I always sit next to teachers on airplanes. I don’t request this as part of my seat assignment, but it’s as common an occurrence for me when traveling as packing too many shoes and more books than I’ll have time to read. On a recent flight, I had my laptop open to some planning and writing related to the Common Core State Standards and was hoping for a couple solid hours of work, when the woman seated to my left pulled out a red pen and a stack of student papers (middle school, I guessed). I may have closed my eyes and sighed to myself a little, because I know what happens when I start talking to teachers on planes: I can’t stop, and I never finish whatever work or reading I was trying to do. This happens so frequently to me that I sometimes feel like Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, when the little kids start gathering at the park bench to tell him what they want for Christmas. I don’t know how they find me, and like “Scott Calvin” who can’t turn down recitations of wish lists, I can’t turn down a good talk about education.
So at some point, probably in passing beverages across the row and noticing my casual browsing of the CCSS on a Friday night, the woman asked if I was a teacher, and I said that yes, I teach at the graduate level, and then because I can’t help myself, I said that I used to teach middle school, thus cementing our friendship in the sky. It turns out that the papers she was grading were eighth grade Latin tests (so I was right with my guess at the handwriting of 13-14 year-olds), and when I explained that I teach pre-service school librarians, the conversation turned to school libraries.
Now, typically in the beat that follows telling people what I do for a living, I’m explaining the critical importance of school libraries for today’s students, if I’m not reassuring the person that school libraries still exist. However, my Latin teacher friend beat me to my elevator speech this time – not rendering me speechless exactly, but it was close.
“Oh,” she said. “School libraries. I love my school librarian.”
I think I sighed again here, this time in relief in finding a friend of the library. And I could hardly believe my ears when she went on to tell a “why my students need the school librarian” story. She explained that for many years, she had relied on the school librarian to co-teach a big project with her Latin students, until five or six years ago when the school got more computers, and more and more kids “knew” how to find information on the Internet. She stopped taking the kids to the library to find information, she told me, because at the time, it seemed easier to just take care of the research in the classroom. The problem was, she went on to say, that the students’ projects all began to look the same, even to the point of relaying similar inaccuracies as a result of using the same top-five search engine hits that students hadn’t evaluated carefully, or at all. So back to the library and the librarian went the Latin teacher and her class, where the collaboration with the school librarian led to new ways of designing the project, with more individualized research questions, more thoughtful inquiry processes, and more meaningful learning outcomes.
Talk about taking advocacy to new heights.
“Oh,” I said. “Teachers. I love sitting next to teachers.”