So what were my three most difficult classes? I’ll describe each class in three different posts (see links below). I’m going to be totally honest in that I didn’t always handle things the way I should have. Each of these classes taught me something though, and I certainly remember them well, even ten or more years later. Here goes…
Generally a difficult year for me
I was an elementary librarian for five years. For one of those years–the fifth one–I was on the specials rotation. I had been hoping to go back up to middle school at some point, but being on the specials rotation that year really kicked me in gear to make the middle school move happen. I transferred to the new middle school the following year.
Librarians on the specials rotation have a special place in my heart. I did it for only one year, and it was plenty enough for me. But, y’all, I learned more and worked harder in that one year than I did any other year. It was my hardest year of all my 18 years, even more difficult than my first year as a teacher. Many of my elementary ideas on the list of units (see link below) come from that one year.
This third grade class was part of a brand-new school with about 750 students. I hand-selected every book on the library shelves. I dealt with no circulation system for the first nine weeks of school, but I checked out books anyway. I was solely responsible for all the school’s laminating, the poster maker, barcoding thousands of guided reading books and class sets, and dealing with AR set up and how-tos. Plus, I was in the specials rotation for the first time ever.
On top of all this, my home life became chaos. My boys were little then–one was three and one was 18 months. Both started daycare for the first time that year and were constantly sick. My three-year old was hospitalized three times that year. It was also my husband’s first year teaching, so he was also adjusting to the madness that is teaching ninth grade math at an inner-city school.
Overrun and overwhelmed
Third grade that year had seven classes of about 20 students each. With only five days in the week, the third grade classes were larger for their specials classes. Simple math says that that is an average of 28 students per class, plus whatever else walked in the library doors at that time. I did have a fabulous library aide, but she was frequently pulled to sub. Third grade had specials every day at the same time, but their specials time coincided with kindergarten lunch. My library aide was pulled for kindergarten lunch duty every single day. So it was just me, 28 third graders, and whatever else happened to walk in the door at that time.
The problem with the third grade classes that year was that I was so completely outnumbered by the students. One class in particular ended up with a seating chart, something I had never done before and haven’t done since. I tried everything I could think of to get this class to fall in line. I instituted a clothespin system for behavior management, which only marginally worked. We played name games so I could be sure to learn every single name. Centers helped, but behavior management was still a task in certain centers. I ended up taking up all of the beanbags on the days I would have this particular third grade class because I worried someone would end up injured. It was craziness.
Enter survival mode
I wish I could say that this class got easier as the year went on, but it really didn’t. What I will say is that this class helped me forever change how I did my library lessons. My lessons got infinitely more interesting, largely because I started incorporating fiction and nonfiction pairings. Library skills went out the window unless I could make them really entertaining (enter Dewey Caveman). I was in survival mode every day, and something had to give.
By second semester, I made some huge changes. I started a theme of the week, which went across all my grade levels in different ways. I added short videos, sign language, and some kind of drawing or folding project to complement the lessons. I started connecting news stories to fiction and nonfiction books. Looking back, though this one third grade my most difficult class in all my 18 years, I can absolutely say that I improved as a teacher because they were so challenging. And for that, I am infinitely grateful to these kiddos.
My favorite part of this story
A few years later, one of the girls in that third grade class moved into my middle school. She was so excited that I was her librarian again, and she told me that the other students were sad that I left. This young lady stayed with me at that school until she moved up to the high school, and she became one of the most loyal library kids I’ve had. As she got older, I joked with her about how tough that class had been for me. As I write this, I have tears in my eyes thinking about that class and how even after all the difficulty I had, I can still smile when I think about them.