocks,
LEGO people,
a square board,
pots and pans,
computers with games,
beans in a bucket,
a telephone for calling people,
a door that opens and closes,
chairs for sitting,
and books for reading.
My classroom is special.

"My Classroom" -- Mrs. Linston-Jones’s Class

I love food.
Juicy watermelon,
Tasty strawberries,
Fresh oranges,
Crispy chicken,
Amazing bananas,
Yummy bread,
Great apples,
Waffles with syrup,
Big hamburgers,
Sweet ice cream,
Delicious cornbread,
Hot bacon,
And good cake.
I love food!

"I Love Food" -- Mrs. Floyd’s Class