For a second, I thought about cancelling our trip.
Independent reading time was over and I meekly made the announcement: “Okay, students, today we’re going to the local public library!” The outburst was overwhelming: “Oh naw! I ain’t going there!” “I’m not moving–sorry.” “Why the hell are we going there?” As the cacophony finally died down, the sky cracked open and a downpour of epic proportions began. “I ain’t even got my umbrella with me–oh naw!”
I knew that this was an important visit. Two days before spring break, the goal was to introduce students to the services and books available at the local public library. Most had never made a visit there, despite it being adjacent to the school’s parking lot. The library had just been completely re-done. It was beautiful and contained 40,000 volumes. Although my classroom library had done amazing things to ignite the literary interests of my students, this no longer held true. I couldn’t back out now. We had to go.
So I coerced my students. “Today I don’t care what you want to do. We’re going.”
And so we left.
In an ironic twist, I myself had no umbrella. The dark clouds I’d seen this morning had not convinced me of the need to equip myself (in retrospect, how naive!). My two “emergency” umbrellas (one in my desk, the other in my car) were with the two students I had lent them to during a thunderstorm last week. This added, unexpectedly, to my credibility: “Look! Even I don’t have an umbrella. We’re still going.”
So our “field trip” began. We side-stepped the giant puddles that had begun to form in the parking lot. One student moaned, worried about her fresh perm (if her hair got wet, I was the one in trouble). Umbrella-less, I calmly walked through the squint-inducing rain. I felt the urge to sprint to the steps of the library. But, of course, I couldn’t: running would show weakness or foolishness, perhaps both. So I held a brisk walking pace and coolly walked alongside my students, trying hard to maintain my version of a red carpet strut.
But I gave in. I had to. The rain was coming down too hard. I asked a student if I could share her mini-umbrella. She obliged. We awkwardly walked the last hundred feet to the steps of the library. But this was a classic example of too little, too late. Water had seeped into every fiber of my clothing; my khakis were now two shades darker. Did I add that my hair was wet?
Maybe this was a mistake.
We entered through the library’s front doors. The librarian was there, eager to greet us. I breathed a sigh of relief. I let her do her thing. Thank goodness for librarians, I thought.
45 minutes later, we congregated at the circulation desk. Fortunately, many students sought to check out books. Unfortunately, most had holds on their accounts, because of library fines. Students, siblings and relatives had been absent-minded about due dates. One student’s library books were thrown out when her locker was cleared last spring, leaving unresolvable fines. Several students had fines in the triple digits. These fines were prohibitively high. “Sorry, Mr. K, I can’t borrow, even though I want to.”
Caught off-guard, I did what I always try to do–I showed some faith (was it blind?): “Students, let me know what books you want to check out and I will check them out for you.” Those words suddenly transformed me into some kind of savior. Students crowded around me, offering up, in upraised hands, their chosen books (from Devil Bones to Custom Kicks to Street Pharm to In My Girls I Trust to Body Image and Appearance: The Ultimate Teen Guide). It was a lovey-dovey moment, but I wanted to make my expectations clear: “I trust all of you–but if you lose a book, I’m coming after you!”
And so we left, dozens of fresh books in hand. Spring break reads, if you will. By then, the sun had come out. My hair was still sopping wet. But, I thought to myself, “you know what? It’s okay–it’s really okay.”