Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh, the Humanities!

Now that The Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn or TYWLS has hired a part time ESL teacher to teach the handful of ELLs at the school, the time I spend with TYWLS will be dedicated to teaching library and information literacy skills only for the entire school year. Because TYWLS is the youngest and currently the smallest school on campus, they fund only about 20% of me, which means they can now get about one period a day of library instruction. Progress!

Now, a word about TYWLS (everybody pronounces it "twills" even though that's not really how it's spelled): last year, they were simply a dream to work with. Talana Bradley, the principal is so friendly and easy to talk to and is so intelligent and good at getting things done it's almost hard to believe. How she remains so calm, composed and open in the face of everything principals in city schools have to contend with is a mystery to me.

The teachers are similarly wonderful and the students are just great. Right now, the school only has sixth and seventh grades. Over time, they'll grow all the way to 12th grade, adding one grade per year.

After negotiating the librarian's schedule that accommodates all three schools on campus, which took literally the first two weeks of the school year, it worked out that I'll be able to give one-hour library and information literacy lessons to all the Humanities classes at TYWLS in both grades if I cycle through one a day over the course of about a week and two days. This is great news: I now have an entire student body for which I can design and execute a library and information literacy curriculum throughout 2009-2010, dovetailing my lessons with the TYWLS Humanities curriculum.

This week I'm doing an orientation lesson in the students' classrooms, rather than bringing them up to the library. The main reason for this is that I'm spending about half the hour on orientation and behavior expectations, and the final half hour having the girls use the Tool for Real-time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (TRAILS). Unfortunately, there aren't enough computers in the library to accommodate whole classes, and the computers I have too old and cranky to get the job done efficiently, while TYWLS now has laptop carts for their classrooms.

I'm having each class take the sixth grade TRAILS assessment as a baseline, which we can then compare to follow-up assessment at the end of the year. Currently the sixth grade assessment covers all of middle school grades and the ninth grade versions cover all high school grades.

One of the things I like about TRAILS is that when you have teachers and administrators take it, the idea that there should be a library curriculum and standards for library skills teaching becomes much more clear than just having them listen to me pipe off about it all the time. Taking the test demonstrates how library and information literacy skills cut across all disciplines, and by extension shows that explicit teaching of these skills can benefit students in all their studies, not to mention in college when research becomes so much more important.

TRAILS covers five information literacy categories:
  1. Develop a Topic
  2. Identify Potential Sources
  3. Develop, Use, and Revise Search Strategies
  4. Evaluate Sources and Information
  5. Recognize How to Use Information Responsibly, Ethically, and Legally
The sixth grade assessment has 25 questions and distributes them evenly, with three for each category above. Here is one of the simplest examples from the sixth grade test:

If you want to find books by Christopher Paul Curtis, what kind of catalog search should you try?
  • Title search
  • Author search
  • Subject search
It may sound simple to us as adults, but I have to say, in two classes of intelligent students so far, about half of them have got this question wrong. One girl called me over and asked, "I don't know who Christoper Paul Curtis is. How can I answer this question?" This is the kind of thing that requires some explicit instruction. In middle school, the students are making the transition from loving reading to using their reading skills for both practical and leisure applications.

The assessment doesn't impact the students' grades and I tell them to relax and put a reasonable effort into it without stressing before they open up their laptops. What it does do is provide the librarian a very clear idea of which skills need to be emphasized in library lessons. It will be interesting to revisit TRAILS in the Spring and see if all the library time has made a difference.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jogging Librarian Commutes Eight Miles on Foot!

Last Thursday I jogged to work again for the fifth time this school year. It was the third time I've been able to complete the trip without stopping, since the first two times I bonked and had to take a bus. I've changed my route since the first try, as the most direct route from my apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens to Williamsburg, Brooklyn has two long stretches without sidewalks. The route I take now is a bit more circuitous, but is much more pedestrian-friendly. If you're curious about the route, you can click here to see it on Google Maps.

I'm running wearing a backpack that holds my work clothes, my swim clothes (keep reading), my lunch and a few other items. I'd been leaving a pair of work shoes at school, however this past Wednesday I forgot to do so, which meant I had to carry those as well. That made it my heaviest pack run so far and my time did suffer. I'm trying not worry so much about the speed on these jogs though; I'm just focusing on getting in the miles and building up the stamina that running with a pack requires. The result is that my short, unencumbered runs are already getting faster.

Once I'd decided to try jogging to work, I had to choose the right backpack for the job. I looked at a few different packs through a mix of virtual and old-school physical shopping. I decided to go with a North Face pack called the Recon, which has both chest and waist straps to keep it steady en route. It can also accommodate a hydration system, which I may purchase one day. I got the yellow-ish color, called Chai Yellow, because it's slightly reflective and as it's quite dark out at 6:00 AM when I begin my long jog/schlog, it seems like the best color choice for the purpose. Luckily, it was available at a local sporting goods shop less than 15 minutes on foot from where I live, Emilio's Ski Shop in Forest Hills. Not only did I avoid waiting and paying for shipping, but I was able to support a local business in the bargain.

I've been very happy with the pack, even though I did read on the Bloggling Joggler's blog post on the subject that a simpler pack, without the extra chest and waist straps, can actually improve your form by forcing to you to shed any swaying or other wasted movements in your stride. I tested this theory with a small, light, unstructured pack that folds into a pouch when not in use, on a five-mile round-trip run to the farmer's market at the Atlas Park mall. It's true: the apples and tomatoes I'd bought started alternately slapping each of my kidneys as the pack flopped back and forth, until I was somehow able to correct my form in response to this feedback and steady the load. Interesting, but I still wanted to feel more secure with larger loads on longer runs, so the Recon it is, at least for now. And if really want the swaying effect, I can always unbuckle the straps.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "So how does this relate to being a school librarian?" Here's why I mention it: sustainability. Ever since I started teaching, I've been driving a car to school. I was not a driver for most of my adult life before teaching, save a brief period when I worked at LexisNexis and had large clients in both New York in Boston so I took a second apartment in Wallingford, CT. There aren't a lot of ways to get to and around the small towns of mid-Connecticut without a car, so I had one then, too.

One of the schools on my campus is The Green School: The Academy for Environmental Careers. Sustainability is literally the key word, the driver, if you'll excuse the pun, of The Green School's ethos. The other two schools on campus are no less committed to forging better and more sustainable ways to live our lives than we did in the 20th century than The Green School is. When I first arrived at the William Gaynor Campus last year I noticed lots of very young, energetic, idealistic teachers riding their bikes to school. I would love to ride my bike to school, but there's always some "but" involved in bike commuting for me. Always always has been.

I've had bikes stolen. I've had cramped apartments that hardly had enough room for me to turn around, and roommates who made it impossible for me to keep a bike indoors. My supportive partner and I tried it in one apartment, but the five flights up and down the building's narrow staircase made it untenable. Not to mention the tension bike rack we tried that popped one day while we were out. We found the bikes on the floor and our terrorized cats hiding under the bed wondering why they'd been attacked by flying bicycles in the middle what had probably been a pretty ordinary day. In our current coop, we tried hanging the bike directly on the wall, but it seemed to dominate the living room. Now, stashed behind a rolling kitchen cart, it seems like a huge effort to maneuver it into our tiny elevator or fight with six flights of stairs in order to ride it.

At one point, I even researched renting garage space for a bike, but there was no such thing at the time (I think such a setup may exist now, but I'm not sure). The kicker was, after moving to Kew Gardens, I went to visit a good friend of mine who still lives in the Manhattan building I'd moved out of and when I went downstairs with her to drop off a trash bag I was stunned to see a full-fledged, fully utilized bike rack. I'd been trying to get the building's management to get a bike rack for years and no-one listened. Then, after I leave they get one?!? This could only be the universe telling me to try another way.

Concurrent with all of this, I've always used jogging and running as a way to attempt to stay in shape and to clear my head. In fact, during periods when I slack off, I find myself sinking into a depression that only lifts when I start regularly making tracks on pavement again. Last semester was one of the slack-off periods, unfortunately, and I made a commitment to myself in August that I'd put those running shoes to good use again. What better way to get back on the road than to take my car off the road one day a week, thereby alleviating my guilt about driving, at least by one-fifth and forcing myself to do what for me is a long run? This, and the fact that one of my goals as always been to run a marathon at some point in my life and I might as well start training now. Between living more sustainably, getting more training miles under my belt and combining exercise and commuting time, jog-commuting (jommuting?) fulfills a lot of needs.

As sustainability has been on my mind a lot, since even before I started working with The Green School, it's starting to slowly permeate my thoughts and deeds, if even in small ways. I've been thinking of how libraries provide a sustainable model for information sharing. All this makes me think of the bulletin board I put up outside of the library at the beginning of the school year:

The "Third Century" line on the display refers to the original Library of Alexandria. I can't be the first person to have thought of it, but I particularly pleased with the whole "Read, Return, Recycle" riff on the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" motto.

My sustainability/training goal for this year is to boost the jogmuting to at least two days a week, possibly adding Tuesdays to the Thursdays I'm already jogging. I'm currently using mass transit to get home on Thursdays, but I'm mulling over perhaps jogging back home at some point as well.. As a person who prefers 5K races and training runs of about three miles maximum, I used August to build up to about ten miles a week, of which the Thursday commute became my long run. I'm now up to about 14 miles per week total. I'm trying to be as sensible as possible to avoid any over-training injury that would result in my bagging the whole endeavor. At this rate, I'm on track for a second weekly jog by late November.

One of the big logistical problems in this undertaking is the lack of showers in the locker rooms on our "campus" (i.e. run-down old junior high building). The locker rooms are right across from the library. Wouldn't it be just perfecto if they were in working order? Wouldn't it be even more perfecto if the kids who go to the schools in our building could actually shower after their required gym classes?!? It's kind of hard to believe that these kids are forced to run around and sweat, without a way for them to get clean afterward. In April and May the poor things walk around soaking wet the rest of the school day after they have gym class.

As far as my jogmuting is concerned, it means I have to run about mile beyond the school building to the Metropolitan Pool, the beautiful public pool, built in 1922 in Williamsburg, to take a shower. So much the better. I get in more mileage, and while I'm at it I swim for about 20 to 30 minutes, which stretches out my leg muscles and joints as well. You can see a video of kids taking swim classes at this pool here. I'm there during morning adult lap swim time, of course. I then walk back to school, holding my pack by the top strap, because at that point the back panel is still drenched with perspiration.

By the time I get home on Thursday evenings, I'm dog tired. Good tired. I feel as though I've really pushed myself, but for a good, healthy reason. On Friday mornings, after my self-inflicted Thursday ordeal, I get in the car with a heightened sense of appreciation for being able to drive to work and more than a twinge of guilt that I'm back behind the wheel. The Kenyan runners who easily trounce Americans in races always say in interviews that all their lives, if they ever wanted to go someplace faster than walking speed, their only option was to run. They ran to relatives homes, to markets, to school, or to neighboring towns on errands. Now I'm giving myself a small, belated dose of that very human experience. Seated comfortably, looking out the windshield, adjusting the volume on the radio as I zip schoolward I now have a deeper sense of what a luxury driving to work in the morning truly is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Morning at the Gaynor Campus Library

Today, Wednesday, was my early day: 8:00 to 3:00. Because The Green School has an early release schedule on Wednesdays, the whole schedule for the day gets flip-flopped. On Wednesdays, my fourth period ESL class happens first period (9:00). Getting in at 8:00 makes me available for multiple functions: prepping for my ESL class at 9:00 (if I haven't prepped earlier), processing the good old "legacy collection" I've been blogging about for so long and which is still a work in progress, or giving a library lesson or hosting any other kind of class visit for the other two schools, which begin their days by 8:00. Today, it was processing and a little bit of ESL class prep.

One of the things that's been happening this year is that since The Green School starts at 9:00 (8:58, actually), there are kids entering the second floor by 8:30 or so, strolling around and thinking about going to the cafeteria for breakfast. If I'm in the library between 8:30 and 8:58, as I would be on Wednesdays, of course, with my 8:00 start time, I get kids knocking on the door, even if I'm clearly engaged in some kind of solo prep work. Unless I'm giving some kind of New York State ESL test and have a sign taped on the door stating "Testing: Please Respect the Students Taking the Test," the kids will just knock and knock until I break what I'm doing and let them in, or at least open up and speak with them, which for me is effectively the same thing, since both break my flow. Such are the hazards of being a public service...

This little wrinkle requires me to be strategic about how and when I enter the library. Don't get me wrong. I'm not avoiding the kids all the time, but sometimes I have to. Yes, yes, I'm doing what I do so the kids will have a library service, so although it may sound kind of hypocritical, but if the kids don't let me get any behind-the-scenes work done, there won't be anything in place for them when I do open the doors. Things are still in a jumble and I'm just starting to make a little headway. This means my usual entry strategy on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, when my hours are 9:30 to 4:00, is to enter only after 8:58, after the students are situated in their first period classes. I'm usually there just around that time because I don't like to be late. I can then have an entire 30 minutes just to do what I need to get done, or at least a good chunk of it, without being interrupted.

On Wednesdays, with my 8:00 to 3:00 hours, this isn't possible, so I've decided to fling the doors open on Wednesdays at 8:00 and let the kids wander in if they want to. In fact, I'm having them sign in on Wednesday mornings so I can show their visits to the powers that be at some point in the future when I go back to advocate for a two-person library staff: if the kids do want to come and visit both before school and after school, there's no way one person on teacher's hours can swing staffing both ends of the school day.

This morning I had it in my head to finish some book processing. Yesterday afternoon I'd trained my 12th grade intern E. how to use Follett's Destiny online OPAC system to enter uncatalogued, unprocessed books. It requires several steps, and missing any of them makes the process even more tedious in the end, so it's worth paying attention as you go to keep things running smoothly. E. did great, but we didn't have time to do the final steps: printing out the bar code and spine label stickers for the books that had just been entered and sticking them on the correct books. Just before closing, as we were working along, a student saw that Stephenie Myer's New Moon was in the stack of books getting processed and asked politely if she could take it out the following day. "Wow," I thought, "that's a huge lot better than screaming, 'Hey!!! New Moon!!! Gimme that!!!' and grabbing it," which wouldn't surprise me in some of the kids who've got what I'd call emerging social skills. But this young lady was very polite and had the insight to realize that E. and I weren't done with everything we needed to do to get the book ready for the public. I told her I'd put it on hold for her and she could have it the following day.

"When can I come and pick it up?" she asked. I was so impressed with her maturity that I said, "First thing in the morning," not wanting to make her wait after being so good, and knowing I'd be in early. I hate to have a bunch of books in the OPAC that haven't had their bar code and spine labels stuck on yet: it's just begging for disaster and confusion. So today, I came racing in and printed out the labels and was finalizing the stack of books we had done last night when, sure enough, a couple of my regulars came loping in. Now that I'm expecting it, baking it into my day, as it were, it was actually kind of fun to have them there in the morning. In fact one of the kids who came in, K., also likes to help out with things and she helped me shelve the newly processed books. Just before first period began, which is fourth period on Wacky Wednesdays, my New Moon reader came by and I was glad the book was ready and signed out to her. Finally, at least a few things are going along as they should. Baby steps.

Another thing my schools' administrations have been great about is letting me take a lunch break. This happens to conflict with The Green School's lunch, when the kids should have what I call a Free Choice library period. Given that I spend most of my Green School time as the ESL teacher, however, something's got to give and it's The Green School's lunch. Today, however, the Wednesday schedule being what it is, I was actually in the library during The Green School's lunch time, rather than having run out immediately at the beginning of the period, and had the pleasure of two of my regulars happening by and, seeing I was there, coming in for a visit. One of them, T., began to show me his sketches for a comic book he's doing and they're really great. I had no idea this student was even interested in art! "What am I doing?" I thought. "Here are some kids who could use a little breather in the library during lunch time, I'm not making that happen."

I don't want to get too starry-eyed about it, though. Last year, I hosted Open Access (which I now call Free Choice) lunch for both Lyons Community School and The Green School and the latter proved to be among the worst experiences of my working life. And I'm old and have worked in a lot of places. It was so bad that we all agreed that for the remainder of 2008-2009, I would only work as the ESL for The Green School and we'd deal with me as The Green School's librarian later on. It's now later on and as of yet, I'm not dong it. If I'm going to open up for lunch time this year, and I could possibly take a break a little later to make this work, there would have to be a lot of conditions and maybe some backup from the Dean's office to make sure kids didn't repeat the same performances they did last year.

Some of the students, a few of whom were the very angels who so abusive to me last year, have asked why I haven't provided lunch time access. For now I'm just toeing the party line: I'm using my hours as an ESL teacher during the day, but they're welcome to come after school.

Opening up for The Green School at lunch time is a service to seriously consider. It's something that should happen, and if I were employed full-on as a librarian rather than being split between ESL and library, it would be happening already. I know I'm sort-of, kind-of making it work for Lyons now, after a lot of trial and error last year. This is a question I'll come back to some time soon on this blog as I think it through in writing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Bananas Split

The school year is in full swing, Columbus Day has come and gone, yet it seems like the doors opened just a couple of days ago. It took me most of September to open my library's doors. One of the reasons I got off to a slow start was managing the split between what are now my three job titles and the three very different school schedules going on in my building. Much of September was spent negotiating my schedule with my three truly wonderful and very library-supportive (in spirit if not in funding) principals.

While we all discussed having a more closely aligned bell schedule last year, the reality is that we're even less aligned now. How that happened I have no idea, but since my work time and my library program are shared by all three schools, it's what I have to deal with. To add to the fun, each of the schools has at least two different schedules running: at Lyons high school has a different bell schedule than middle school; at The Green School Wednesday is a short day; at The Young Women's Leadership School (TYWLS) Friday is a short day (short days are created from using 37.5 minutes of extended day in different ways). In both of the schools that have a single short day per week, the schedule for that day is completely different from the other four days of the week. Even the periods are different lengths than normal. This by itself makes setting up a schedule for a single unit of operations and its sole worker that accommodates all six different schedules at all three schools virtually impossible.

To add to these challenges, my job split this year is more complex than it was last year. I can't complain, because I agreed to it: I am the ESL Coordinator for Lyons and The Green School, the ESL teacher for The Green School, and the librarian for the whole campus. Luckily, TYWLS is has tasked their newly hired ESL teacher take care of both teaching and testing coordination. What this means is that during my contractual 6 hour and 20 minute plus 37.5 minute day four days a week, the campus gets one-third of two-thirds of a librarian. Kind of skimpy.

Now, I mentioned I had agreed to this arrangement and it's true, I did. Mostly out of my own insecurity. It be due to my scarily-close-to-the-poverty-line upbringing, which I so openly hated living through when I was younger, that I've managed subconsciously to internalize some extreme survival strategies on some level, because I've noticed I do this a lot: I instinctively try to make myself difficult to replace. It's a self-preservation instinct to be sure, but on closer examination, the results are less than optimal. What obedience to this instinct has usually amounted to, for me, is that I end up spreading myself too thin, resenting it completely as time wears on and doing a less than admirable job of everything, rather than really focusing on the one job I'm supposed to be doing in the first place and doing it well. I'm mature enough now to see it happening, but not secure enough to stop it, evidently. And now the library program is suffering because of it.

On the positive side, there's never a dull moment. For a view of what my schedule looks like, click on the Google doc version and look at the Summary B tab. In addition, there are some bright spots in the way I'm set up this year. Some of the good things about my schedule are:

  1. The principals see that I'm split in all these different directions and are very understanding about it.

  2. I get to learn a lot: multiply the normal learning that happens in an education job by three; that's a lot of learning.

  3. It's helping me with my seemingly never-ending struggle to better manage my time and stay organized.

  4. I have the support of the New Visions Campus Librarians' Network and the NYC DOE's Office of Library Services.

  5. I get to continue teaching my own self-contained ESL classes, which I'm not ready to give up doing at the moment.

In September I learned that the three principals had decided, unbeknownst to me, that they would rotate responsibility for the library between them each year. This year I'm working with Talana Bradley, the principal of TYWLS and she is a pleasure to work with. Last year, I got a lot of support from Taeko Onishi of Lyons Community School, who oversaw library service for the year, and Talana is proving to be just as supportive. We have a regular Monday morning library meeting for 30 minutes and Talana takes the issues from that meeting to the Building Council meeting the following day. Why I don't present these weekly issues to the Building Council directly is a mystery to me since I've seen other services doing it, including custodial and food services. No disrespect these very important services, but I have to wonder why the manager (yours truly), of an instructional unit that is shared between the three schools is not present at the Council meetings. It appears, on its surface, to be yet another slap in the face to libraries and librarianship, but perhaps there are deeper reasons I haven't quite grasped.

The good part is that I'll be working very closely with each principal as the years go by, which is a benefit, as I like and respect them all already and can only hope to build even deeper bonds with each as they take turns having the library under their day-to-day supervision.

All told, this year will be challenging, and now that the September rush of new students and ESL testing has subsided somewhat, I can begin work on the many tasks that still need to be completed to make this library truly functional.