Scenes From a School Library: Issue 1 – Tough Questions

6 Mar
Cheltenham Library kids and forms

Image by Kingston Information & Library Service via Flickr

This may become a recurring column at Brooklyn Biblio, which will document my fieldwork experiences at school libraries.  Currently, I intern 3 hours a week at an Elementary Library Media Center (LMC) in Brooklyn, NY with a certified School Library Media Specialist (SLMS).

A morning in the life:

One morning a week, I go to an elementary school to intern with a school librarian.  It looks something like this:

8:00-8:37 AM – 5th graders come in a small group for assistance preparing for English and Math standardized testing.  These students scored in 2 lowest percentile groups in 4th grade, and come early every Monday-Thursday.

1st period – varies – a “prep period”, but this period is usually somehow filled with classes who need extra library time instead of allowing time for the librarian to prepare for  the rest of the day.

2nd period – 5th grade class library time

3rd/4th period – 2nd grade special ed class double period – 1 period for LIS instruction followed by 1 period of computer time.

11:30 AM – leave the school and head to my corporate job which is kind of different, but where the grown-up people often act like children.


This is probably a tie today.  One low was that a boy from the tutoring group, let’s call him David (not his real name), was absent.  David, week after week, is the weakest in his math skills.  He is the only boy in this group that still does not seem to know his basic times table, which limits his ability to do most of the math problems in a timely manner.  He is often frustrated and gives up unless he gets someone who can work with him one on one.  I worry frequently that when he is in a real testing situation, he will not put in the effort required to comprehend the questions and adequately work through them.  I hate that he missed a day, because of all the students in this group, it seems he can afford it the least.

The tied incident is that one of my favorite 2nd graders, let’s call her Abby, cried literally 5 times during the double period today.  She is usually quite bubbly but she seemed to just be having a tough day.  As you’ll see later in the post, her day was not likely to get much more uplifting.


The fifth grade class had a double period today to work on final touches for their Black History written and oral reports.  Getting to see how their projects are coming together after 3-4 weeks of library time devoted to this assignment was encouraging in most cases.  The hard work is evident.  Next week they will do their oral reports in the library, so we’ll get to see the end results, which is sometimes a rare opportunity for the SLMS.

Funniest moment:

“Funniest” may be used loosely here, but its an anecdote I found myself repeating to friends for the past few days, always resulting in a chuckle.  The 2nd grade special ed teacher was asked by a student yesterday who Hitler was, and came into the LMC and requested a “kid-friendly book about Hitler”.  While of course this request couldn’t be filled exactly, the librarian was able to produce a couple of resources for the teacher, who planned to tell the students a little bit about Hitler later in the afternoon.  I’m very curious to hear next Thursday how that went.

Cutest moment:
The 2nd grade teacher shared an anecdote with me about Abby.  Wednesday, in computer class, they were free-typing.  The teacher looked over Abby’s shoulder to see she had typed, “George Washington is my best friend.”  Well, at least she’s hanging out with the right crowd!

Parting thought:

I am almost always feeling quite reflective as I leave the school and head to my office.  Every week, I learn something interesting, encouraging, or sometimes disheartening about working with young children in a public school setting.  This week, I was thinking about how dangerous it can be to field tough questions from kids – like who Hitler is – at this early stage in their learning.  You want to balance honesty with sensitivity – sensitivity to their fears, their situations at home, their rapidly forming worldview, and trickiest of all – sensitivity to what their parents may object to, and to what extent parental input should have influence over how you field these tough questions.  Can you share any examples of tough questions from kids, and how you handled it?  Did it go well, or was it a disaster?

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