“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges
For the first time in ten years, when the opening bell of the new school year rang in September, I didn’t have a homeroom to greet; I didn’t have attendance to take, or a class set of books to distribute. That’s because after ten years of teaching I left the classroom and stepped into my new role as teacher-librarian.
I wasn’t expecting to leave the classroom this early in my career. I can still remember my first day as a teacher fondly—the anxiety, the nerves, the confidence—each as much a part of that day as my book bag, pens and note from my mother in my lunch-bag. I remember holding a copy of Macbeth and telling my students how Shakespeare was going to change their lives. I was a teacher (if not a cliché), and I was proud. I walked with a strut, and drove home too quickly because I couldn’t wait to tell my parents about my first day of school. Every morning since then I have woken up into my dream.
But after ten years, I’ve grown bored with Macbeth (yes, I said it). Macbeth had not only “murdr’d sleep” he may also be partly responsible for my leaving the classroom. I came to a realization this past year that I was tired of teaching traditional texts. Having to teach Gatsby again and again was like walking knee-high in mud, and Lord of the Flies needs a good dose of OFF. Having to teach these works again evoked the same kinds of feelings as the uncle who overstays his welcome over the holidays, the one you wish you could say, “It was good to see you, but it’s time to go.” (I won’t go into how I feel about the five-paragraph essay or the Literacy Test.)
I was taking courses and reading about exciting new trends in literacy development and was beginning to see just how archaic and slow-to-change our education system can be. I wanted to learn more about these exciting opportunities, but I had essays to mark and a week’s worth of lessons to prepare. I wasn’t so much frustrated as I was antsy. I needed a change.
There are two general reactions from people when I tell them about my new position as teacher-librarian. The first is, “You’ll be perfect for it!” These people— friends, family, students and colleagues—are aware of my passion for literature and my desire to share the works of Marquez, Harukami, Fante and Algren. I have more books than friends, and turn to them for guidance and support. When I need to get somewhere, literature does a much better job than Map-quest or my GPS.
The second response is laughter—pure uninhibited, and therefore sincere, laughter.
Laughter. “Library isn’t something for a man to do.”
Laughter. “Library isn’t for someone your age.”
Laughter. “Congrats on your early retirement.”
Laughter. “You’ve just ruined every fantasy I have ever had about librarians.”
My father even went so far as to admit that he would tell people that I was a teacher when asked what his son did for a living.
Obviously, this gig has gotten a bad rap over the years.
We all have memories of libraries and librarians. My wife asked me if I was going to be the “shhhhhh” librarian like the one who still haunts her from her elementary school years. When I was researching my new role, I asked another librarian in the board what the most difficult part of his job was; he responded with, “… convincing people that I work.” After telling my cousin about my new role she congratulated me, but not before declaring, “I didn’t even know where my library was.” She assured me that she wasn’t kidding.
These attitudes are by no means confined to the hallways of school—they spill into the corridors of power. The People for Education Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools recently reported that:
In 2009/10, just 57% of elementary schools had a teacher-librarian on staff—and most (81%) of those worked part-time. Even in secondary schools—where libraries are larger, and where students tend to be engaged in more complex research and more wide-ranging learning— only 68% of schools have a teacher-librarian working full- or part-time; a number that has been falling fairly steadily from a high of 80% in 2003-04.
These statistics are alarming considering the role that teacher-librarians need to play today. There is no more important time for a teacher-librarian in our schools. The information age demands that we help our kids become critical thinkers and consumers of information. New and emerging technologies are redefining the way students learn, communicate and develop as social beings. These new technologies are, as a result, redefining the role that the library and the teacher-librarian play in this development process. If students are going to be successful in areas of literacy and information management, the teacher-librarian must play a central role. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. It will be my job to work collaboratively with teachers to ensure these outcomes.
And of course, I want to put books into kids’ hands. I want to foster a love of reading for those who already read, and those who may be classified as “reluctant readers.” I have seen first hand what books can do once they are in the hands of students deemed to be “at-risk.”
Any fears I may have had about teaching opportunities were assuaged upon completion of my Librarianship (I) course. When I asked a colleague of mine how he ran his library he responded, “This is your classroom.” It was at that moment that my understanding of my new role became clear. It was simple—I’m a teacher and the library is my classroom. Only this time I will be walking into it, not with a copy of Macbeth in my hand, but the whole of civilization at my disposal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony Carnovale has been teaching for ten years, writing for more. His first novel In Full Uniform was published in 2006. It’s about a young boy who committed suicide while a grade 9 student at Anthony’s school. He was bullied to death. Anthony is an avid reader, he loves his dog, and in his free time he’s a husband. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s September 2010 issue.