June 11th was the last day of the 2020-2021 school term. At this point last summer, I was reading from my book stack for the library and doing Bible and Catechism study in the morning. Today, I can barely manage to get Nico to tennis camp on time, and it takes me hours to work up the energy to make dinner. I feel tired and unmotivated at the worst time. I have books to read! Lessons to plan! Companies to contact! I take comfort in knowing I am not alone. I belong to several school librarian Facebook groups and forums, and this feeling of having finished a marathon I was not prepared to run seems universal.
Then I remember that I did run a marathon I wasn’t prepared to run. We all did. Living through the pandemic these last 15 months isn’t something to downplay, and women, particularly mothers, withstood the most. So, until I can defuse the Let-Down Effect from surviving 2020-2021, I will try to show myself a little mercy when assessing my productivity.
My goal for this week is simple: document how I did my job during the pandemic. I feel like this is something I will never forget, but I’ve felt that about many things I remember only because I reread a post I wrote years ago.
March 2020-June 2020
From March to June of 2020, I stayed home and was available to students and families as needed. I took advantage of that time to read for the library, catch up on administrative work I typically waive off, create reading lists for students, and make their Accelerated Reader goals as easy as possible. I did what my principal told me to do and prayed I had a job to return to next term.
August 2020-March 2021
School resumed in August with a new principal. We adopted a Catholic Online Synchronous Learning model. We operated as if it were a regular school day, only online. My hours were cut to part-time, with scheduled classes held via Google Meets. Every day after school, I had Whole School AR quizzing over Zoom.
My class bored the students and me to tears. We managed. I worried a lot that the emphasis was on AR and not establishing a love of reading. Some of the students who were supposed to be reading silently were actually on YouTube or playing video games. I let it slide and prayed for a safe return to school. It wasn’t all bad. Twice per week I read to 1st grade, which was a lot of fun! Reading and interacting with them was a joy.
March 2021-June 2021
In March 2021, almost a year after we were all sent home, we received the go-ahead to return to campus. My schedule changed again. Unfortunately, the students could not come to the library. I had to “push in” to their classroom. I created what I affectionately called the Library Wagon in honor of the packhorse librarians of the depression. These “book women” rode 100 to 120 miles a week, on their own horses or mules, regardless of the weather, to the isolated mountain communities of the Appalachian region to deliver books. When the terrain was treacherous, the Book Women dismounted and went on foot. I wheeled a cart across a small campus and watched students quiz in AR behind a flimsy plexiglass screen after distributing and collecting library books–practically the same thing.
The Library Wagon
Here’s my cart, aka the library for the 2020-2021 school term! The picture makes it pretty self-explanatory. Students with books to return put them in the return bin. I called up students with books to pick up. Everyone who needed to take a quiz logged into AR and those who didn’t read quietly.
Meet Mr. Sticker Stick. Mr. Sticker Stick kept an eye on the students on campus, and I monitored the students learning from home (we allowed both). Every teacher had both types of students in each class. I projected a story from Epic! on the whiteboard in the classroom and Google Meets. Using digital books is one change forced by the pandemic that I appreciate. Every student can see the pictures and track the words as I speak.
Mr. Sticker Stick and the 2020-2021 School Term
Back to Mr. Sticker Stick. I had to maintain a distance of 3 feet from the students and could not walk around the room. A few weeks in, I could feel my classroom management slipping and the student’s motivation waning. I honestly had the most boring class on campus. The students were troopers! I had to think of a way to reward them without breaking any of the CDC/county rules in place. One day it occurred to me that I could put a sticker at the end of an old pointer stick and hand out them out from a distance of 3 feet.
Participated in Story Time? Sticker. Answered a question related to the story? Sticker. Sat quietly? Sticker. Said something funny? Sticker. Took an AR quiz? Sticker. By the end of the year, even the middle school students got stickers. All it took was one brave 7th grade boy to say, “Yeah, I would like a sticker actually.”
That was my 2020-2021 school term–boring but safe. Next year will bring more changes. For two years the library had a flexible schedule. Students came to me to check out books or take a quiz at their leisure. Some students I saw all the time, others never darkened my doorstep. As lovely as it was to see only the students who wanted to visit me, I felt out of contact with the rest of the student body, and it made my job boring. You don’t have to sell a book to a student who already loves reading, and book people love to sell books! Next year I will have a fixed schedule. I’ve heard rumors that I am seeing TK and Kinder once per week, 1st-5th twice per week, and middle school once per week. Bring on the students who hate reading; I’m ready for them.
Here’s to next year and new challenges–just no more marathons, please.