Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Aforementioned Shark

It is so gross, I can hardly look at it. A hundred times a day, I am forced to answer these questions:
Miss, is this a real shark?
Miss, is it alive? or Miss, is it dead?
Miss, Why does it look like that?
Miss, where did you get it?
Miss, what kind of shark is that?
Miss, what's wrong with it?

Each of these questions is answered (yes, no/yes, because it's dead, from my sadistic clerk Mrs. Rodriguez, I have no idea, it's dead) and then followed by a murmured agreement from the students that "That's cool!" or "That's tight!"

Sadly, all of the preying manti(ses) in my menagerie have died. So now we are a wild kingdom of leftover crickets and a dead baby shark. It has been a seamless transition.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hats Galore

Halfway to work this morning, I realized I forgot my laptop at home. Normally this would not be a big deal, but I thought today would be deadsville in the library. late in the day yesterday, all of the teachers who were scheduled to bring in their classes had to cancel. They were sent to a last minute training (thanks for the notice LAUSD) and I don't really do subs. So I thought it would be quiet, even boring, and that I would spend some time on grad school work I've been putting off. It's funny how things turn out. I had a frantically busy day (actually, I'm still having it; this half hour is the first to reflect the tomb-like prediction I made last night). Here is what I have done (in no particular order):
- partially prepared a professional development workshop on effective web-based research techniques
- worked with the 50+ kids who came in before school to check out books
- worked with the 6th grade team to plan their book for the Black History Month fair
- starting planning a bookmobile for the Black History Fair
- checked my email a million times
- made coffee
- supervised 3 student volunteers who are working to pay for a lost book
- supervised 3 student volunteers who are working while off-track
- helped the 100+ kids who vidited the library at Nutrition (morning break)
- ate pastry that my clerk brought in
- taught the advanced chess elective to use chess clocks
- helped the 100+ kids that visited the library at lunch (it's raining, big numbers)
- kicked a kid out for gum and asked him why he didn't by pink gum instead of blue gum since it's easier to hide
- cleaned up something that looked like Corn Pops from the stairwell
- posted photos of chess games on our class chess blog
- watched my 19-year-old assistant avoid work, waste time, and surf the net (I cannot bring myself to be a harsh boss; i want her to have a relazed first job)
- prepared for a technology committee meeting
- checked my email a million times, writing back and forth with my 18 students and my boyfriend
- at a lean cuisine while standing and walking around during the crowded lunch period
- registered for a professional conference
- waited too long to go to the bathroom
- explained to students that, yes, that is a real shark fetus in a jar
- confirmed that, yes, the shark fetus is dead

The day is not over. This list is not complete. I love the variety of my job.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mario Update

Mario visited the library today with his class. The students had three tasks to complete. 1) Check out, renew, return books, making sure to have three books for the next week. 2) Complete vocabulary activity from class the previous day. 3) Post on student blogs and/or visit the Skirball Center's website to preview exhibits for an upcoming field trip. During this independent work time, the teacher conferenced one-on-one with students to review their reading progress so far this year and to make goals for the remainder of 8th grade. I helped kids choose books to read.

I was walking by Mario's reading conference when I heard the teacher say, "Congratulations, Mario. You are at the top of this class when it comes to reading!" Mario is up to 28 books this year. Upon hearing this, I ducked into one of the rooms where I keep a secret stash of books, to see what I might have in the way of prizes.

You see, there are a lot of books floating around this school that are not titles I can add to the library collection. Every once in a while, an English Department Chair, a Literacy Coach, or some coordinator gets the bright idea to order hundreds of copies of a single title. This is usually part of a grand plan to have a whole grade read the same novel, or maybe the entire school. This is not a bad plan, per se, except for the fact that in most cases, the person ordering the books has not read much YA literature. So s/he relies on some outside source (vendors, most likely) to select the books and, in the end, many of them go unused. These are not bad books, of course. Well, sometimes they are bad books. Most of the time, however, they are simply books we already have in the library. Sometimes they are dated. Sometimes they are not the best books by a great author. Sometimes they are the third in a series for which we cannot offer the first or second titles. These books make up my secret stash. Prize books. Giveaways. Help the kids build a personal library, I say.

I chose six books and presented them to Mario with a flourish, telling him that I had a second stash if none I chose were of interest. Ten minutes later he approached the counter and gives back 2, saying the others look great.
"Miss, I've been collecting books from your free cart [where we place books to give away because of age/wear] and now I have a big stack. I'm going to ask my mom if she'll get me a bookcase!"
Remember - 8th grade boy. Tall, cute, funny. Wants a bookcase. I swoon.
I tell Mario that the only place in my house without a bookcase is the bathroom (to show my approval of his plan) and he replies:
"Miss! What if they do like in Fahrenheit [he means Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which all of our 8th graders were forced to read this the Literacy Coach. I have a million extra copies]? What if they bust into your house at night to get your books?" He walks away cracking up at his literature-based joke.
I call out "They'd better not even try it!"
He returns to the counter to ask, "Miss, did you say there are more books I could have?"
So I show Mario the second secret stash, where he remains for a long time, making careful choices. His teacher tells me later that another boy asked Mario why he didn't just take them all. Mario replied that he didn't want to be greedy. The teacher said he said it in a way that implied, "Duh, I wouldn't want to be a hog, you moron!".
I got a big thank you and a smile as he left. I think I'll enjoy imagining his bookshelf for a long time. What color will it be? Will there be things on it besides books? Will he rearrange his books by size, author, title, color? As someone who has contemplated the infinite possibilities a single bookshelf can offer, I really hope that Mario's mother says yes to his request. What a kid.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Charitable Giving

It takes a while to get a new book into a school library. Let's say, for example, that I see a need for a certain title and decide to add it to the collection. To do this through the proper channels, I would need to secure funding, order from a district approved vendor, wait about a month for the vendor and the district to communicate about payment, wait about another month for the vendor to process the book (add bar codes, etc) and mail it out, upload the record for the book into the library's circulation software (if the system hasn't crashed and the record isn't corrupted), stamp the book, add the school's labels to the book, and only then can I put the book out for circulation.
This doesn't really sound that bad, except that securing funding can take months, and usually that comes in a lump sum. So what happens when a student says, "Miss! Did you you hear that the new volume in the ____series is coming out this week? Are you going to get it?" Or what about when I go to a bookstore for my own reasons and see that a fabulous YA writer has a new novel?
What happens is... I buy the book. I can't help it. My students NEED it. I know how it feels to wait on pins and needles for the next book in a series or by my favorite author; I do it all the time. The process for acquiring library books just doesn't allow for small purchases at random intervals. If I just by the dang book, all I have to do is stamp it, print out a bar code for it, and add it to the circulation system myself (too easy!), and VOILA! Someone is reading it immediately.
So today I added up the receipts I've kept throughout 2007. The sum total of this compulsion of mine turns out to be $749.93. Pretty steep when you think about the fact that this is not really an accurate representation of what I've purchased, (I'm not great at record-keeping).
Here's what the students were so desperate to read:
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (I am dying to read this as well)
The Bellmaker by Brian Jacques
The Pearls of Lutra by Brian Jacques
It's a Girl Thing: How to stay healthy, safe, and in charge
Sisters of Isis: Divine One by Lynne Ewing
Sons of the Dark: Night Sun by Lynne Ewing
Gilda Joyce: the Ghost Sonata by Jennifer Allison
A Girl's Life Online by Katherine Tarbox
Bec by Darren Shan
New Moon and Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (this was me too)
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Grand & Humble by Brent Hartinger
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
Harry Potter 7 (well, duh)
Hit and Run by Lurlene McDaniel
The End of Forever by Lurlene McDaniel
about 10 others by Lurlene McDaniel

There's more, of course, but this is a pretty clear picture. All but 2 of these are either part of a series or are by authors who churn out amazing numbers of books with similar themes and stories (hence the addiction). I can't keep up. It's really fun to try, though.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Only the Best

Those of you who have written a memo will probably agree that, in an ideal world, the people receiving said memo will actually read it. Even better, your memo audience will remember the information you have carefully passed along, and perhaps they will even act accordingly. If you are a regular writer of memos, you probably know that this rarely happens. Memo readers a)don't read memos, b)read and immediately forget what they have read, c)read and immediately ignore any instructions contained in the memo. This is true, at least, in every public school in America (if you doubt such a generalization, read Up the Down Staircase and become a believer).
My beloved assistant principal and I decided to reinstate our Chess elective this semester. We would gather together 16 students who have taken Chess with us before in order to create an advanced class. In order to recruit students, we sent a memo to four elective teachers with the following information and instructions:
- We would like to reinstate our chess class
- We would like 16 students who have taken chess with us before
- This will be an advanced chess class
- This class will be for 8th graders only
- Please ask your students if any of them have taken chess with us before and would like to take this advanced class.
- Please write the names on this memo and return it to us by X date.

The lists should have been returned to us on Friday. As of 10am on Monday we had received no names. I made phone calls to the teachers, who I will call Mr. Drama, Ms. Computers, Mr. Art, and Ms. PE.

Me: Hi Mr. Drama. Do you happen to have the names of the students who want to be in the chess class?
Mr. Drama: Um. Well. Oh, right. I guess I could ask them about that today.
Me: Ok, great. Could you let me know when you've got the list and I'll send someone over ti pick it up?
Mr. Drama: Sure, but (chuckle) that's if anyone actually wants to take the class.

Ok. So far, great response.

Me: Ms. Computer, sorry to bother you. Do you happen to have the names of the students who want to be in the chess class?
Ms. Computer: Oh geez. Hmmm. Awwww. Well....? (This is all said with great anxiety). Well, I think there was one name.
Me: Ok great! Could you give me the student's name?
Ms. Computer: Oh, hmmm. I think it was Miguel. He was reading the memo and said he wanted to do it. Oh, geez. And then I think he never gave the paper back. Awww. So what should I do? Should I write....oh, shoot.
Me: No, no. Just give me his last name and we'll go from there.

Is this FOR REAL?

Me: Mr. Art, good morning. Do you happen to have the names of the students who want to be in the chess class?
Mr. Art: (very exasperated sigh) I sent that to Mr. 8th-Grade-Sponsor.
Me: Huh. He has absolutely nothing to do with this.
Mr. Art: Well, I sent it to him.


No answer from Ms. PE.

So, at 11am the period begins. My Assistant Principal and I should have 4 lists of names and should spend this period planning enrollment, etc. Instead, this is what happens:
- A combined list appears from Mr. Art and Ms. PE. On this list are 8 names. Two are 6th graders who have never taken our class. Two are 7th graders who have never taken our class. Out of the four 8th grade names on the list, three have taken our class.
- 3 students arrive from Mr. Art and Ms. PE's classes, none of whom appear on the list. Why does this happen? I do not know.
- The one boy from Ms. Computer's list cannot be found, although two students from her class appear having heard about the class from friends, not from Ms. Computer (who never after made the announcement, since Miguel ran off with her memo).
- 3 students appear our of nowhere.
- Mr. Drama is never heard from again. Obviously he doesn't think to highly of the game of chess.

At the end of the period, we have somehow scraped together 9 students who are ready to take Advanced Chess, and we have 3-4 names of kids we'd like to contact. As he's leaving for lunch supervision, my Assistant Principal says, "I should have just visited the classes personally." We laugh, roll our eyes, and try to contain the deep, roiling disappointment we feel. Is it really so hard? we wonder. Were the instructions unclear? But then the bell rings, it's lunch, and there is no more time to feel sorry for ourselves. Instead, there are nachos to be eaten, ketchup packets to be accidentally sat upon, and a hundred frenzied library nerds to be tamed.