Back to school advice from new(ish) teachers and librarians

David Wee really hit the nail on the head this spring when he admitted that He doesn’t always feel like he knows what he’s doing. I can’t believe that I’m entering my 10th year of librarianship. I’ll still leave conversations with professionals talking about what “the adults” are saying. My colleagues have repeatedly reassured me that, yes, I’m an adult too, but I never woke up and said, “Henceforth I shall be known as a professional adult.” When a friend posted this on Facebook, I couldn’t have given it more thumbs up.

Over the last few months, I queried some teachers and librarians who have a few years experience and asked them for the most practical tip they would have liked their less experienced selves to have known. I loved their answers and found them timely as we’re planning our new year back at school. You’ll notice there’s a theme with the first few….keep reading.

“Get to know students’ names! It changes everything.”

Remember back to the Grimm tale Rumpelstilkskin and the power of names. This works when kids are testing the boundaries on the library as an afterschool game space and also encourages them to participate more in class. It’s an all-around win.

“Getting to know your students can be more helpful than content. Think about covering students, not material.”

As a librarian who teaches more skills than content, this is totally applicable. If you listen to your students talk about their interests, there are natural connections to information literacy. Sponsoring a club, attending a game, and watching a theater performance all lead to better connections with students.

“You aren’t a professional automaton.”

This honest wording makes me laugh. Let the kids know your interests and maybe some information about your pets or your hobbies. I bike to school; it’s a conversation starter. In practicality, it also means that my search examples might change from first to fourth period. Since you’re not a robot, you can personalize each class a bit based on student comments.

“You won’t teach like your mentors.”

The teacher who told me this stressed that he loves watching master teachers teach. But he felt like he was filling a role his first year trying to teach the ways they did. It was much better to take a step back and think about the goals they had from teaching a lesson a certain way and how he could achieve those same goals.

“If something doesn’t work, it may be that class and not the material.”

If something is a horrible abysmal failure, sure you can write it off and never try it again. But if it’s a lesson that was well planned where something went amiss in the execution, don’t be afraid to try the same lesson with a different group. There is so much beyond your control, especially when you’re working with multiple classes and grades each day. Even now, it’s magical to me that the same lesson that’s genius with one group falls flat with the next.

“Silence isn’t your fault.”

So true, and yet it never would have occurred to me to share this with a new librarian or teacher. If you are working with a class that’s new to you, questions may go unanswered. This is natural, especially with teenagers. You can reframe the question to let them puzzle through, but keep trying. As you work with the same group, they’ll get more comfortable talking and you’ll be more comfortable with the silences.

“When students say, ‘I’ve never learned this before, take it with a grain of salt.’ But if you want to get your message across, there’s nothing wrong with telling them the same thing again and again.”

Love this! I wrote the library scope and sequence for grades 6-12, so I know who learned what when. That doesn’t stop students from claiming something is new. Keeping in mind the ultimate goal of teaching students to be information literate, smile and repeat. And smile and repeat.

“Provide guides so students know where you expect them to go.”

Students access library materials all hours of the day and night. Give them the tools to succeed in their searches whenever they occur by providing guides that let them know how to access electronic resources even when you’re not around.

“Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t stand in front of a mirror and look at your outfit. Think about bending down to pick up a book from a shelf and leaning over student table to help with assignments. Think about what you do all day.”

Cannot second this enough. You spend very little of the day standing silently in front of a mirror. What does your clothing look like when you do your job? Being able to walk easily at the end of the day should be standard.

“The kids will cry during Homecoming week. It isn’t you.”

When you work with high schoolers, there is SO MUCH going on in their worlds. They’re applying to colleges, interested in dating their classmates, pumped for an upcoming game, worried about the test they just took… At our school, the students love Homecoming week and the daily spirit and costume competitions, but they only have so much energy to give. Pressure is high and tears happen. Coincidentally, teachers know that this is a week of distraction and thus love to schedule library time. It’s one of my busiest weeks. Thinking back to library skills, when you’re able to tie your lessons into their worlds, teens are much more likely to remember. But some days there’s just a lot happening.

Those are ten to start you off. What are yours? Think back to what you’ve learned over the years and the advice you wish you had heard. Share your favorite in the comments below, and let’s make this a great year for librarians new and old experienced. Happy back to school!

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