A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 31 2009

A “Just Right” Library

The generosity and support have been unbelievable.  Every day, I come to school and find a big stack of boxes precariously perched on my pulled-out metal mailbox or scattered like confetti in the mail room.  The secretary gives me a daily update on the number of packages that have arrived.  One morning, the principal pulled me aside when I came to sign in: “Mr. K, I need to talk to you. Please come here.”  She motioned towards the copy room and waved her wand-like arms around the room exclaiming, “you’ve got to remove this avalanche of boxes immediately!”  It took me 3 or 4 trips, but I managed to remove all 20 or so boxes loaded with books.

For those that don’t know, I started a library-building project using Amazon Wishlist.  Why, you ask?  Let me explain.  When I entered my classroom for the first time in early October, I noticed that my bookshelf had more dictionaries than regular books.  The books that were on the shelf were boring, old or decrepit (many were all three).  I knew I had to change something.  I put together a book list and then sent out a simple plea letter for books to family friends.  I used the reading data to make my point very clear.  Long story short–with the help, of course, of maybe hundreds of supporters–one simple letter has transformed my library from a barren bookcase into a teeming tower of terrific texts!

After the jump, photos of my library as of Friday afternoon, followed by some anecdotal proof that the library is making an unmistakable impact on my studentsBefore the jump, my library as I found it on October 5th (my first day):

 

Here is the first wave of books (notice how I’ve already removed the dictionaries from the bookshelf–there’s no space):

Here is the library 3 days into receiving books:

Here is the library as it stood Friday afternoon (before I began finally sorting it, and without the 10 boxes or so that I received on my way out of the building):

There is one clear conclusion that can be drawn: my classroom needs another bookshelf!  (I already tried to acquire one from my school and failed. But that’s a whole different story…)

*****

But a library as terrific as this would be meaningless if it didn’t make an impact on the students it is targeted to help.  Let me just preface this by saying that many of my students do not read.  They may choose not to read (because they don’t see its value, they find it “stupid”, or they don’t feel confident) or they may actually not be able to read (because the books in the classroom are too difficult, abstract or un-relatable).  Whatever the case, reading is not a major part of my students’ lives.

Therefore, the goal of the library is to show my students the power of reading.  The purpose is to ignite my students’ desire to read, so that–eventually–they will become life-long readers!
Only a few days have passed, but here are some anecdotes that show the clear signs that desires are being ignited, mindsets are being changed, and non-readers are becoming readers:

  • LD–a tall and precocious football player with thick-rimmed black glasses–came in a few mornings ago during an extended homeroom to continue reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a book I had suggested he read, if only to make him think about something that he, as a football player, enjoyed tremendously.  He is not in my homeroom, so he was slipping out of his own class to read in mine.
  • FS–a shy Latino with long unruly locks of hair running down to his shoulders–immediately noticed the Luis Rodriguez memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., snatched it quickly off the bookshelf and pronounced, “Oh! I got this joint!”
  • ES–a reserved, but utterly disciplined and dedicated young woman in my first period and homeroom–continuously assists me in opening up the boxes and saving the receipts for compilation.
  • SS2–the creator of one of the most brilliant and imagery-rich poems I’ve seen–one minute declared matter-of-factly that “I don’t read books!” and another minute found himself immersed in the world of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  This Friday, he asked me if he could borrow the book over the weekend.  I jokingly asked him, “I thought you don’t read books?”  Defensively, he responded, “I don’t! But I want to find out what happens to Ponyboy.”
  • SS1–the creator of one of the most depressing, but real, poems I’ve read–asked me on Thursday if she could donate some of her own books to the library.  When I asked her if she was lending them temporarily, she responded, “no, I’m donating them to the library, Mr. K.  For our library.”
  • DM–one of my seriously struggling readers (whom I’m having difficulty effectively accommodating in my classroom)–showed some interest in the World Almanac.  When I suggested he take a look at the Guinness Book of World Records, he exclaimed, “naw, naw, naw, naw, NAW!  I didn’t know you had this!”  He proceeded to borrow the book over the weekend.  When I asked him how much he’d read, he told me he didn’t know but he said “I’m going to read about the presidents.”
  • RB–a motivated young woman with wild hair and seeking to graduate high school in 3 years–spent a good 5 minutes thinking aloud about whether or not she wanted to check out Lipstick Apology or Our America this weekend (for now, I am only allowing students to check out one book at a time).
  • BS–a bubbly cheerleader–complained about the books in the library: “I don’t like the books in this library, Mr. K.  There are no good books.  Like no urban books.”  Clearly, she hadn’t taken a close look at the texts in our library. I handed her a copy of Our America, while posing some questions: “Oh really? How about this?”  Like a cat, she swiped the book out of my hand, shouting out, “Oh damn! What’s this about? Mr. K, Mr. K, can I borrow this book?”
  • RW–the former robotics student with whom I had a formal letter exchange–justified his decision to check out Uncle Tom’s Cabin over the first book of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events by authoritatively declaring that “knowing about slavery is important.”
  • KN–the de facto assistant librarian–comes in after school to help me open more boxes, throw out empty ones, and sort the library.  After about day three, she observed, “I think we got more books in here than in the real library!”  When I chuckled, she defended her point, “for real though–I ain’t never seen this many books in one classroom!”  Point taken.  Later this week, she also made another astute observation, “Mr. K, you need another bookshelf–seriously!”  I told her I agreed.  Because she’s been such a help as a classroom librarian, I let her borrow the two books she was debating between, Sharon Draper’s Tears of a Tiger and Angela Johnson’s First Part Last.  She was, to put it midly, incredibly excited.

After only 5 days, this is the impact that the library has made.  I don’t care if some of the students are reading books below 10th or 11th grade level.  I’ve seen the reading test data. I know where my students stand.  They need books that are just right for them.  And now they have them.

*****

To everyone that has scrounged through bookshelves looking for appropriate books; to those that picked one book from my Amazon Wishlist or to those that picked twenty; to those who sent books from educational institutions and nonprofits; to those who sent that favorite book from your childhood; to those who are making scarves for every one of my students; to those who are continuing the momentum by helping some of my other TFA colleagues in need of books; to all of you, I cannot express my thanks enough.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I’ve already talked with my students and a number of them agreed that writing thank you letters would be the right thing to do. Those whose addresses I have should expect to receive a letter by the end of the semester.

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5 Responses

  1. LaQuana

    This is so inspirational and amazing! I’ve read all your entries and you seem like you’re doing an amazing job to reach your students. As corny as it may sound your entries give me more reason to continue praying that I’m accepted into TFA and given the opportunity to influence students the way you do. Keep up the great job and the same goes for your students!!

  2. emy

    Great initiative Mr K. and the response is phenomenal.
    It seems you have found the perfect opportunity to share your love and passion for books – so soon after college!
    I sincerely hope your efforts here will bear fruit and each of your students will learn the importance and the joy of reading.

  3. Erin

    I echo all of the sentiments of LaQuana. I, too, hope that I am accepted as this was so motivational and I hope to make the same difference in the lives of my students!

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…


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