Thursday, December 7, 2017

School Librarians-Teachers First and Always. A guest post by Cherity Pennington

I will be devoting my blog to Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of Oklahoma Library Association, and especially friends, Cherity Pennington and Amanda Kordeliski, school librarians extraordinaire. You'll learn about what school librarians know and do. You'll learn about the deep neglect (MY word) our policy makers have showered on our school libraries and librarians. 

I've been a school librarian and know my training helped inform my work in the classroom.

So, let me introduce my friend, Cherity. She has an assignment at the end. Please do your homework.

Anyone who has been in education for even a short amount of time knows that teachers often teach a new concept more than once before their students completely learn it. Reteaching is not a sign of failure; true learning usually takes some repetition.

I had to remind myself today that I am not a failure, but I do have to do some reteaching.

You see, one of my goals when I became the chair of Oklahoma School Librarians this year was to make sure the stakeholders in Oklahoma education understood the role, the purpose, and the necessity of school librarians in every school. Because if our stakeholders - the administrators, teachers, students, parents, legislators, community members, etc. - completely understand what school librarians do, then these same stakeholders will become just as concerned as I am about what is happening to school librarians in our state.

Bear with me, then, as I do some reteaching.

First, school librarians are teachers.

Yes, school librarians are certified teachers. In fact, if I may be so bold, school librarians could be viewed as super teachers. In Oklahoma, school librarians must possess a master’s degree before they can become a school librarian. Most other teachers may be certified with a bachelor’s degree.

What causes many people pause when I declare that school librarians are teachers, though, is that many people are blinded by the stereotype of the school librarian. The stereotype is that school librarians sit behind a desk, check books out to students, and shush students who are too loud in the library. Occasionally, the stereotype might emerge from the circulation desk to put some returned books back on a shelf. The stereotype, though, is nothing like the truth.

The truth is that school librarians are teaching vital skills to the students in their schools. School librarians are teaching students how to find information from a variety of information sources, how to evaluate that information for trustworthiness, how to be safe online, how to use advanced technology tools, how to adapt to changing technology, how to read information sources critically, how to read and evaluate fiction books, and how to collaborate with others. School librarians also work collaboratively with the rest of the teaching staff in a school, so, in reality, school librarians support and teach all academic standards in all core subjects.

In the next few days in my school library, I have plans to help eighth grade students create a commercial with an iPad and a green screen so they can practice their persuasive writing skills along with their speaking skills. I am helping a drama class complete a research project and teaching students how to cite information sources. I am working on lesson plans with a fellow teacher for another research project for a group of sixth graders who are learning to summarize and evaluate editorials with opposing views. I will continue teaching more than 20 students who are choosing to create a project for National History Day and are in the midst of intense historical research. Along with these teaching opportunities, I will also find time to help install a classroom projector, work on three grant proposals for my school, and, yes, check out books to students.

Second, students and teacher succeed with a certified school librarian

Multiple research studies show that students who have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian have higher test scores and have a better chance of being college and career ready upon graduation.

Other teachers benefit from having a certified school librarian on staff. Certified school librarians are usually professional development leaders in their schools. Fellow teachers may benefit from the technology and information expertise of the school librarian who leads school wide professional development training. Research also indicates that students succeed more when classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate and teach together.

Third, school librarians are not administrators nor support staff.

Yes, I have already established (I hope) that school librarians are teachers. Why, then, does the distinction among these three titles matter? First, allow me to point out the difference among the three titles, and then, I will explain why the distinction matters.

Because school librarians are certified teachers, they are paid on the same scale as other certified teachers who possess master’s degrees. The only exception to this pay scale is for those school librarians who work additional hours or days in their contract due to the high demands of the school library. School administrators are typically paid much more and have supervisory status over multiple employees or programs within a school or school district.

In the world of education, the support staff title is associated with the personnel in a school who are essential but who are not required to possess a college degree, such as a paraprofessional, school secretary, custodian, nutrition services worker, etc.

Now, this is why the distinction among the three titles matters. Recently, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order that calls for consolidation of administrative services of public school districts that spend less than 60% of their budget on instruction. However, as Sen. Ron Sharp explains in this blog post, some specialized education positions, such as school librarians, are classified as non-instructional or administrative despite the instructional impact they have. Therefore, if we do not make the distinction between school librarians as teachers and not as administrators, then school librarians could lose their jobs.

Also, because school librarians are certified teachers, their positions should not be filled by a person qualified for a support staff position. Again, support staff positions are vital in our schools, but these positions typically do not require certification or advanced degrees. Unfortunately, many school districts are replacing certified teacher librarians with support staff members who are not qualified to be teachers. Examine the agendas and handouts of recent Oklahoma State School Board meetings, and you will find numerous instances of school districts asking permission to do just this. For example, the Nov. 16, 2017, board meeting handout shows multiple districts requesting to replace their certified library media specialist positions with full-time paraprofessionals.

I originally began this writing by stating that I had to remind myself that reteaching does not mean I am a failure. I, and many other Oklahoma school librarians, have been working hard to get the word out about what it is that school librarians do and why these teaching positions are important for our students’ success. Today, I read a school district’s Tweet about its teacher of the year who happened to be a school librarian. Congratulations to that school librarian and to her school because that school understands the amazing teaching that school librarians do every day. Unfortunately, that announcement was almost immediately followed by someone else complaining that school librarians are not real teachers. We obviously have more work to do. We must reteach.

So, here is your assignment.

If you are a teacher or administrator, get to know your school librarians. Work with them and reap the benefits. If you work at a school without a school librarian, tell your decision makers why it is so important to have one. If you are a legislator, spend some time with a school librarian so you can witness what these teachers do each day. Prepare to be impressed. If you are a school librarian yourself, keep being your awesome self and keep teaching your school community why your students and fellow educators need you.

Cherity Pennington is the current chair of Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of the Oklahoma Library Association. She is halfway through her 19th year of teaching in Oklahoma public schools and her 7th year as a school librarian. She was the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year for her school district. Contact her at or on Twitter @cherity7 and @OKSLlife.

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