Walking down the hall in any busy school today brings us shoulder to shoulder with busy children laughing, crying, some barely dragging themselves to class, others running to get there first–all the energy and passion that is youth is right there in front of you.
Each of those students has a history that comes with them and we all know students who, unbeknownst to them, have a talent or strength that is just waiting to find its expression; it may be that they doodle in their notebook, or they write little poems, or they run very fast, read voraciously, or love to dance. While you can see that underneath those passions lie the many possibilities: art school, university, athletic scholarships or the theater, you know that unless someone opens that door for them enough so that they can take a peek inside, that they may never know what is possible.
Sometimes when I meet a student whose family life is particularly difficult, I am reminded of a quote by author Ann Patchett in her book “Bel Canto” when a young terrorist, during a long and boring siege is taught how to sing by one of his hostages. He discovers a talent for it – something he never had the opportunity to know about. Observing him singing, another hostage observes: “It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”
This is the best part of being a Teacher Librarian. Kids who need to know that there is a world awaiting them and their passion can find some of those connections in the library. We buy books and magazines, and put them in front of the kids. We chat with them at lunch and listen to their hopes and dreams…make a few phone calls where possible. We can hand them a flyer for that nearby comic convention or invite them to the library presentation of the spoken word poet who is coming to speak to classes.
We know that not every student has a family life where parents go to museums, read with them at night or talk with them about their future. We all have students who have never been to the other side of town much less to the beach or other attraction that is close by. We all know students whose world is limited to what they can find within a short distance of their home. Many of these students don’t know that they have any kind of passion at all, until someone enters their lives and opens the door that invites them to new adventures.
In the library, kids can find an advocate for their lives, if in no other way than that this is a space that gives them space. In classrooms they are given tasks. In libraries they are given resources and choices. Students need tasks and they need resources…but mostly they need that door opened so that they can go on through. When we offer events like improv at lunch, video production facilities, poetry slams, scavenger hunts, guest speakers, and author visits, we are bringing the larger world in for students to investigate. We strive to make that “ah ha!” moment available where a student can connect to someone, something larger than themselves.
By offering events that invite creativity, passion and investigation, we help them find a place to alight as they take classroom knowledge forward into their lives. We invite them to come in anytime so that they can expand their world beyond the classroom, beyond their home, beyond their neighborhood, and even beyond the seemingly boundless world on their computers.
We librarians show our students how to travel the world with books; but we can also show them how to travel the world for real, by opening doors that help them connect with the people, events, ideas, and opportunities that await them: if only they knew they existed.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!