What I’ve Learned About Being a Kick-Butt Reading Teacher–Part 2

Many of these books were purchased with a gift card from my students and their parents. How cool are those peeps?

I spent an hour of my summer morning shopping online.  I went to site after site of “educational” supplies, filling my digital carts full of sparkling trims, die-cut lettering, splashy display charts, and the other ephemera that we teachers are tempted by every August.  It’s all so beautiful, so easy-looking, and I picture my orderly, aesthetically pleasing classroom in my mind’s eye.  This image soothes me, even as I begin to anticipate the trials and tribulations of the coming school year.  After savoring my Utopian  ideal, I carefully deleted almost every item in those digital carts, purchasing only a few essentials.  For one, this is my money we are talking about–the school doesn’t purchase much beyond basic supplies, and I think teachers are often made to feel greedy for expecting reimbursement for such items, while at the same time we are expected to make our classrooms a showplace.  Back to the point–my money.  I spend rather a good chunk on my classroom, and some of it on things that aren’t strictly necessary (I have a weird fascination with giant sticky notes, and find plenty of uses for them to justify the expense).  But over time, I’ve become more discriminating about how I use personal money for my classroom, because all the sparkly bulletin board displays got me plenty of compliments, but compliments aren’t my business–learning is, right?

Of course you know where my money is going–books.  My classroom library pays off great dividends.  Yes, my school has a library, but it has limitations.  One is that we don’t have a “real” librarian who knows how to help my students find books.  Two, we have a limited schedule for visiting the library each week, and kids sent up without my guidance don’t do so well, at least for the first half of the year.  Finally, the library is not close enough, because the kids need the books right there, all day long.  The library is a great resource, but I just cannot do without a large and varied classroom library.

My classroom library caters to my students.  I have, for instance, lots of graphic novels available, and this has been a very useful investment.  As a former comic book geek, I know the joys of this kind of reading, and I’ve had amazing success with drawing reluctant readers into a regular reading practice with series like the Bone books by Jeff Smith or stand-alone graphic versions of novels like Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  And those many students who only read at school, in my classroom, tend to need me to be there, a bridge between themselves and books–I need to be able to put books in their hands right away, because this generation doesn’t know much about waiting.  If I send them to the library with a recommendation, they are likely to come back emptyhanded, or with an I Spy book or something equally useless.

So I shell out the bucks for books, make a hobby out of it, and try not to indulge in too much resentment for parting with my disposable income in this fashion.  And here’s the part that kind of surprises folks–I don’t have a check-in/check-out system.  Because I don’t, I lose a lot of books every year, no matter how much I beg students to return titles.  Lost and stolen both, I suppose.  So why don’t I track books carefully?  Easy answer.  Time is the most valuable resource I have with my students.  If I am engaged in library management during readers workshop, that costs me the opportunity to confer with students, work with small groups, and make observations that guide my instruction.  So why not make that a student job?  Because my students are reading during reading time, duh!  But then couldn’t I just have them write down…ahem.  I could, although I have more than a few students who would lose several minutes of valuable time in a written check-in, check-out system, and again, time is a big deal.  So I suck it up and expect to have a couple dozen books go missing each year.  Usually popular titles.  When I’m feeling glass-half-full, I imagine  kids are reading and rereading these lost books at home.  On half-empty days, I visualize the books as dust-bunny magnets under the beds of a thousand self-entitled, snot-nosed…grr.  Best not go down that road!  Someday I hope to steal a great  management system idea from a smarter teacher than I, but for now I’m not willing to pay the opportunity costs.

Teachers shouldn’t have to cough up this kind of cash for a classroom library.  But I think a lot of the most successful middle grade reading teachers do, and my library is not only used by my students, but I often have kids from other classes see my students with great books, and I end up loaning them out beyond my classroom.  It’s a good classroom library that helps me to be a kick-butt reading teacher.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cammie Jones
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:39:44

    Heather: I could have written this post! I felt like I was looking at my classroom library and explaining to another teacher why I don’ t have a “system” for check out. My students know I love “book money” and so they often give me gift cards as gifts. I have had books returned to me years later, too. So I consider the missing books extended loans and reasons to reconnect with former students. I have lots of “closeted” practices too during my Mandatory 90 minutes of reading instruction using my prescribed research based core curriculum. Those who don’t have given up on creating readers and are destined to create test takers. I’ m glad to know you’re out there supporting those lucky 5th graders!


  2. hloney
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:35:05

    Cammie, I’m glad to get affirmation about my classroom library! It can be so tricky to continue effectively use those proven, research-based practices, but still create space and permission to be early adopters of new practices, but we just have to do it, don’t we? No stagnation for groovy teaching gals like us.


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