Sure, I could be a librarian, but…

I’m often asked by some of the staff in my building, and even some of my family and friends, why I didn’t “just become a librarian since I love to read so much.”  Honestly, it never entered my mind when I started college, plus I wasn’t such a strong Nerdy Book Club member when I first started college.  I didn’t discover YA (and rediscover my love of reading) until one of my last courses before student teaching.  Recently I’ve tossed around the idea of getting a second Masters to become a teacher librarian, but honestly, I love teaching way too much to leave my classroom.  The reason this question bothers me isn’t because I don’t love and appreciate librarians (schools need librarians), but because it’s asked under the pretense that teachers, English teachers in particular, shouldn’t be so excited about reading and shouldn’t be reading so much.  Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption, but the tone when the question is asked, especially at school, leaves me feeling like they think my passion for reading is misplaced.  That it’s better suited for a library than in my classroom.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t the people asking that question wonder to themselves why they aren’t as excited about reading?

I’m thinking about this today after reading Teri Lesesne’s post about the insanity that is AR and Lexile levels.  As a Reading Specialist I understand the purpose of Lexile levels, but they also drive me crazy because so many educators and parents look to them as the only measure when searching for a book.  I could rant about this for some time, but what’s really bothering me is the problem behind focusing on AR and Lexile levels.  Parents are usually asking about leveled books because it’s what they’re told to do or what they’ve been exposed to through their child’s school (generally speaking).  It’s a serious problem when teachers are pushing this on their students and not bending.

A friend of mine dealt with this last year because her daughter is a struggling reader, but despite her struggles and AR, she still loves to read.  My friend was at a loss though because her daughter wasn’t getting full AR points because the books she was reading were below grade level.  My friend came to me because she didn’t know what to do and the teacher wasn’t going to make an exception for her daughter.  Her daughter was distraught because she didn’t want to get a bad grade as a result of reading low level books.  I did my best to help my friend and her daughter, even going to the Centurians page on Facebook to get some title recommendations to pass on to her.  This whole scenario makes me livid because I know my friend’s daughter’s story isn’t unusual.  This young girl loves to read and still wants to read, but she also cares deeply about her grades and doing well in school.  She shouldn’t be “punished” for reading at her level, especially when she’s trying so hard.  I hope she continues to love reading as she continues through school.

This leads me to my big issue.  Emphasis on Lexile levels and relying on AR keeps teachers from needing to read the books their students are reading.  I understand that many teachers are using Lexile levels to really help students and are forced to use AR and are doing their best with it, but in my experience these teachers are the exception and not the rule.  And really, I don’t blame the teachers because we’re all doing what we can with what we have.  Teachers aren’t purchasing the AR program, district admins are buying this program. CCSS is putting too much emphasis on Lexile levels.  But really, shouldn’t teachers be reading on a regular basis?  If we preach to our students how valuable it is, shouldn’t we be following suit?

My wish is that more teachers, especially at the high school level, would be as excited about reading as I am.  If more of us were passionate about reading and building classroom libraries, we wouldn’t need to focus on Lexile levels and AR tests.  We would be reading and sharing books with our students on a regular basis.  We’d be having real discussions with our students about the books they’re reading so there wouldn’t be a need to test them over meaningless details.  We would know which books have a vocabulary level that’s too high for some students and which books to offer students who aren’t ready for a higher vocabulary.  We’d know which books to recommend to our students who need an escape and which books to recommend to our students who need to know they aren’t alone.  We’d find a way to connect our students with authors.  We’d read aloud to them every day to experience the pure enjoyment of a story.

I could do all of this as a librarian and I’d do it proudly, but I love being in my classroom with my students every day.  I love sharing books with my students.  Because I’m in my classroom every day and see my students every day, I get to talk with them every day about the books they’re reading.  I get to help them find a new book when they finish one or when they discover the book they’re reading isn’t right for them.  If I relied solely on AR tests and lists and searched Lexile level lists, I’d be missing out on these opportunities to build a strong rapport with my students.  It’s time consuming to read as much as I do, but it’s a priority in my life.  I wish more teachers would make it a priority in life too.  I wish administrators both at the building level and district level would see beyond reading programs and put that money towards building classroom libraries for their teachers.  I wish they’d use that money to send their teachers to conferences like IRA and NCTE (or the state level versions).  I wish there was more communication between teachers and upper admin so we could sit down and discuss reading and the unnecessary reliance on these programs.

For now, I’m happy working in my classroom with my kids and letting them know on a regular basis how excited I am about reading.  I’m excited to add a display outside my classroom that shows my reading life (idea courtesy of the wonderful Jillian & Pinterest).  In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to reach more teachers because if I can get my students to love reading, then I know I can get more teachers to love reading too.

Comments

  1. “My wish is that more teachers, especially at the high school level, would be as excited about reading as I am.” It’s a sad comment, isn’t it, that especially in high school, teachers don’t read. I don’t understand how you can recommend books if you aren’t reading…but maybe they also don’t know their kids as well as they know their curriculum. And that is another sad state of affairs…

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I love my students and love getting to know them. Being a teacher and not knowing them the way I do would make for a painfully boring and sad job.

  2. I’m so glad you shared your thoughts, Sarah! I completely agree. Everyone should want their English teachers to be ravenous readers who share that with students and encourage students to share as well. And what does it say about what people think librarians do that if I love to read they ask why I’m not one? I’ve considered it, but there is so much more to that job as a professional than people realize or give credit to also.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      You’re absolutely right! If there wasn’t, there would be no need for a degree. They do so much that most aren’t aware of.

  3. How does AR maintain its standing with so much research and so many experts repudiating its effectiveness? Yes, AR is easy to measure, but the measurements lack validity. When it comes to helping kids become readers, AR is counter-productive in many, many cases.

    If measuring something meaningless is more important than strategies and practices that create authentic lifelong readers, then AR is a good thing. If not, then we need to do things more like how you do them.

    Thanks for this insightful post. We need more educators like you–teachers who read, think, write, and care.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I don’t know how it maintains its standing either. I don’t know how so many teachers are aware of its downfalls, but administrators seem to be oblivious.

  4. I teach Social Studies, and feel the way you do. I was sad when our school discontinued independent silent reading time. It was a great way to connect with kids on different levels. Some of my favorite books have come my way due to student recommendations.

  5. It’s so interesting that you are writing about this right now because I have tossed around the idea of becoming a librarian too, but ultimately I’m like you, I can’t imagine not being in a classroom everyday. Having REAL conversations with kids about books should not be only a “librarian thing.”

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      It really shouldn’t. A couple summers ago I was asked to be part of the interview committee for a new English teacher in our building and I asked each candidate about how they connect students with books. I asked which YA books are their favorites. It was quite telling because most of them weren’t prepared for those questions.

      • Thank you for–like Beth says–sharing what so many of us “classroom librarians” are thinking. I appreciate your candor.

        I asked the same kinds of questions during our new teacher interviews this summer, and I agree with you. Their answers said so much about their pre-service education, which just reminds me that not all of us were blessed to have someone like Sue Steffel influence their teaching. :(

        And goodness! I’m totally with Teri Lesesne when she curses those teachers that 1) don’t keep up with current YA Lit and 2) don’t “care enough to see a kid as something other than a number.” Through the rumor mill, I heard that this toxic behavior was happening in my building, and it literally brought me to tears. I guess I was naïve thinking that all of my colleagues felt the same way as me about adolescent literacy. It just breaks my heart that this kind of malpractice is taking place all over the country.

        • Mrs. Andersen says:

          I know it happens in my building as well, which is incredibly sad and frustrating. I don’t know how/why it happens, but hopefully it will end.

          The answers you and I heard from teacher interview candidates is why I want to teach pre-service teachers in the future.

  6. Barbara Rheinhardt says:

    I love Mrs. Anderson wrote about these issues. AR and Lexile levels are imposed on students and their teachers mostly to the detriment of the joy of reading. It’s great you know you are where you want to be (in the classroom) and are influencing students daily in their reading habits by sharing yours! I enjoy your book recommendations and YA titles are my favorite read. Because I know you personally, I know how enriched your students’ reading is by being blessed to have you as their teacher. (: And why aren’t all teachers as excited to read as librarians and teachers like you?

  7. There are so many points in this post that really resonate for me. I love how you emphasize how much you love being in your classroom with your kids spreading the love of reading. I don’t think we can underestimate the power that one teacher can have on one group of children to help them fully plant their feet on the road of becoming lifelong readers. I teach Grade 2/3 and all of my students know how much I love books very quickly. There is always a point in the year where they all realize that they too love books! Those moments are gold to me. I love when kids I taught years ago initiate conversations with me about what they are currently reading. As a Mom of two avid readers who are currently in Grade 5 (twins :-)) I hope and pray that they will have teachers like you when they hit High School who love books and share their reading lives with them. I live in Canada and thankfully this strange business of AR and Lexile levels isn’t an issue for us. I keep a close watch though on what is happening in the U.S. and hope that it doesn’t trickle into our education waters (unless of course, it is something excellent and great for kids!) And I hear you on the money that should be spent on classroom and school libraries!
    Thank you for the time you invest in reading and knowing books. Thank you for a fantastic blog post!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      Thank you, Carrie :) It’s an awesome feeling when my former students contact me about the books they’re reading or to ask for title recommendations. It’s such an important way to bond with students.

  8. This resonates with me very strongly as a Library Media Specialist. Our small independent school adopted Lexile when teachers felt they should leave the reading expertise up to someone else, and count on the numbers for answers. Now we are blessed with staff members who value reading, and we can all work together to reach kids where they are. I WANT teachers to be passionate readers. I need them to be! Otherwise all my own efforts in the library really don’t help kids. Thanks for this post. I’ve been musing about Lexile, which gets slammed an awful lot lately. It served an important purpose for us for awhile. But no one program can ever be the answer. There have to be thinking minds in the room, listening to children and paying attention to their process of accessing books. It happens in the library, but it ought to happen all over the school.

  9. Jessica Crawford says:

    Great thoughts Sarah!! I really agree with all you said. When I started reading what my students were reading, my entire interactions with students changed. It made such a difference in my classroom and how much my students read. I am very lucky to work in a school where this is supported – diverse classroom libraries and giving students choice. While we still have some focus on Lexile, we also discuss so much more about books with our students. My hope is we will continue to see this shift more and more in our schools.

  10. You already know I totally agree with you, as usual :)

    I’ve started taking MLIS classes, but at this point, I really can’t imagine not being in my classroom and talking with every single student about reading. Yeah, I think being a teen librarian would be pretty kick ass, but you also don’t get ALL kids coming to the library. Every one of my students gets to deal with my YA loving self (whether they like it or not lol), not just ones that would go to the library. I’m really thankful my school doesn’t do AR or lexile levels. I’m just gonna keep on doing choice reading and watching my students fall in love with books :)

    Also, can we please meet soon?? This needs to happen soon!

  11. I work a Reference Desk for adults and teens, but am not a full-fledged librarian. The teachers around here seem to use for the “advanced” students, which is really frustrating. These are the students that already like to read, who want to read, but who can’t find anything in their Lexile range. I’ve had one girl who brought a stack of over a dozen books that she wanted to read, but her teacher wouldn’t count them for extra credit unless they were in her Lexile. After checking all of them, and none of them were high enough, she shrugged and said that she just wouldn’t get the extra credit because these were what she wanted to read.

    Other times, I’ve spent the better part of a night with a parent and child trying to find something that is in the correct Lexile range that the parent is comfortable with the child reading. Some of these are middle schoolers who have upper level high school Lexile ranges. I can’t fault the parent, who is trying to find something they feel is appropriate for their child while also trying to fit the teacher’s range.

    But what is this telling the kids? “Oh, no, you can’t read that – it’s not appropriate for you. Everything you read should challenge you.” I often ask parents if they read in their grade level. When parents says that they just read for fun, I ask why their children can’t so the same. It shouldn’t matter what a reading level is if the child wants to read it – let them read it. (Especially if it’s for enjoyment!)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A great post by Mrs. Andersen on the YA Love blog.  She talks about the dangers of AR and Lexile levels that are so imposed in our elementary schools — levels that are affecting our students’ desires to read at an incredibly young age!  This all comes from an argument about the roles of English teachers and librarians — two jobs that may seem quite similar.  Their tasks become different, however, because of the different expectations of a love for reading.  Her question becomes, why aren’t teachers as excited to read as librarians — or even, as their students? [...]

I love comments!

%d bloggers like this: