All Hail the Mighty Media Specialist

I’ve got to start this post with a disclaimer:  During the course of my sixteen year teaching career, I’ve worked with a ton of GREAT media specialists. 

In fact, one of the thinkers that I admire the most in my own school district is a high school media specialist named Kerri Brown-Parker who is doing great things to support teachers interested in integrating technology into their instructional practices.  And the media specialists in my current school are both wonderful women who work hard with classroom teachers and students alike.  They are thoughtful and innovative—and well-respected by everyone as a result.

I also believe that media specialists can play an important role in any school community.  When they’re skilled, they teach students to manage information fluently and how to judge the reliability of sources.  They help students to sift through heaping cheeseloads of content to make sense of what they are learning. 

Finally, they often find ways to help teachers integrate media literacy skills into their required curriculum and do the heavy lifting on shared projects that are at once motivating and essential for students.  All of that work adds value in the schoolhouse and yet it can be easily overlooked and/or underestimated.

But I’m also tired of the lofty rhetoric that media specialists and their professional organizations tend to sling. 

Take this comment, left by a school media specialist named LaDawna on an interview that I did with Kelly Gallagher—author of Readicide and expert on teaching reading in the public school classroom—here on the Radical:

I am a teacher librarian in NJ and I completely agree that schools are not considering their best resources – the teacher librarian in helping teachers switch kids onto reading. Additionally a school library may be the only library a child might experience because they don't have a family structure that gives them access to books at the public library.

The school library touches every single child and our national standards begin with the common belief that reading is the window to the world. I help run a parent/child book club, have lunch in the library programs, celebrate poetry, reading, storytelling and so many other initiatives that help to inspire my students to love reading. Recreational reading CANNOT be overlooked.

You see these kinds of comments in almost any conversation about media specialists swirling through the blogosphere.  Check out what Kitty—a one-time TLN member who works as a library media specialist—had to say when I questioned the role of media specialists in our schools a few years back:

I would also have to challenge your assumption that the media specialist is only about teaching the difference between fiction and nonfiction or even about teaching kids how to navigate the ever growing digital landscape. We do WAY more than that — assuming, of course, that we are doing our full job.

Reading is still the foundation for all other learning, is it not? As the media specialist in my building, I am responsible for maintaining a collection of high quality literature and other reading material that students can read for fun or for information depending upon their specific need at a specific time.

How are kids to learn to read for the love of reading if they have no library, no library books, and no library media specialist to guide them through the world of literature? What happens if we neglect teaching reading as a life-long skill as opposed to simply consuming information presented in a digital format?

I get the sense that many media specialists believe that they are the “lead readers” in any school and that the success or failure of any reading program depends primarily on the work done in the media center.  I mean, look at some of the phrases these media specialists have used:

How are kids to learn to read for the love of reading if they have no library, no library books, and no library media specialist to guide them through the world of literature?

Schools are not considering their best resources – the teacher librarian in helping teachers switch kids onto reading.

As a full-time language arts teacher, these kinds of comments bug me.  After all, I think I do a pretty good job teaching students to love reading too.  I’ve switched more than my fair share of kids on to books, and I do a pretty good job guiding my classes through the world of literature. 

What’s more, I’m held accountable for that work in ways that media specialists can’t even begin to imagine.  They’re not sprinting through skills or panicked about end of grade exams.  No one questions their effectiveness based on nothing more than a set of numbers generated by multiple choice tests. 

What I wouldn’t give if the standard that I was measured against were based on the same fluffy core beliefs set by the American Association of School Librarians.  Heck, I’m not even sure how you could measure something as soft as “Reading is a window to the world” even if you wanted to.

And what I wouldn’t give for the professional flexibility to have the kinds of poetry readings, parent/child reading groups and storytelling that LaDawna describes as a cornerstone of her work.  In the era before NCLB, my classroom was driven by the simple joy of reading, too.  We had shared book talks and story time every day.  We acted out scenes from our favorite titles, swapped story titles, and ate tons of brownies while reacting to our favorite reads.

But I don’t have the time for that kind of work any more.  I’m too concerned with getting my students to identify bias in an author’s words or to determine how emotionally loaded phrases are likely to influence individual readers.  My lessons are packed with worksheets that introduce the differences in points-of-view or the elements of figurative language that are likely to appear on end of grade exams. 

We talk about complicated terms like semantic slanting and study sets of strategies for answering the kinds of multiple choice questions that appear on the district-wide formative assessments that we take every three weeks.  Pressure defines my reading classroom simply because everyone—parents, teachers, students and school leaders alike—knows that accountability is looming and the stakes are high. 

Now I get it:  Media positions are on the chopping block all the time.  Standing up for your profession is always admirable—and I’d hate to see schools lose the services of the most accomplished media specialists, who are an irreplaceable resource that can save teachers time, reach handfuls of struggling students, and support colleagues who are unprepared for the demands of a changing digital age. 

But I’m bothered any time that my own role as a reading advocate and expert is pushed aside.  After all, I’m the one that is being held accountable for reading performance in our schools. 

Does any of this make sense?

27 comments

  1. Kirk Evans

    Hi Bill,
    Point taken. We media “specialists” need to be careful not to overstate our importance in our frantic need for advocacy. We do have a significant role to play in the school’s curriculum, but our role is not as specific, or, dare I say, as important as yours.
    I have never liked the term “media specialist.” I think it is old fashioned, and harkens us back to the days when school libraries were preparing to retro fit their collection with audio tapes, 16mm projectors vhs tapes, and tape recorders. Those days are long gone, but the nomenclature remains. Whenever I introduce myself as a Librarian, my colleagues always look at me slyly, wink, and say “Don’t you mean “Media Specialist?”” For many teachers, there is great comfort in knowing that there is somebody somewhere that knows more about VCRs, Digital Streaming, Tape recorders, Pod Casting, Photocopy machines, Digital document delivery, Copy right Compliance, and Web Design that they do. So for their sake, the crown of “Media Specialists” is something I force myself to wear, however uncomfortably.
    I also have to admit that high school library programs aren’t measured as rigorously as the content specific areas of the curriculum. This does not mean that there are no instruments available to measure our success at teaching information literacy. I call your attention to “TRAILS.” TRAILS is designed to assess student learning of information literacy skills.
    The thing about information literacy is, is it can’t be taught in a vacuum. It has to be integrating into a curriculum area, hence the need for collaboration. Another thing about information literacy, it should be integrated across the curriculum, not just focused on the language art teachers. It would be absurd for me to think I know more about biology than our certified biology teacher just because we collaborated on a few research projects; likewise for our Spanish teacher, our Calculus teacher, our Physics teacher, our health teacher, our History teacher, or our Choir Director. These teachers and more are all teachers I have collaborated with on research projects in an effort to wedge in fragments of my information literacy curriculum.
    There is a difference between the Language Arts Curriculum and these others. Reading, interpreting literature, critical thinking, are all overlapping skills that have benchmarks shared by both the Library Information Literacy and Language arts curriculums. So if it looks like we are focusing just a tad more in your direction, please don’t feel threatened or slighted. Rather, you should feel complimented that we feel your task is both monumentally challenging and of monumental importance. As teacher/Librarians, we need to make sure we are supporting, enriching, and extending all areas of the curriculum; most especially, the language arts curriculum.
    Peace

  2. Cynthia Peterson

    Bill, thanks for this. I think you are absolutely right — we teacher librarians/media specialists CAN come across as holier-than-thou. I appreciate your point that we need to avoid alienating other excellent teachers as we assert ourselves.

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Techlibraryclassroom wrote:
    Perhaps it’s the wording that has us at odds: specialist vs. resource person?
    Wording is definitely an issue that I think y’all need to address techlibraryclassroom—and the word specialist in your title is a good example. In the hierarchies that are our schools, it reinforces the notion that y’all are “better” or “more skilled” than classroom teachers.
    And that’s the tone that sparked my original thinking. I’ve seen more than one media specialist argue that they are “the most important resource” in a school and/or claim that “reading teachers couldn’t possibly know what we do about __________.” (books, technology, media literacy, copyright law etc)
    Those kinds of words and actions have alienated me—-and I suspect that they’ve alienated more than a few of the core area teachers in more than a few buildings.
    If media specialists hope to have advocates beyond their own ranks, putting the emphasis on resource teacher instead of specialist—-heck, even returning the word “teacher” to your title might be a good first step—–is pretty darn important.
    BTW: I like the work you’re doing with your school and your honesty about how lucky you are to get to do what you want to do with reading. Both will keep you grounded.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  4. Techlibraryclassroom.blogspot.com

    This conversation is fascinating and so important. And, yes, it makes sense, even to a librarian. Thanks for your willingness (bravery?) to bring it up.
    As a relatively new librarian after many years in the classroom, I am still amazed/joyous/grateful/incredulous on a daily basis at how the bulk of my job is focusing on the fun aspects of reading: book talks, storytelling, using web 2.0 tools to share our reading knowledge. In short, all the things I feel classroom teachers can’t squeeze into their schedules anymore b/c of a more rigid curriculum. I try very hard to be aware of this flexibility in my life and honor the lack of it in a classroom teacher’s life.
    For that reason, I don’t push collaboration as much as I ‘should.’ Instead, I try to listen very carefully to what teachers need and meet them there. At the end of the day, it’s not about me and what I think would be the coolest collaborative project (but, oh, some days I wish it were…). It’s about the teachers and the students. What do they need most from me? And if that means finding a class in Africa that will post pictures of their school to show our students or pulling 100 nonfiction books for a unit of study, I’ll do it every time. I feel this type of support generates its own advocacy for my program.
    Perhaps it’s the wording that has us at odds: specialist vs. resource person? I see myself more as a resource person who happens to know a ton about books and technology–and I’m not the gatekeeper of this knowledge. I learn from teachers all the time, but I also know that the breadth of my literature knowledge might help them to discover a new series or a new title that will rock their world. How can we ask teachers with an already full schedule to have such a wide range of all that is out there in literature and technology? However, we can, and should, expect this of librarians. Hopefully, I’m not wrong in that the teachers at my school feel that I am a good resource for them. Somehow this wording sounds more partner-ish than specialist.
    Back to your original question, Bill. Does my advocacy alienate reading teachers? Wow, I hope not, but I’m going to ask and and find out. Definitely good food for thought for us all.

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Nancy asked:
    You seem to believe that there is no measure of accountability for library media specialists. If that were true, why are library media specialists all over the country losing their jobs?
    This is a point I’ve tried to make several times in our conversation, Nancy.
    I think you’re losing your jobs because the general taxpayer doesn’t see the concrete contributions that you make to the reading performance of students. The fact that you are untested leaves you vulnerable.
    Which raises an interesting question: Are y’all ready to be paired with core teachers in teams that are held accountable for performance on standardized tests?
    Here’s a comment that details a plan that might be interesting:
    http://snipurl.com/udiej
    It also explains why you do need us more than we need you. When bond packages are up for votes in local communities, you need allies—reading teachers who can share concrete examples of why your work matters and who will join you in advocating for media centers and specialists.
    And that’s where this entire conversation began. My question still stands: Does your advocacy alienate reading teachers…and if so, what consequences will that have for your profession?
    Now I’m going to say something here that’s going to come across really poorly: I’m tired of the “what’s right for students” argument when it means that I’m held to different—and far more significant—standards than most of the colleagues that I work with.
    It makes me wonder why anyone would choose to teach a tested subject when they could work in any number of positions that are untested.
    I know that none of this is your fault and that if y’all had your way, standardized tests wouldn’t be used to evaluate anyone.
    But my feelings are real—and are shared by tons of teachers working in tested subjects.
    Does any of this make sense?
    Bill

  6. Jenni

    I’m a little puzzled as to why you’re so resentful of school librarians specifically. My child’s art teacher sends a newsletter home each month and it is filled with advocacy comments and articles similar to what school librarians push, that students in schools with good art programs do better on standardized tests. School librarians are hardly the only teaching position that is not held directly responsible for and evaluated by standardized test scores. It seems to me that you see school librarians as getting to do all the fun things you used to be able to do and can’t any more?
    What you see as the freedom to be the chairperson of the school improvement committee etc. also has a flip side. I feel that my school district values me for the things I do that are not the key parts of my school librarian job. They see me as someone who ‘has time’ and as someone to dump jobs on that nobody wants to do. One of the biggest issues IMO is that principals can’t really tell if a librarian is good at his/her job or not, so that is the negative side to what you perceive as lack of accountability. And nobody has ever advocated replacing English teachers with aides that have a high school education, since they can do just as good a job as you can, which is a perception that seems to be widely held even by teachers.

  7. christe hancock

    I would love to get past the who’s better than whom and ask the question what do teachers need from us? i try to halp and try to take some of the burden off. what are some things i could be doing that would help without hours of pre-collaboration? i want to help simplify, support and provide. someone and everyone please give us all some insight

  8. Nancy White

    Bill,
    You seem to believe that there is no measure of accountability for library media specialists. If that were true, why are library media specialists all over the country losing their jobs? After all –if accountability to a classroom teacher means they are at risk of losing their job if students perform poorly on standardized tests –then what is the reason scores of library media specialists are losing their jobs across the country? The positions are being eliminated – I believe because of the lack of direct data within our school or district that shows what we do has an impact on student achievement, even though dozens of studies show that we do, such as the Keith Curry Lance studies in Colorado (http://www.lrs.org/documents/lmcstudies/CO/CO2brochure.pdf): “Schools with well-developed library media programs average 10-15%/18% higher reading scores.” So yes, school librarians are being held accountable. Unfortunately, direct data to an individual library media specialist that backs up this major study is hard to produce at the local school level, so public perception ends up playing a major role in assessing the accountability of the library media specialist. Perhaps that is why we are passionate in our blog posts and comments about the important work that we do.
    Let’s focus on the students for a moment. If, as you say, you have less and less time to help foster a love of reading in students, due to the pressure of standardized tests, does that mean that if you can’t do it, no one should? No one is arguing that you aren’t capable of this, nor do we want to diminish the essential work that classroom teachers do to develop reading skills in students. But if we all have the student’s best interest at heart – and believe studies such as those conducted by Stephen Krashen (http://sites.google.com/site/sdkrashen/literacy-development) that show the power and importance of free recreational reading to the overall success of the student, then we shouldn’t ignore or diminish the importance of the library media specialist’s role either. Teachers might not think they need us –but the evidence is clear –students do need us. Students in schools without library media specialists simply will not get the same level of education as those in schools that do have one. To me, it is an issue of equity in education.

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Roberta wrote:
    Your original post does not have the “we’re all in this together” feeling. I thought it was childish and unprofessional. Maybe you should read it again.
    While I don’t get the sense that you intended to make a productive contribution to this conversation Roberta—-and while it seems like you’ve got some kind of real beef with me personally—-I’m actually pretty glad that you stopped by.
    You actually reinforce two key points for me. First, I’m glad that you didn’t get a “we’re all in this together” vibe from my original post because I don’t really believe that we ARE all “in this together.”
    That’s a wonderful warm fuzzy that we like to wrap up our school communities in—-and when end of grade test scores are good, all is well. As soon as schools are hit with low scores, though, fingers get pointed at reading and math teachers.
    How’s that fair?
    I’ve been trying to point that disparity out time and again during the course of this conversation because it’s a reality that I don’t think most media specialists totally understand—-and that reality has consequences for schools that no one seems to be considering.
    Your comment makes it clear that the message hasn’t been lost.
    I’m also not too surprised by your “childish and unprofessional” comment either, to be honest. After all, your colleagues have also called me an angry, juvenile idiot and told me to quit whining and find a new job this week too!
    What’s funny is that the reading and math teachers that I’ve spoken to this week have found great resonance in my ideas. Time and again, they’ve said things like, “We could live without our media specialist,” “My media specialist doesn’t add real value to our school” and “I’m tired of being held accountable when no one else is. That’s not fair.”
    Isn’t that interesting?
    There’s real dissonance between the perception that media specialists hold of themselves and the perception that others hold of them.
    What consequences do you think that dissonance will have on your profession? Aren’t you afraid that you’ll lose so many supporters in the ranks of classroom teachers that your positions will be in even greater jeopardy later?
    Finally, even your email address—where you bill yourself as a “library goddess”—supports on of my central points: That media specialists turn off core teachers with the language that they use to describe their profession.
    When any one member of a team chooses to describe themselves as a “goddess,” it seems to discourage the very teamwork that you seem to value, doesn’t it?
    Looking forward to your reply,
    Bill

  10. Roberta Ferris

    Your original post does not have the “we’re all in this together” feeling. I thought it was childish and unprofessional. Maybe you should read it again.

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Annyem wrote:
    The bottom line is that EVERYONE who is responsible for educating students is held accountable for helping them learn, grow and succeed academically and in life.
    Two things, Annyem: First, I think that the way you are being utilized in your school is awesome. You’re making a tangible impact on the testing results of your school—but is the role that you are filling the norm for media specialists or the exception?
    I’ve worked in schools for a long time and haven’t ever seen a media specialist used in quite the same way.
    Also, a bit of gentle pushback:
    It really does feel good to say that “EVERYONE…is held accountable” for the success of students—and I’ve never questioned whether what y’all do is valuable—-but “held accountable” looks a WHOLE lot different for reading teachers than it does for most media specialists.
    I mean states and districts across America—Houston and Georgia are two immediate examples—are developing plans to fire reading teachers based on their test scores.
    Can you see why I don’t really buy the “we’re all in this together” thinking that surrounds accountability conversations?
    It’s “we’re all in this together” when the numbers are great. When the numbers stink, it’s the reading teachers that are being canned!
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  12. Annyem

    I understand your perspective, but you are mistaken about what media specialists do. I have a Reading Instruction background and have been teaching struggling elementary readers successfully for as long as you have. I am also a School Library Media Specialist. I teach them how to think critically about texts, how to make connections with texts to themselves and the the world beyond them. I teach them how to use text features of nonfiction to help them understand, find and use information effectively in print and digital formats.
    Not only do I teach students to have a passion for reading, I help them find books that are suited to their reading levels and their interests so they do foster a love of reading and don’t look at it as a chore. If you put the right books in their hands, they grow to enjoy reading more.
    Your school is lucky to have you as a reading specialist. My school doesn’t qualify to have a reading specialist because we are not a “Title I” school. I teach two reading intervention groups four days a week at my school because our school data has determined this need. I need to report to teachers and parents on their progress in these programs just as a classroom teacher would. I take running records, and give DIBELS, and all the other tests required by these programs, just like the classroom teachers do.
    With school budget cuts increasing, more media specialists are getting their administrative planning time taken away and wearing the hat of the “reading teacher” these days. Many do not feel comfortable in this role. That is a whole other debate. Some are willing to learn to do what is best for their students and seek help when they need it.
    The bottom line is that EVERYONE who is responsible for educating students is held accountable for helping them learn, grow and succeed academically and in life.

  13. LaDawna

    I am dismayed that my post was seen as librarian vs. classroom. That completely was not my intent. I was responding to Gallagher’s comments about the fact that half the reading our students should be doing should be recreational and not to let fun get crowded out. I completely agree that fun is being replaced by test prep and that the classroom teacher is overwhelmed with mandates to raise reading scores. These mandates are causing schools to kill the opportunity for us (all of us in the school community) to build lifelong readers. In my post I gave some examples of some programs that I try to do in my “classroom” (the school library) to encourage this love of reading and I tried to point out that many students don’t have family structures that would ever give them the opportunity to experience a library at all and so the school library may be the only place for them to experience that kind of environment. When I made the statement “I completely agree that schools are not considering their best resources – the teacher librarian in helping teachers switch kids onto reading.” I meant it in the sense of the larger amounts of rich resources that the school library provides, and the fact that these resource rich environments can help teachers switch kids onto reading. I feel that you must have thought I have a me vs. the classroom teacher attitude, and I assure you that was never my intent. I would never even consider such a thing because my whole program relies upon the work done in collaboration with the classroom teacher, and I am keenly aware of the pressure that is riding on our reading and writing teachers in a test driven political environment we are currently experiencing. We must ALL work together for one common goal, deeper learning for our students.

  14. Pete Caggia

    OK. So I needed some time to digest this one, Bill, I think you are right on, but I’m sad that you are right. The accountability you face sends creates classroom environments where the message is ‘Reading is Work’. So, it’s to the point where we have to be the opposite. We need each other. Kids who can’t read won’t like it (we need you) and kids who like to read want to read better (you need us).
    I also disagree with everyone one one point. The most important resource in the building is not the Media Teacher or the Classroom Teacher. It’s not the Gym Teacher or the Counselor. It’s the learner. And if we all put the learners first, in our own ways, then everyone is right.

  15. Tori Jensen

    I am surprised that you see us as devaluing what you do as a classroom teacher. I will try hard to be cognizant of that when I am advocating for school libraries in the future. I am very impressed with what classroom teachers are able to do to inspire students, what with all the other sometimes ridiculous demands they face on a day-to-day basis. It is my mission to make your job a little easier when I can.
    I think your perception of our attitude could be partially due to the fact that while math, language arts, science, and all of the other core curriculum areas require a licensed teacher, the library does not. While media specialists do have state and national standards that are the cornerstones to inquiry and learning, most states do not see them as essential and schools are allowed to go without a media specialist. Many schools go without a library at all. As library media specialists, we can’t understand how any educated person could deny students access to a library and a library teacher , yet school boards and principals across the country are doing just that. The last district I was in let every single elementary librarian go and they are now using the libraries as part-time math enrichment classrooms.
    So, you see, we are told we must advocate for our programs at all times. Maybe we seem to go too far sometimes, but when was the last time The National Council of Teachers of English had to beg for their teachers to be included in a school’s curriculum? I am going to try really hard to NOT make classroom teachers feel undervalued in my advocacy from now on. I hope that you can see why we might seem to be going overboard in our advocacy.
    The other point I would like to address is that as a media specialist, I depend on classroom teachers to collaborate with me and together we can bring the love of reading and inquiry to our students. I do tend to know about and have access to more new books then most classroom teachers. It is my job to know this stuff and I have the time and materials to study the topic. I say better than MOST classroom teachers. I do know teachers that take a very special interest in new books and keep up with the journals, reviews, etc. even better than I can sometimes. Classroom English teachers have always been my best advocates. You can really turn kids on to reading. I am the one that has the goods. The very best part of my job is to bring teachers and students together with the right books at the right time. I hope that you can forgive us our passion and know that we are partners, not adversaries. Whew, that was a lot longer than I intended. Thanks!

  16. Carolyn Foote

    Bill,
    I’m a bit puzzled by your reaction to my response as well.
    And I hope my response doesn’t come off as defensive here but I just wanted to clarify a few things.
    It’s interesting to hear your perspective. (and I did notice that you mentioned the quality librarians you have worked with.)
    I was actually a high school English teacher for 10 years, so I do understand the classroom side of things more than maybe you realize. In fact, I hope that makes me more effective in my role as a librarian.
    When I said “but I have to know what I bring to the table”–I mean that I(me myself) need to know what skills I am bringing to the table. How does that negate the skills anyone else brings to the table?
    Can’t we BOTH have expertise as collaborative partners? (and by collaboration I mean far more than working on a project together–I mean that we work in the same profession with the same students and hopefully are all working towards shared goals of educating those students).
    As Dianne said, I do think we need to remember we are on the same side.
    Also, this is an aside, but just so you know, many of us call ourselves just “librarians”. I never really cared for the term Library Media Specialist either, personally. Though aren’t we allowed to be specialists in libraries at least? 😉
    As far as the option of collaborating, I hear your frustration. I presume that varies from school to school a great deal. Our principal restructured our school day to allow more time for teachers to plan and collaborate. And I know having that time makes a difference. My campus is less testing-focused as well, which I presume varies from campus to campus also. (I personally feel for teachers who are in situations that are so intensely testing driven.)
    A dialogue is part of the learning experience for all of us, but I just hope the dialogue gets built on the appreciation of our common ground.
    And to me that common ground is that although we may all have different jobs and different working conditions(teachers vs. counselors vs. nurses vs. librarians vs. librarians) –but we are all there to serve students in all our different roles. We are there to lift them up and empower them.
    That’s our common ground.

  17. Dianne

    I am a school librarian (or media specialist or teacher librarian or whatever the latest term is) and I’m not offended by what you’re saying here. I don’t consider myself to be an “expert’. I see my role as collaborator. Teachers and media specialists aren’t competing against each other (or shouldn’t be). I know how hard your job is, because I’ve been a classroom teacher. I see the stress on the faces of my colleagues as they are asked to do more and more with less time, less staff development, and less assistance. The fact that your classroom used to be a place where children could do all of those wonderful things, but now can’t, speaks volumes about the direction of education in this country. We are forced to test our kids to death.
    I am glad you understand and appreciate the value of a good media specialist, just as I understand and appreciate the value of a good classroom teacher. We are on the same side and we need to act like it.

  18. Bill Ferriter

    So every time I start this conversation, I get tagged by people who argue that the relationship between teachers and media specialists should be collaborative. Shared projects and planning should be the norm—which means that successes and failures are shared as well.
    And EVERY media specialist that I’ve ever worked with has been INCREDIBLY willing to collaborate around projects with classroom teachers. In fact, at times, they’ve come to us BEGGING to help us with the work we’re doing with students.
    I don’t doubt their intentions or their abilities in any way.
    The problem is this: Shared projects require a heck of a lot of coordination between the media specialist and the classroom teacher. Initial meetings need to be held to sketch out the goals of the project. Timelines need to be set—and adhered to–in order to move projects forward. Ongoing communication is necessary to ensure that a project is resulting in the right outcomes.
    That coordination is incredibly time consuming—and almost impossible for classroom teachers in tested subjects whose time with students is largely structured by district pacing guides and whose time without students is filled with planning, grading, communicating with parents and attending special programs meetings for students with disabilities.
    I can’t tell you how many times my media specialists have proposed TERRIFIC projects to me. And every time, I’ve turned them down simply because I didn’t have the time to coordinate the work that we did together—or the time to drift from the huge curricula that I’m responsible for teaching.
    That reality isn’t the fault of the media specialist and it isn’t the fault of the classroom teacher. It’s the fault of a flawed system that refuses to recognize the important role that collaborative planning and integration can play in student achievement.
    But make no mistake: It IS the reality.
    Do y’all media folk feel underutilized? Have your schools found ways to make the kinds of collaborative activities that we all know are important possible?
    Or are you relying on the willingness of teachers to find still more time within their already slammed schedules to make this kind of work happen? If so, is there an imbalance in the work that you do? Do you serve some students more than others? Some grade levels?
    What are the consequences of that imbalance?

  19. Bill Ferriter

    Geez, Carolyn—did you read the beginning of my post?! I think I spent at least half of my column bragging about good media specialists, didn’t I?
    My argument isn’t that your work isn’t worthwhile. I’m simply trying to point out a general sense that I see expressed by many media specialists towards classroom teachers in dozens of conversations around the edu-sphere.
    Take a look at this part of your comment:
    “I look to be a collaborative and supportive partner but I also have to know what I bring to the table(love of learning, love of reading, knowledge of web 2.0 tools, etc.).”
    Do you know how that—especially your use of the word “but”— comes across to me? It feels like you’re suggesting that you’re the expert in three areas—love of learning, love of reading and knowledge of Web 2.0 tools—and that us classroom teachers have a lot to learn from you media specialists in each of these areas.
    Is it possible for a classroom teacher to know at least as much as their media specialist about teaching with technology or about encouraging a love of reading in their students? Must we always be the learner, dependent on your expertise?
    Even your title—“specialist”—suggests that you know more than we do. And the flexibility of your position means that y’all often have extra leadership roles that are never available to us.
    The media folks in our district often chair the leadership and/or school improvement teams. They are often the technology contacts. They attend district level trainings and meetings—and can leave for professional development far more often than classroom teachers simply because they don’t need a sub.
    Can you see how that would look to a classroom teacher—especially one who works in a position that is constantly criticized and under the professional gun because of standardized tests?
    Bill

  20. Karen

    Your post gave me a lot of food for thought as a librarian who wants to promote and inform others about what the library does, but not be seen as a shameless self promoter. I’ve been told many times that I don’t promote myself enough but I am always worried about the potential of the opposite reaction from what I want like this post points out. I’ve been trying to get in on this conversation on Twitter @klibrary but I’m not getting any responses so I’m posting here too. I love my job amd I hate to see performance pressure come between me and the teachers I work with every day.

  21. Rebecca

    I think that school librarians are all too aware of the worksheety, drilling type of instruction that language arts teachers are forced to do to meet accountability demands. And that’s why, when librarian posistions are on the chopping block in lean budget times we get so worried. Not just for jobs-although anyone who tells you that isn’t part of the worry is just silly-but because that takes out one of the last places in the school that students can read just for the love of a story and not to identify point of view or character traits. That should be part of your classroom too but it isn’t anymore. Not in most classes.

  22. Carolyn Foote

    I would hope that the librarian and reading specialist would perceive themselves to be partners in what ultimately is the most important endeavor–awakening students to their own possibilities and abilities.
    This sort of either/or thinking–my job is harder than their job is dismaying.
    Aren’t we all collaborative partners?
    As a librarian, I offer my support and services BECAUSE I was a teacher and am very cognizant of the burdens on teachers. I look to be a collaborative and supportive partner but I also have to know what I bring to the table(love of learning, love of reading, knowledge of web 2.0 tools, etc.).
    I also feel a bit dismayed at the description of the classroom–and perhaps this is exactly WHY we need libraries — a space where students aren’t facing worksheets and drills but where the passion and joy of interacting with texts/information is emphasized.
    Perhaps librarians do emphasize their services because sometimes their work is under-valued and under-recognized. And we value what we do, just as you value what you do, but it’s not mutually exclusive.
    I don’t think the job of engaging students and empowering them is the role of any one person, but this sort of resentment feels contrary to a healthy and constructive dialogue and to the collaborative spirit that one would hope for.

  23. Lisa Parisi

    I am not sure why one space precludes the other. Classroom teachers are invaluable as horizon broadeners. I, too, have changed many students from non-readers to lovers of reading. But I also clearly remember the magic of the library when I was growing up. I remember my librarian, who always was able to find the perfect book for me, when my classroom teacher told me to read what everyone else was reading. I think both people are very important in teaching children to love reading.
    BTW…I would love to lose the accountability based on multiple choice tests. But that is another issue altogether.