Alright Already, I Surrender

When I woke up this morning and decided to write about the tension that exists between the kind of instruction possible in the media center versus the kind of instruction possible in my language arts classroom, I knew that there was going to be pushback.  I've advanced this line of thinking before and been buried in angst more than once. 

What I see every time is a defensive reaction from people who have spent the better part of their careers facing budget cuts that have the potential to take their positions.  In an attempt to make sure that today's conversation was about ideas instead of emotions, I started with these words:

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.

Continuing to stress the importance of media specialists, I wrote this later in my post:

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.

And in the comment section, I wrote this:

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.

But I still spent the past nine hours dealing with emotional responses.  People expressed surprise at my unwillingness to be a team player.  They questioned my intentions.  They thought my comments were hurtful and unproductive. 

Which has caused me to do something I've never done here on the Radical:  I pulled the post. 

Ask anyone who knows me how momentous that decision really is.  I'm a "speak your mind" and a "stick to your guns" kind of guy—and generally there's a good measure of truth in everything that I write, even when it's uncomfortable to hear.  I've ruffled more than a few feathers in my day and backing down isn't in my nature, but honestly, I don't need the stress.

My only goal was to talk honestly to media specialists.  I wanted you to see how comments that you often make while advocating for your profession can come across to reading teachers.  While I'm certain that the vast majority of y'all have nothing but great respect for reading teachers, that doesn't always come across in the language that you use to describe your work.

I figured that was something you'd want to know because I'm certain that I'm not the only classroom teacher who feels that way.  I'm just dumb enough to write about my thoughts openly. 

For those of you who had the chance to read my post, I hope it challenged you to think differently.  It was intended to spark reflection and to give you some insight into what it is like to be a reading teacher in a tested world—-and I hope that it helped you to recognize that "teamwork" feels a whole lot different when the members of the team are not judged equally.

As long as that message came across to one or two of you, then today's drama may have been worth it.

20 comments

  1. Frank

    I’m a parent, not a teacher, not a media specialist or anyone with dog in this fight.
    Keep my student in mind.
    If budgets are being cut and I’m losing a resource that my child needs to be successful, I want to know. Email me, call the local reporter and tell him to do an expose on the 5 oclock news, have a skywriter do it with a plane, I don’t care just let me know.
    I want to attend a school board meeting and speak my mind. Use me; the parent, to join you in the battle against the administrators and accountants making decisions that may effect the future success of my child
    Don’t bicker about titles, who does what, who is better than who, testing, evaluation methods…help my student grow and excel as a reader and student.
    You are all educators…
    Frank
    —I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog; nice work and contributions from everyone.
    —As I’m not an educator I hope I correctly used the word effect/affect 😉

  2. srb

    Bill, I would love to be part of a team assigned to a specific group of kids, over a period of 4 years. I think it is the best (maybe the only?) way to track how & whether the changes we make in instruction affect students. I also like the idea of team-level reports, but at the HS level in particular, I don’t consider the library to be a special or elective, and would not want, always & only, to serve on a team with non-academic teachers.
    I feel that that arrangement would still reify the “academics” vs. “specials” aspect of “us” vs “them” views. Most of my co-teaching occurs within the English & Social Studies departments, and I would want to maximize the time I work with teachers in those departments, while increasing time spent collaborating with teachers in departments I have rarely worked with to date. Putting all of the electives teachers together doesn’t do much to give them more credibility as enhancers of student achievement; it just lumps them altogether. Does that make sense?
    I would rather see horizontal teams that stay the same for 4 years (a time frame that makes sense to me b/c of the 4-year interval of HS), and then would be changed up when our assigned group of kids graduate. I also would like to those teams to encompass teachers from a variety of academic and non-academic disciplines. For example, a horizontal team of teachers including teachers of Freshman English ad Algebra, World History, Art 1, H/PE 1, Culinary Arts 1, and the SL, that would then move with those freshmen through their four years in HS.
    I think there could & should be some experimentation with vertical teams, too — all of the teachers of Accelerated English at levels 1-4, for example. (The PLC I’m working in right now is both horizontal & vertical, as it includes all teachers of Jr & Sr. English, plus another SL and three History teachers. It isn’t perfect, but I think we & the kids all benefit from the collective planning time, and I am very excited about our forthcoming analysis of the results of our recent midterm exams.)
    What say you?

  3. Bill Ferriter

    SRB wrote:
    We are hopeful that our BOE will approve a proposal for four late-opening days during the school year where CTs and the two SLs will be able to meet in teams to evaluate student work (including reviews of standardized testing results) and co-plan future lessons/units. It’d be a big step in the right direction.
    I’ve been kicking around this idea of shared accountability since this conversation began, SRB, and I like the direction your district is going in.
    My version of an accountability utopia in a tested world would assess teams of teachers for the performance of groups of students. Media specialists and specials teachers—art, music, drama, PE—would be assigned to one team.
    Together, those teachers would work to promote growth in students. At the end of the year, reports wouldn’t be generated at the individual teacher level, they’d be generated at the team level.
    What I like about the idea is that it acknowledges the contributions that teachers who work beyond reading and math make to the academic growth of students. No longer is an “us” versus “them” mentality possible because “we” are responsible for a shared group of kids.
    What do you think?
    Bill

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Zinnia wrote:
    I believe this is how the concept of emotional resilience ended up in the AASL standards. It may be grounded in actual research, but unfortunately, the language used leaves the standard open to criticism.
    I definitely agree, Zinnia—and I could find an equal number of standards in your core document that are tangible, concrete expressions of practical skills that students need to learn.
    As a profession that’s under the gun every time that budgets are tight, it might make sense to strip out any evidence of fluff. (I literally just cringed typing that word. It doesn’t go over too well!)
    Doing so would take ammunition away from critics! ; )
    I’m starting to enjoy this conversation now, by the way. Thanks for being a part of it.
    Bill

  5. Zinnia

    Hi Bill,
    Yes, it makes sense. Any librarian who would proclaim him/herself the single most important reading resource is suffering from a serious case of grandiosity. And the idea that the love of reading wouldn’t exist for students without the school librarian is equally deluded.
    I have to laugh about the librarians as superheroes comment. I have a BatGirl poster in my office that says “Librarians are heroes every day.” Why? Well, I’m a BatGirl fan! (And she was a librarian by day.) But also I’m the local contact in my state for intellectual freedom, and school librarians dealing with censorship challenges call me for help and moral support. When facing book censors, superheroes do offer a little inspiration.
    As for our standards, I agree that the ones you picked out seem to stretch pretty far. The emotional resiliency one is a good example. But I also happen to know that there is a body of research showing that beginning researchers experience predictable points of frustration and futility as they are learning how to do all the complex steps involved. Knowing this helps librarians help students get through the parts where they want to give up. I believe this is how the concept of emotional resilience ended up in the AASL standards. It may be grounded in actual research, but unfortunately, the language used leaves the standard open to criticism.
    That said, I am personally not a fan of standards. Actually I detest them, but I know I’m in a minority. I believe they are just a business model of “benchmarks” and “outcomes” which was forced onto non-profits and education in the mistaken belief that human development and intellectual growth can be standardized and quantified in the same way that business objectives can be.
    I was told that business has recently abandoned the very models of so-called “accountability” that have been transferred to the schools. So perhaps sanity will return and we will have a chance to remake schools for the benefit of our students. I have appreciated many of your posts on the practical changes that are needed to make learning successful.
    Finally, thanks for your words of praise to librarians. People skipped over that part, apparently. I think they heard a version of “nice job, but…” and focused on what came after the “but”, if you know what I mean. Which is often how many people take criticism.

  6. srb

    First, Bill, I’m so sorry that you’ve been on the receiving end of so many nasty, ad hominem attacks. There’s no other way to say this: it sucks. Thanks for re-opening comments and for the anticipated re-posting of your original post.
    You wrote:
    “Instead of arguing over whether or not media specialists are useful, maybe it’s time for your professional organization to begin advocating for shared professional collaboration time with teachers AND for pairing media specialists with learning teams in reviews of standardized testing results.”
    I agree with you here, on both counts. Shared professional collaboration time at my HS now consists of continuing e-mail conversations, discussions in the lunch room and hallways, and the rare overlapping prep period.
    On the other hand, we are moving towards a PLC model of professional development focused on improving student achievement, and we are hopeful that our BOE will approve a proposal for four late-opening days during the school year where CTs and the two SLs will be able to meet in teams to evaluate student work (including reviews of standardized testing results) and co-plan future lessons/units. It’d be a big step in the right direction.

  7. Bill Ferriter

    Kristin wrote:
    I think what Bill keeps trying to tell school librarians is, “I like y’all, but between you and me, sometimes y’all act like superheroes. That kind of hyperbolic language doesn’t have the kind of resonance or authenticity that I think you are going for. Just thought you might wanna know that information so you could adjust accordingly, because I really do like y’all and would like to keep you around.”
    Thank you, Kristin! This is exactly what I’ve been trying to say for the past several days. For whatever reason, that message has been overlooked/ignored/lost in translation by a bunch of your colleagues.
    Mostly away from this blog, I’ve been told that I’m an angry and juvenile man who should look for a new job and who must have been dreaming when he wrote his original post.
    The only other things that I’d add to your summary of my position are these:
    1. You do great work that is reflected in many standards set by your association, but there are other standards you should be embarrassed by because they are too fluffy to be worthwhile.
    You might want to revise your standards to get rid of the fluff because it would build your credibility and bolster your argument that you ARE a valuable contributor to student learning in the eyes of critics.
    2. We know that you want to collaborate with us and to take the load off of our shoulders when it comes to preparing kids to be readers, but as it currently stands, there’s no time for collaboration—we’re still grading papers, remember—and no mechanism for jointly accepting accountability for results.
    Instead of arguing over whether or not media specialists are useful, maybe it’s time for your professional organization to begin advocating for shared professional collaboration time with teachers AND for pairing media specialists with learning teams in reviews of standardized testing results.
    If you did, then you’d be advocating for the kinds of changes that would actually create the kinds of teaming that you envision.
    Does this make sense?
    Bill

  8. Kristin

    Just thinking aloud here … I think what Bill keeps trying to tell school librarians is, “I like y’all, but between you and me, sometimes y’all act like superheroes. That kind of hyperbolic language doesn’t have the kind of resonance or authenticity that I think you are going for. Just thought you might wanna know that information so you could adjust accordingly, because I really do like y’all and would like to keep you around.” When any school employee says, “I am THE ONLY person who ____,” we run the risk of offending our colleagues. Though, for the record, I am the only person in my building who catalogs in MARC format. I’m just sayin’.

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Diane wrote:
    Well, Bill. You were too stressed to have people comment on your blog for a while, but you managed to trot over and take potshots at comments on MY blog.
    Diane,
    Over the past two days, I’ve written three posts, six comments and hundreds of tweets on this issue.
    On top of that, I’ve seen my inbox filled with something like 30 emails from your colleagues questioning whether or not I’m intelligent, whether or not I’m on drugs and/or whether or not I understand what teamwork is really all about.
    And you’re questioning whether or not I’m willing to engage in conversation?
    That leaves me confused.
    Bill

  10. diane

    Well, Bill. You were too stressed to have people comment on your blog for a while, but you managed to trot over and take potshots at comments on MY blog.
    You accused me of “namecalling” when I said on Twitter that you seemed like a very angry man.
    I haven’t got any weapons. I’m just holding up mirrors.

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Karen wrote:
    Most teachers I know are so bogged down with stuff to teach and state tests that they are glad to have a colleague whose curriculum is focused on information literacy. They are happy for the support the library and teacher-librarian can give.
    So here’s the thing, Karen….If you go back and read my original post OR this post, you’ll see that I praise exactly this kind of work times ten.
    And this is why conversations with media specialists are so exhausting to me.
    Rather than looking at my central contention—that in your advocacy for your own role, you often elevate yourself to the position of “lead reader,” and that can really turn those of us who are being held accountable for reading results off—-you want to make this about whether or not I believe your work is worthwhile.
    How many different times do I need to say that media specialists are valuable contributors to school communities before y’all will give it a rest and move on to thinking about whether or not the words that you choose to advocate for your profession are inadvertantly turning off the very people that you claim to be supporting?
    Bill
    PS: If the word “fluffy” bothers you, what about “soft” or “intangible?”
    My argument still stands: Your standards document is full of meaningful, productive, and concrete statements about the way that you improve teaching and add value to schools.
    Why not delete objectives that are nothing more than warm fuzzies? Wouldn’t that bolster your argument about the important role that you play in the schoolhouse?
    PPS…I haven’t got any weapons. I’m just holding up mirrors.

  12. Karen Kliegman

    Bill,
    I’ve had classroom teachers say to me that I should “just read books to them, dear.” I have two master degrees – in library science (and I am in NYS, so I had to be certified to teach) and in educational technology. I don’t think that librarians disparage reading teachers or classroom teachers; what we want to do is to partner with you whenever possible. I have never maintained that I am the person that teaches kids how to read. That is the reading teacher and classroom teacher’s job. It might also be the job of the ELL teacher and the special ed teacher. Can I help them appreciate literature? Am I the only one? No – but I have the ability to give them access to thousands of books about thousands of different topics, and yes, that jut might spark a love of reading in some child.
    I find it kind of insulting that you say that our standards are ‘fluffy’. Our standards speak to the role we play in being part of the “learning commons” that teaches students to think for themselves – to construct knowledge – to be inquiring, critical thinkers in a society where information is everywhere and editable. Under the best of circumstances, we don’t teach this in isolation. Under the worst of circumstances, we do teach in isolation and our efforts are often not recognized. Most teachers I know are so bogged down with stuff to teach and state tests that they are glad to have a colleague whose curriculum is focused on information literacy. They are happy for the support the library and teacher-librarian can give. See my library website to see the type of learning that goes on in my library. I ask you now, where are your weapons aimed?

  13. Bill Ferriter

    Zinnia wrote:
    Hmmm, just found your original post
    That’s interesting, Zinnia, considering that my original post isn’t posted right now!
    Another ‘fair use’ violation, huh?
    ; )
    Zinnia also wrote:
    and I didn’t think the comments were all THAT negative–just people trying to engage in dialogue. I’m sorry you felt attacked or unsupported.
    Those were only the comments on the blog, Zinnia. That doesn’t include the Twitter conversation or the emails that flooded my inbox for the past few days.
    Finally, Zinnia wrote:
    Keep it up, but please watch where your weapons are aimed.
    Zinnia—-I wrote my post in response to a media specialist that wrote, “Schools overlook the single most important reading resource: The school librarian” and another that suggested that “the love of reading” wouldn’t exist without the school media specialist.
    Where were those weapons aimed?
    That’s the point I’ve been making throughout this conversation: In the interest of “defending” their profession, media specialists often make comments that are disparaging to those of us who are bearing the brunt of the accountability movement.
    That’s an honest reflection designed to help y’all think through the consequences of your advocacy.
    Nothing more, nothing less.
    Does this make sense?
    Bill

  14. Zinnia

    Hmmm, just found your original post and I didn’t think the comments were all THAT negative–just people trying to engage in dialogue. I’m sorry you felt attacked or unsupported.
    What you wrote in your post makes a lot of sense. It is very, very sad what has happened to classroom curriculums.
    Truly I believe it is a tragedy–I referred to this in my earlier comment when I mentioned that I had become a school librarian 5 years ago and am shocked by the state of education. Education now a pretty awful profession to work in and I feel sad for the kids living under this system. All fun, imagination, curiosity, spontaneity and joy seems to have been removed from learning and replaced with so-called standards set by mediocre, bureaucratic drones. The good parts of public education were taken away while the bad parts have become more entrenched.
    I’m sorry your job has been decimated by NCLB and standards-mania. I must say that I heard envy in the tone of your post and a staking out of turf. Librarians feel the turf battles too–when we hear of the new fad of “classroom libraries” or a technology integrationist gets hired and gets to do the fun stuff we used to enjoy, for example. (Because after all, we’re just the ladies who shelve books.)
    I might suggest that rather than turning on each other as educators, we need to be “speaking truth to power.” We need legislators, administrators and taxpayers to understand that the educational system is being destroyed in a fool’s quest. You are helping to do that with this blog. Keep it up, but please watch where your weapons are aimed.

  15. Bill Ferriter

    KMD asked:
    Also, I’m not sure what you meant by the AASL’s “fluffy standards”? I would like to know specifically what you were referring to when you made that comment.
    Good question, KMD, and something that media specialists can take action on immediately. Your first “core belief”—which I’m assuming is fundamental, otherwise it wouldn’t be listed first—-reads “Reading is a window to the world.”
    Another standard reads something like “students will display emotional resilience by persisting in information searches despite challenges.”
    Another reads “Will contribute to the exchange of ideas in a learning community.”
    There’s “Recognize new knowledge” and “Participate as members of an intellectual community” and “Identify areas of self-interest.”
    And there’s “Demonstrate an appreciation of literature by electing to read for pleasure.”
    Those are definitely fluffy objectives, no matter how you spin them. Their presence in your standards document make it hard for guys like me to see your work as equal to that which I’m held accountable for.
    Does this make any sense?
    A simple step that I’d recommend for media specialists to increase their credibility in the eyes of critics—both those who work in the school system and those who work in politics and want to cut your positions to save cash—would be to revise your standards.
    Creating a product that is far more tangible and concrete—that shows specific actions that y’all take to improve the success of students instead of making philosophical statements—would make it a lot harder for your work to be questioned.
    Does that make any sense?
    Bill

  16. kmd

    Actually, I see your point. We tend to come at an issue from our own point of view and neglect “walking in another person’s shoes”. You put a reading teacher’s point of view out there and librarians are reacting from their point of view. I think librarians tend to feel misunderstood. I am currently an elementary librarian who switched from a high school library. I felt much more appreciated and part of the team when I worked at the high school. Now, I feel like some teachers look at the library as a place for the kids to go so they can have a break (rightfully deserved BTW).
    Also, I’m not sure what you meant by the AASL’s “fluffy standards”? I would like to know specifically what you were referring to when you made that comment. All I can think is that you meant standards that are not necessarily “tested” in the schools??
    I think removing your blog post in itself shows great respect for librarians.

  17. diane

    Bill,
    We are not the enemy. Just because teacher/librarians aren’t held directly responsible for test scores doesn’t mean that we aren’t affected by them.
    Every teacher in a district (and in NYS Library Media Specialists must be certified teachers) experiences repercussions when students don’t “perform to standards.” I was expected to support, extend, and deepen my students’ classroom experiences. I worked with grade level and subject area teachers, both as a direct collaborator and as a resource person.
    I truly believe that our school library media center made a difference in the lives of our children and teens. If that were not the case, I probably WOULD have been replaced by a clerk.

  18. Zinnia

    I look forward to reading your post–thanks for having the courage to re-post. If it makes you feel better, librarians are quite critical within their own profession as well–again, it’s about budget cuts and perceptions of what we do and our value. So many teachers still see us as the ladies who shelve and check out books when that image is about 30 years out of date. I know teachers are also jealous of what they view as an “easy” job, not realizing that we are responsible for managerial and administrative duties, as well as some class preparation, resource and facility management, technology management, student management, budgets, etc. And we don’t have prep times. We also work evenings and weekends just like you.
    The other thing to realize when you feel attitude from librarians is that we are extremely isolated. Imagine being the only English teacher in your building. The only one who speaks for your profession or subject area. It’s very frustrating and at times alienating.
    I enjoy reading your column because of your authenticity and honesty so I look forward to reading your post on this topic. I’ve been a school librarian for 5 years, after changing professions. Frankly, education is in such horrid shape I’m not sure why anyone is staying in the profession unless they are within reasonable distance of retirement.

  19. mmwms

    Any good conspiracy theorist can tell you that as long as you can have the masses at each others’ throats, you can pretty much manipulate them into what you want. Now I’m not suggesting that’s exactly what’s at play here, but it does point out why a whole new model for education is desperately needed in this country. As it stands, every professional in a school building has territory to defend to the death. And the game has been constructed so these territories overlap. One successful defense means one defeat. We might pay lip service and actually believe that we ought to be partners, but as your original post pointed out, we’re still entrenched as those saddled with AYP and those who are fancy free to dwell in the land of love of learning (well, maybe you didn’t put it exactly like that 🙂 )

  20. DLSutherlin

    I did not get to read your original post, but I can understand your feelings, as I have received NUMEROUS emails suggesting I check out your blog.
    I was in the Language Arts classroom for 13 years teaching largely research and writing skills, and I became a school librarian because I saw where there was a need to help students and teachers.
    Schools where you have a dynamite media specialist might see strong reaction to your blog, but there are a lot of schools that have substandard school librarians who do the bare minimum, make little effort to do more than buy books and frankly cannot be concerned with the “profession.” Those librarians still see themselves as classroom teachers, but without the headache of homework and lesson plans–and they are not reading any blogs.
    Part of the problem for this is contractual. School librarians are typically part of the bargaining unit and sign the same contract as teachers. This also means they are evaluated with the same process as teachers, which does not give administrators a good guide on the expectations to keep a good person in the library. Also, many administrative Masters programs do not include any or much instruction on what school librarians are supposed to do, and neither do classroom teachers receive instruction or expectations on school librarians. I think the defensiveness comes from this; like the youngest child of the family, we have things to say but we worry no one is listening.
    I know the importance of school librarians, and I believe they can make a difference in the lives and education of students. Unfortunately, superintendents do not always get it and rather than cut an administrator, they think it is easier to cut a librarian to save teacher/classroom ratio.
    One day when we have more school librarians who pursue administrative degress we will not have to be as defensive, but for right now, we keep on the gloves.