Challenge Accepted

The last two weeks have been the equivalent of the Librarian Olympics. Last week I survived my third book fair of the year, which was a buy-one-get-one-free event. Let's just say that the BOGO concept to Kinders is like quantum physics to me: no matter how many times you try to explain it, our minds will still be utterly blown. The power point presentation that I painstakingly put together to explain "equal or lesser value" (complete with word problems), the daily reminders about adding tax--nope. For some of them, it just couldn't penetrate. Bless their sweet hearts. And counting baggies of pennies--don't even get me's the bane of my librarian existence. If you haven't heard the news, I will be leaving Shaw and moving on to Mesquite High School to join the librarian team, so the mantra for the week was, "Surely high school kids can count their own damn pennies...Surely..." I will not miss the wadded, sweaty bills, the origami dollar art, or the stench of dirty pennies lingering on my fingers. Bye-bye Book Fair. I will NOT miss you.

I went straight from Book Fair to Children's Book Week, which meant that I had to plan events for each day to celebrate the coolness of books (such a tough job!). However, my lack of elementary experience shines brightly during this week, so I appreciate my fellow elementary librarian peeps letting me "borrow" their fabulous ideas to do at Shaw. The highlights of the week were our outside DEAR time, a book swap, and it culminates with tomorrow's annual book character parade. I anticipate the ache that I know will come when I see those cuties in their costumes. I have been battling that little voice of doubt that whispers, "You are crazy to leave these kids..." Seeing the JOY of dressing up as a book character on those sweet angel faces--it gets me every year. Call me crazy, but I just don't envision my high school kids dressing up like Harry Potter and Hermione and gleefully parading around the school. While I'm beyond excited to return to my high school roots (because honestly, they are my PEOPLE and it's where I belong), I would be a complete liar if I didn't admit that I will MISS being an elementary librarian (everything but the Book Fair).

Because of my experience in high school and in little people land, I have had the unique experience of teaching kids in Kinder, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th, & 12th. (I typed it all out for effect). And NO, I am not brave enough to dip my big toe into the treacherous waters of middle school--not yet, anyway (I bow before your feet, oh brave middle school teachers). It has been a life-changing experience as an educator to go back to the beginning--to the foundation of learning--and work in an elementary school. I wish that all educators could glimpse the other side: this new perspective has made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about education. I use to sit on my high school teacher throne of smugness and say, "Why don't they know this??!! Why aren't they teaching them that in elementary school?!" I would fling blame down on my elementary teachers peers like I was some high and mighty Queen of English (I hang my head in shame to admit this). But the truth is--they ARE teaching these concepts. Research, grammar, how to THINK, how to READ...yep. It's all being taught. Now why they are not retaining this knowledge is a whole other issue. And I just have to pause here to give a BIG OLE SHOUT OUT to elementary teachers. I've never seen people work so HARD and with such PATIENCE. You will always have my utmost respect.

What I will miss the most about working in an elementary school is seeing the JOY for reading. It's there, people--in every Kinder kid that walks into my library. The joy is THERE. Now I have my theories about why this joy is slowly sucked out of so many of our kids as they move up the ranks in their education. (Anyone else see the irony in this?) This post is not about me flinging blame about why most kids hate reading by the time they get to high school. I try not to do that anymore, but I do fall back into my shameful ways on occasion. So I have my theories, and if you wish you can read more about what I think is one of the biggest joy suckers in education. 

Even with the strangle-hold that standardized testing has on our schools, I want to go back into the high school trenches to help teens rediscover their  JOY for reading. I know that JOY, READING, and HIGH SCHOOL are not words that get spoken in the same sentence very often. But I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. Joy is not always easy to come by in a high school library, but I'm determined to help teens find it. You see, in elementary school, joy oozes all over the place. All I really have to do is say, "Look, here's some Captain Underpants! Here's some Diary of a Wimpy Kid! Here's some Baby Mouse..." and 92% of the time--BOOM--instant JOY. Another reader is welcomed into the fold. That "gateway book" opens the door to another series, and another. Until the hormones and cynicism and the  "I'm too cool for school" mentality sets in. Oh joy. There's just so much other STUFF vying for their attention when they reach adolescence. But that's when Mrs. Bailey plans to swoop in spreading her book love...

This is not to discredit the work of elementary teachers and librarians. We need them to lay the foundation; to ignite that spark. But we need more high school teachers and librarians to commit themselves to rekindling the flames. I am ready to accept that mission.

Will it be hard? Hell yes. Will there be days when I regret leaving my happy little Shaw book haven? Probably on the days that I catch them trying to make out in the stacks (seriously, that happens). But I feel like the war for readers is waged in high school. It's that crucial point in life when all of the OTHER STUFF starts taking over and enticing kids away from books. We have to woo them back to reading. I miss the teenager looking me in the eye and saying, "There's not a book in this library that you can make me read. I hate books." Challenge accepted. As a teacher, I moved mountains to put THE book in the hands of readers like this. Was I always successful? No. But when that same kid said, "Wow, Mrs. Bailey. Where have they been hiding books like this?" Boom. JOY.

So here's to my new mission. Here's to helping teenagers find their JOY again in books. Here's to wooing them back to reading--one book at a time.


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