Friday, March 30, 2012

Collaborating with Teachers

It’s very interesting, outside of the education world: people are afraid to talk to teachers. I don’t mean everyone, and I don’t mean librarians. I mean in the general sense of everything. They are seen as exclusive, defensive, and stubborn. And they are, sometimes. And I can’t blame them. Probably because I was one of them.

Me with my second grade class in Detroit, and the mentor teacher who left me for dead alone for weeks at a time because I was so horribly not her teaching style's spitting image "confident".
Five kids were absent that day.
Yes, that child in the front row is either flashing the shocker or a glock.
There are prevailing stereotypes about teachers that fuel this reality, all of which are as wrong as stereotypes made about librarians (yes, including “they work 6 hour days and get summers off.” This is the equivalent of the most demeaning stereotypes of librarians, for instance, “I can’t believe you have a Master’s degree just to read books all day” and “excuse me, where’s the librarian?… I assumed you were an intern. You don’t, you know, look like a librarian.”) It’s easy to see, if you’re used to the emotions that come up when librarians are stereotyped, how teachers have become exclusive, defensive, and stubborn; especially when it comes to anything that may take up any second of their ever-dwindling, under-valued, eternally-scrutinized time...

…such as “community partnerships”.

For teachers, “enrichment” for their children is a double-edged sword. Yes, it would be great if all schools graded using student portfolios rather than multiple choice tests; but how many extra hours per week will teachers have to spend on them? An hour per kid? That’s an extra thirty hours per week on a paycheck that already tells you that you work less than you actually do. But if a teacher is against it? He/she is seen as unfeeling to student need.

This is the playing field you’re entering when you decide that you want to collaborate with teachers.

So sure, it’d be great, in theory, if all students of a certain grade could visit the library. Your correspondence, however, is the deciding factor. You have to make it clear, up front, in order of importance:

1)      How little time the teachers will have to spend to make this happen. Lay out everything you will do vs. everything they will be expected to do.  Make “everything they will be expected to do” threefold—say when they can come; schedule the bus (we actually ended up sending this task to the district, making it even easier); bring your kids. The library staff will do everything else.

2)      That the principals and district already know about it and have given their okay. The last thing teachers will want to do is something behind the back of administration, lest they be seen as insubordinate. The first people you should contact, anyway, when collaborating with schools, are the principals. But that can be when your grant is still in its infant stage; this way, you’ll know if anyone will actually come to the library if your grant is accepted.

3)      How excited you are to work with them, emphasizing how valuable their time is. Because teachers just don’t hear gratitude enough. Ever, actually.


When scheduling, I asked up front for three separate days/times that would work for the grade level. Teacher planning meetings vary from once a week to once a month, and there is a lot more to discuss than when in the world can they give up an entire half-day of lessons for a field trip. Let them do it all at once, and then make one of the three times fit. This will avoid a back-and-forth that will be frustrating for all parties.

Some Final Inspiration

…to get you in the talking-to-teachers mood. Below is a trailer for Chalk, a movie written and performed by teachers. It’s a mockumentary, and often humorous, but many teachers to whom I’ve recommended it have to turn it off for its sheer tragic reality.

It's worth a rent. This is one of my top five favorite movies, along with Liberty Heights, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, American Beer, anything with John C. Reilly in it, and anything with Jason Segal in it (my taste, it is discerning, no?)


  1. uh, of course! You really should bring Cordy to our infant/baby storytime. Debbie does an awesome job!!

    it's only, what, a 30 hr drive? ;)