My third difficult class was eighth grade. This was not every eighth grade class, and it seemed to have a lot to do with the teacher’s attitude toward library time. Y’all, this is my most difficult story to relate. I am not happy with how this turned out, and I wish I had had a challenge like this one to help me back then.
The Eighth Graders
Once I went up to the middle school in 2009, I felt like I was truly back where I belonged. Before my 5-year stint as an elementary librarian, I had taught seventh grade English. When I had applied for the English position, it was originally for eighth grade English, and I remember saying then that I didn’t think I could ever teach younger than eighth grade. Boy, was I wrong. Though I didn’t know it right away, middle school is absolutely, one-thousand percent where I needed to be.
This middle school was also a brand-new school. Once again, I ordered every single book on the shelves. I was solely responsible for all the laminating, poster-making, and student ID-making for the entire school. After some bad AR experiences at my previous school, I took an official stand against AR and refused to label the book spines with colored dots, something my principal (thankfully!) supported. Though I’ve loved all five of the schools I’ve worked in, this one is still my favorite.
So what was up with eighth grade? Honestly, I was stumped with the eighth graders. Individually, I loved the eighth graders. I knew them better than any other grade in the school, and I found a little library family with my eighth grade student library assistants each year.
Some of the problems I encountered with eighth grade included:
- Apathy. Too many of them just did not care.
- Huge classes. We’re talking around 32-35 in a class.
- Entering/exiting was wild. They entered the library wild. They left the library wild. I could hear the classes roaring their way down the hall before they came through the library doors.
- A teeny-tiny projection screen that was difficult to see from the back of my presentation area. It was also right in front of a huge window that got a lot of direct Texas sunshine. I complained about it, but it remained that way my entire five years at the school. Lots of students in the class meant that some had to sit quite far from the screen and could not see it easily.
- Disengaged teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my teachers as people. But in any given year, only one or two of the four eighth grade English teachers were engaged in their library visit. The disengaged teachers stayed in the library physically, but they graded papers, checked their email, and talked to other teachers the entire time. They engaged very little with their students during checkout and did not help them find books they might like. There was a huge difference between the classes of the engaged teachers and the email-checking teachers.
So how did I deal with these classes? Well, to be honest, I didn’t. The classes from the teachers who were engaged and excited about library got excellent library lessons. They were in the library for the full period. They looked forward to their bi-weekly library day.
This story does not have a happy ending
The classes from the less-than-excited teachers got a shorter library lesson or sometimes no lesson. I was in survival mode dealing with huge classes that talked while I was talking, played on their phones, couldn’t see the screen, and generally just didn’t care.
I ultimately asked the teachers to take the students who were not checking out back to class after the library lesson. Only a small handful of students actually used this time to checkout anyway. For most of them, it was social hour, potty break time, or time to play on their phones. If there was another class in the library computer lab, the eighth graders were disruptive to those kids, too. This was not a good situation, and I was right to ask them to leave.
After the majority of the class left, the few students who remained got the better part of me. They got individual attention and custom booktalks. These students would have gotten that from me anyway though because they tended to be among my most regular library visitors. They didn’t need to come in with their class and probably just preferred staying in the library to returning to class. Who can blame them for that?
I’m actually not proud of how I handled these particular classes. They totaled about 5-6 classes in any given year, which would have been at least half of our eighth graders. As the year went on, these eighth grade classes would arrive very late or miss scheduled library visits altogether, sometimes with notice and sometimes without notice. There was always something more important they needed to do–a test, a presentation, time to work on projects. I don’t blame the teachers for using their time as wisely as possible (library time clearly wasn’t productive for them), but I am sad that my classes worked out this way. All students deserve regular, consistent library time. I can say that I tried, but I don’t believe I tried hard enough. To be completely honest, I was relieved on the days those teachers chose not to come.
What I’d do differently
I do believe I was right to ask the teachers of unruly classes to take them back to the classroom. They were rarely the only class in the library, and if they weren’t using the time properly, they needed to go.
But if I were to do it over again, I would be much more proactive with the teachers about what I and they expected from library time. One thing I preach loud and proud is the need for secondary students to have consistent and regularly-scheduled library time. Library time should not stop in middle school, but for a variety of reasons, it often does. I could have solved this eighth grade problem, but I didn’t.
The three classes I’ve spotlighted in these posts are exactly why I think the January Challenge is so important. I wish I had had a challenge like this one to help me reflect more intentionally about how I could better-deal with these situations. I am not perfect, and while I learned a ton from the third and fifth grade classes, I could have and should have tried harder with the eighth graders. They were good kids, and it wasn’t their fault that some teachers valued library time and reading way more than other teachers. I got along well with the teachers, and I do believe they would have worked with me to make it better. They were probably just as frustrated as I was.