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Friday, December 08, 2017

My Career In A School Library: Some Thoughts

I'm about to say goodbye to my days as a teacher-librarian. A student actually asked me, "But WHY?" 

Why indeed? Sooner or later you have to be firm with yourself and go. I love our students, both those I teach and those I only know through their visits to the library, and will miss them. I've taught many siblings and welcomed others to my lunchtime book club. One of my Year 7 students this year was the niece of a girl I taught in Year 8 only a few years ago(a very young auntie, she has just finished Year 12). 

It has been sad to tell them that next year, at their new campus, there will be a library, but probably not a book club, unless a lovely teacher who helped me with the Premier's Reading Challenge this year can get yard duty in the library. It may happen - with extra teachers, as well as students, surely they can manipulate yard duty to make sure someone can open the library at lunchtime? But no certainty. All I can assure them is that Miss will be running the Reading Challenge. The library tech knows her rights: she is not being paid to supervise students(heck, she's not being paid as a technician, even!) and could be in big trouble if anything happens in the library while she is there without a teacher. So no lunchtime opening unless a teacher gets a library yard duty. 

But this is no longer my problem. I have done it for many years and now it's my time. I have plans. Writing during the day, for a start, with a chance to submit to a lot of those markets I have posted to me once a fortnight with the Buzzwords newsletter. I've sold a couple of articles this year and am working on a third, which I can't finish till early next year, now. I've written some stories for anthologies, but missed deadlines, because I had to prepare classes and mark work. Well, at least I now have something to submit somewhere. I will do some volunteer work. I can afford this, due to a lifetime pension in a very good, well-paid superannuation scheme. I may even go back to study, and the year after next I might be able to go to Dublin for the 2019 Worldcon! 

During the last couple of weeks I have seen my library dismantled, packed the last of the books for storage or the other campus, which will, in its own time, be likewise dismantled. There is going to be a library at the new school, though I have no idea who will run it! I've seen the architect pictures and it looks pretty. Good luck to the new librarian, whoever it is! 

I really do wish them the best. I'm kind of proud of how I've met my challenges. I've been sole TL at my school and had to teach as well. I've had kids come to me in the classroom because there was no one in the library and their teacher wanted a class set and the class set room was locked. I've sighed and handed the keys to a reliable kid in my own class. 

My budget has never been the best and a few years ago it was slashed. I set up this blog in the first place so I could get free books for my students because $3500 a year, for everything, was not going to be anywhere near enough. Don't worry, I'm not closing down this blog, though I might consider accepting some - just a few - ebooks now. Depends if I think my younger family members might enjoy them.  

But there were brand new books for the students of my disadvantaged school to read, and as I'd read them I could share information. When I did go book shopping I'd find books I knew individual kids would like, and my general response to a request for advice was, "Have I got a book for you!" 

With that tiny budget I certainly couldn't afford writer visits, but there were other options. There were not-too-expensive events in the city, such as the Melbourne Writers' Festival and the Reading Matters conference student days. This year we went to hear Morris Gleitzman, the author of a wonderful series of novels about a Jewish boy, Felix, and his adventures on the run from Nazis during the war, his life with the partisans and after the war, finally ending up in Australia. There was a novel about his delightful granddaughter, who adores him. One boy who came with us hadn't read his books, but afterwards threw himself into the series. 

Not all the kids could afford even the few dollars for the tickets or the train fares. I paid from my own pocket in advance, so I had the option of letting a few kids come for free, and supplying their travel cards. That wouldn't have been an option if it had cone from my budget. I was blowed if anyone was going to miss out for lack of money! 

And a couple of days ago, while throwing out stuff, I discovered a bag of permission slips and money from this year's festival! Oh, dear. I must be rich if I don't notice $120! 

During the National Year of Reading, I was able to take some kids to the local library for a free session with John Marsden, who gave away his older books and signed. Usually you have to pay
$$$ to hear him speak! 

It has helped, being a writer and known to other writers and big name librarians. One year we had a phone call from the State Library, offering to bring the Teen Booktalkers to us. They hadn't had enough bookings and didn't want to cancel. In the end, we got a free session from three fine  writers, one of them Vikki Wakefield, who had only done one book and has gone in to bigger things. The head honcho of the Centre for Youth Literature found someone else to pay, possibly the local council. We also got a box of leftover books. 

We've had a visit from Sheryl Clark, courtesy of YABBA and Alice Pung, courtesy of the Stella schools program. We've also had visits from authors who were friends, courtesy of themselves, while they were in Melbourne. Thanks, guys! I accepted because they offered, though, I never asked. I made sure that at least they got lunch and a thank you gift and, where possible, promotion in the local papers. 

Alison Goodman visited my school before any other; she'd sold one novel at the time and wanted to get a bit of experience in school visits; she spoke to my four Year 12 book clubbers and showed them her huge planning chart. 

I made Will Kostakis help me with my literacy class when he arrived an hour early. Bless him, he was wonderful! He even missed out on morning tea while his fans barged into the library at recess before we could go to the staffroom. One young man glared at him because he thought his girlfriend was flirting(she wasn't, she just loved the book!). That was before Will came out. 

We've had a couple of book launches. Both times I asked writer friends to come and launch. I have even managed to get my publishers in to give away bookmarks, posters and other such goodies. My book club members decorated the library and made speeches to our guests while presenting them with thank you gifts, and read the books ahead of time so they could ask questions and appreciate the visitors. 

I never had much time, on my own, to do anything big for Book Week, but hey, anyone can run a trivia quiz! 

One year I had a very successful Banned Books Week virtual readout by the kids - it only worked once, but it worked. It didn't cost money, just a bit of time. 

One thing I regret is not doing the Premier's Reading Challenge till this year. It was a lot easier than I'd expected. Still, I've appointed a successor and she will do a fine job. Hopefully more kids will complete it next year. 

So, readers, I think I've made the best of my time as a teacher-librarian with staffing and money challenges. I want to thank those who have helped me. Without them, about half of the abovementioned activities couldn't have happened. 

Now it's my time. Hopefully I will make the best of that too. 


Sue Purkiss said...

You’ve done marvellous job! Good luck with all you plan to do, and be sure to get in touch if you come over to the UK!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Sue! In fact, I'm hoping to get to the UK within the not couple of years, all going well.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - what a lovely post ... and I bet your students over the years really appreciate all your help and advice, let alone the books, treats and outings you've helped them with ... now enjoy your time writing for yourself for a while, until you will be called out to help others ... I'm sure that will come! Cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Hilary! Yes, I have been appreciated, though only a few times with a thank you, a card or a gift. When it happens, it goes into the treasure chest of my heart. One of our younger students, the younger sibling of a student who was a major library user told me of her sister: "She loved you, you know." Aw!

And not only with the library. One of my more difficult students asked me, "Couldn't you stay for one more year?" Another took me aside and said, "You know how I was mean to you earlier this year? Well, I'm really sorry!"

In the end, doing the job is what counts most.