Hold Fast

On Friday, I closed the doors to my middle school library at 3:15. When I did so it was with great pause, as it was the last time I would be leaving the room as a full-time school librarian. When I open the doors Monday morning, I will still wear the title of IMC Specialist but its meaning will have changed. I have been assigned to teach four periods of small-group reading intervention classes. I have been assigned to the library for two periods. I have been assigned to two planning periods. Because the IMC paraprofessional position was eliminated starting the 2010-2011 school year and no one else is assigned to the library, it will be closed to the student body as a whole for 75% of the school day. This same scenario has been happening all over the country, but I never thought it would happen to me. (does anyone ever?)

I ran into an acquaintance not too long ago who had just learned of the changes to my job.
“How long have you known about this?” she asked. “Did they just tell you?”
“Since March 20th last school year,” was my reply.
“You remember the exact date?” she asked.
“Yes, how could I not remember?” I replied IN MY HEAD “It’s the day I learned that the program I had built over the last 17 years of my life was being slashed and torn. It’s the day I was told that everyone in the district administration respects me, thinks I have made a tremendous impact on students, and knows I have been a key person in collaborating with and providing professional development to many other teachers BUT…”
“Yes, it was right before Spring Break,” was my ACTUAL reply.

I spent the rest of that school year and the summer grieving. I say grieving because that is the correct word. If Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had been there she would have called it that.

Lots of denial: My husband and children had to drag me around during spring break because I couldn’t give my mind a break from this shocking news. And all spring as I went about my work I thought, “This can’t be the last time I can run my all-school spring reading incentive program or invite the public library teen librarians in for our lunchtime booktalk program or facilitate an 8th grade team’s literature circle groups for The Book Thief or co-teach a 7th grade unit on how to conduct effective online research….”

Lots of anger: I have worked almost all of my adult life to make my library program the best it can be! I put my heart and soul into my work! I go above and beyond by joining nearly every committee at my school to see how I can impact our students and how I can involve not only myself but also technology, literature, and life-long learning! The decision makers have no idea just how much this decision will affect the entire school! How can they not see it?! Most of the time this anger manifested itself when speaking to my husband (poor guy–his ears are probably still bleeding) and other members of my family, the three other middle school IMC Specialists affected by this change, and teachers I have taught with for years and years.

Lots of bargaining: If I go see the superintendent with the right amount of personal examples and national statistics on the link between strong school library programs and student achievement, the decision will surely be changed. It wasn’t. Since the teachers at my school and the other middle schools are writing letters to the school board and attending meetings to speak on our behalf, the decision will be changed. It wasn’t. If I keep asking questions about how everything I do for students and teachers can be done with just two hours of my time per day, someone will see that it can’t be, and that it should all still be done, and my position will be restored to its former glory. It hasn’t been.

That leaves depression and acceptance: I am not too proud to admit that I think I have cried more in the last six months than I have in the past two years. I have cried sad tears because my program cannot possibly thrive as it once did given the time I am allowed to put into it. I have cried frustrated tears because I know that there are some things I have to let go and just not do even though I know they make a difference in students’ lives and learning. I have cried honest tears as I promised my husband, myself, and my colleagues that I will not just open the library  doors and skip my planning periods because I will need every single minute of them. Just the other day, though, I cried happy tears as I figured out that in our new 1:1 laptop environment, I can send all-school emails to keep connected to students by sharing book news and reviews, by sharing websites and tech skills, and, most importantly, by sharing myself. I shared this idea with the three other IMC Specialists, and they are doing it too. And so I think I may be turning a corner….

Which leads me to think about my new responsibilities. Will I put my heart and soul into making my small-group reading interventions the best they can be? Hell, yes! I have been given lesson plans to follow religiously if needed because I have only received two and a half days of training and the last time I taught the same students for more than a week or two at a time (and not in a co-taught situation) was my student teaching in 1992. I have already made many adaptations to include a higher degree of multimedia experiences and to teach to multiple intelligences. I have already found ways to use some of our time together to make good use of my library collection. The 16 students I am teaching this intervention cycle deserve my best, and, they better watch out because, boy, are they gonna get it!

I just finished reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliett. It is the powerful story of the Pearl family, who begin the book living in a small Chicago apartment. They don’t have much in the way of material things, as the father, Dash, works as a library page at the George Washington Library and the mom, Sum, stays home with four-year-old Jubie. They are a family who loves books and words–a family who has hopes and dreams of owning their own home one day. Eleven-year-old Early tells of the rest of the family’s experience after Dash’s mysterious disappearance while riding his bike home from work one icy evening. Langston Hughes is the family’s favorite poet, and Early and her mother and brother are thrilled that his work The First Book of Rhythms survived the ransacking of their home that led to their homelessness. They have hope that Dash will be found or find his way back to them.

The poem “Dreams” gives the Pearl family tremendous strength in the face of adversity:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

I believe that somehow I found the book Hold Fast at exactly the right time.
I believe in the power of literature.
I believe in the profession of school librarianship.
I believe in hope.
I believe in dreams.

At 7:15 Monday morning I will open the doors to my middle school library.
I will hold my head up high.
And I will Hold Fast.

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3 thoughts on “Hold Fast

  1. I am so sad for you, but happy that you still have a job. My district almost cut my position, but didn’t. It was a huge relief, since I no longerhave my Latin certification to fall back on. (As if theree were any Latin positions.) It will be hard to be in the library but not BE a librarian all the time, but hopefully your family life is not the wreck it would be if you didn’t have a job. So few bright sides. Hold Fast, indeed.

    1. I hear ya 🙂 I am fortunate to have a job and be a librarian some of the time, and I have tenure and seniority so if my position were cut I could teach literature, social studies and more. That’s part of the reason Hold Fast really helped me. Here were homeless families with nearly nothing that were full of hope and joy and love. My family and friends have supported and will support me. I get to work with kids. I will be ok.

      Still, it is unfortunate that our junior high students are losing something important. Limited student access to libraries and their teachers’ limited ability to collaborate with and seek guidance and support from librarians can only be a detriment. And it’s definitely possible and probably likely that such an environment may create MORE students in need of intervention….

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