So I've recuperated sufficiently from yesterday's first-day-of-school-after-Christmas-break subbing assignment in one of the elementary school libraries and am now ready to chronicle the events of the day.
It could have been worse. Much worse.
It could have been like my next-to-the-last-day-of-school-before-Christmas-break, at another elementary school, which ended in rather a disaster.
(If you are interested in the details, you can check out the incident report I wrote up, detailing the interchange between Mortimer and me--yes, the name has been changed--in case his chant of "child abuse!" as he left school lasted all the way home and reached the ears of a parent, in which case I might be called upon to explain why I had felt compelled to forcefully remove him from the library during the last hour of the day.)
No, I did not end up crying. I've been subbing way too long for that. But most of the rest of the class was teary-eyed because the six boys in the front row (including Mortimer) apparently felt their lively extemporaneous entertainment activities would be of greater benefit to the class than the picture book I was supposed to be reading them.
I had been warned. The class was on report. "I've told them they have to earn the right to watch our Christmas movie tomorrow," their teacher had told me. "They have to spell out a word by good deeds in order to get it."
She grimaced. "At first I gave them the word 'Christmas,' but they had barely gotten past the 'r' when I realized they'd never make it to the end, so I changed the word to 'movie.' They are now up to the 'v.'" Then she added, "And, yes, they will lose letters for bad behavior. You can remind them of that." So the 20-or-so other students lined up in the chairs before me were in anguish over the impending lost privilege, and I'm pretty sure the teacher was going to be too.
But I digress.
About yesterday: Another elementary school. Another library. I arrived, turned on the lights and checked the day plan.
It looked to be an easy day. I only had to read stories to two primary classes in the morning and meet with two grade 6/7 classes after lunch to discuss the books they'd read over the holidays. The rest of the time I could spend putting books away, tidying up the counters, and shelf reading. Just the kind of library assignment I loved. So I read my two storybooks to preschoolers and grade 1's, and puttered around.
Then the recess bell rang. Kids began streaming and screaming out into the front playground, as they were supposed to. But, within seconds, ten or twelve kids had screeched to a halt just inside the library doors and stood looking at me in surprise. I explained that their librarian was away. They hesitated and then asked if they could come in during recess and work in the library. "We're library monitors and sometimes we come in and do things during recess, and at lunch time, too. Can we do that today?"
I said yes and they swarmed through the doors, on each other's heels, eager to get to work. They asked what they could do and I asked them if they shelved books. They said they did. I was a little surprised.
"What grade are you in?" I asked.
"Some of us are in grade 3 and some are in grade 4."
Some of them had already reached the cart holding stacks of books needing to be put back and were eagerly looking over the prospects. It was an Easy Reading collection and they pounced on the picture books and had them re-shelved in no time. I listened to their excited chatter as they worked together, helping each other find the sections they needed and arguing a bit here and there about what specific order the books they held should go in, but obviously totally happily absorbed in their task.
And at lunchtime they were back, most of the original ten or twelve and a few new ones. "Why don't you go out and play?" I asked. "It's a nice sunny day out there."
"We can't go out," one of the girls told me. "There was a bear sighting and we can't play outside."
I knew this explanation was only half true. I could hear kids laughing and playing outside. The front playground was full of kids who would be well protected by adult supervisors. But they probably were restricted from playing behind the school buildings and these kids obviously felt that meant they should be working in the library.
I'd organized the non-fiction section by this time and I pointed to the stacks of books I'd laid out on the counter ready for them. I was a little worried about setting them loose with books shelved by numbers rather than letters, but they seemed undaunted so I shrugged my shoulders and let them go at it. When I next looked at the counter it had been swept clean, and everyone was scurrying around with stacks of books in their arms.
I continued to putter around the circulation desk, listening to snatches of their conversations in the background. One grade 4 boy who had missed the recess session sat on the floor in front of a bottom non-fiction shelf ranting: "Hey! Someone's been messing with my shelf! This is MY shelf and someone's been doing things on it."
"No one owns shelves in libraries Nicholas," I told him. "All the shelves belong to everyone."
"Yes I do own it. I got it in September and I get to keep it the whole year. No one gets to mess with my shelf."
His classmates agreed. "Oh yes, that is his shelf. We all have shelves. We get to keep them for the year and then the next year we get other ones."
Meanwhile, Nicholas has become distracted. He's reading one of the books he was supposed to be shelving. I make a comment about that and he glances up with a guilty look and starts to put the book away. I feel like hugging him, but I'm not supposed to touch students and I didn't want to have to write up another incident report.
"Look at this! This book is a 300 one. It goes over here!"
"Check this one out. It's 532. I've got this one memorized already!" (I assume he's referring to the Dewey Decimal subject area and I want to hug him too.)
"Sarah, do you want to do a shelf with me?"
Sarah says, "I'm already doing a shelf with Lisa but I guess I can do another one with you too."
Questions they ask me:
"Can Sophie and me go to the bathroom?" (This is during recess, and I love so much that they ask that I don't point out she should have said "Sophie and I.")
"Do you have some of that green tape we can use to put our names on shelves?"
And when the books are all put away, "Is there anything else we can do for you?"
That was my morning. After lunch it was time for my two sessions with the older kids. I figured it shouldn't be too hard to spend the half hour sessions discussing what they'd read over the holidays.
And I was right. In fact, they barely had time to check out new books because the discussions went on so long.
I first asked how many of them had read books over the holidays. Probably 20 out of 26 hands went up.
Then I asked how many had discovered new authors during that time. Probably 17 out of 26.
And after that I couldn't keep up with all the hands. Lots of kids--at least as many boys as girls--waited patiently to talk about the new authors they'd discovered, and other books they'd read over the past two weeks.
One boy said he'd discovered a new author of graphic novels but he couldn't remember his name. I suggested he might want to graduate to books with a bit more words in them than graphic novels have, and then he told me that he'd already read the whole Harry Potter series.
One girl highly recommended her classmates read the Twilight novels instead of watching the TV series. "They're way better than the films," she said. And we discussed the observation that books are usually better than the movies.
I recommended some books, and when I mentioned the Narnia series, the class went crazy. Most of them had already read it and the room buzzed with mini-conversations about Aslan and the Boy and His Horse. (The only other word I mentioned that got them buzzing louder was the word, 'Fortnight.' I must remember to avoid using that word in class. It always becomes an immediate conversational distraction.)
I asked another girl what her favorite book was and she said, "I can't remember. I read waaaay too many books over Christmas!"
"You can never read too many books," her friend reminded her.
I was amazed. Most of the class had read, not one or even two books over Christmas, but many. Boys and girls alike. I was in danger of having to write up a multitude of incident reports in this school.
I complimented them. "I'm so proud of you for reading over the holidays instead of spending all your time on electronics and video games!" And then we had a little discussion about that topic. "It's very important that you own your electronics. It's not good when they own you," I said. And heads nodded seriously and sagely all over the room.
So what is this world coming to? There is much to worry about in the coming year. Obstinate kids who chant "child abuse" when you take hold of their wrist to lead them out the door are worrisome. Misuse of electronics, inside and outside the classroom, is worrisome.
But then there are the other things--the other kids--the future engineers, teachers, mechanics, politicians and nurses. There are the kids who get a kick out of books. Who love shelving them, reading them, talking about them, who would rather puzzle out the Dewey Decimal system than run around outside.
"I played outside a lot over the break too," said one grade 7 boy. "I didn't get to go skiing, but I spent a lot of time in the park with my friends, throwing a ball around."
Oh, be still my beating heart!
I am so excited about what this world is coming to. I am so privileged to spend time with kids. I have come to love them more every one of the 28 years I've been teaching. I hope I can get another year or two in before I'm too old to hobble through those educational institution doors any more.
The future of this world is in good hands. Yes, I mean the Hands with a capital "H." But I also feel confident that the future will be good in the hands of those little ones He continues to watch over and teach. It will be a good New Year.
Note: The image in this post is not of one of my students. I don't post images of my students or identify them on the web. But it's a good example of the topic of this post, and this little bookworm warms my heart too.