Thoughts From Teachers Turned Librarians

Notes From the Member Meetup

by Kelly Allan, CLEL Steering Subcommittee Chair

Every other month, CLEL members are invited to come together for Member Meetups. Held virtually, these hour-long sessions are a way for members to connect with colleagues across the state in a casual, conversational atmosphere with topics driven by member survey results. So far in 2022, we’ve talked about getting back to indoor storytime, challenges and censorship, and summer programming.

For our latest Meetup we invited librarians who used to be classroom teachers to share their perspective on how they’ve transferred teaching skills into librarianship. Sure enough, they were a wealth of knowledge!

Everyone had classroom management strategies that they drew upon for gaining cooperation during storytime. These included:

  • Modeling: Good teachers know that modeling the outcomes they want and that explaining directions clearly go a long way in helping kids succeed. Don’t be afraid to show kids and their caregivers how you’re going to put your felt teddy bear on your elbows, tummies, and feet before you play Teddy Bear Playhouse. They’ll be much more comfortable, willing, and able to participate.
  • Overplanning: Just as teachers usually have more ideas for their lessons than they know they’ll have time for, many of our storytellers bring more books, flannels, and song ideas than they know they’ll get through, but it allows them to tailor the material on the fly to the group’s needs and interests. It also means you’ll never find yourself with an unexpected seven minutes you’re scrambling to fill when all you can think of is Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes over and over!
  • Using Common Cues: Lots of kids (and grownups!) know that when an adult calls, “One, two, three, eyes on me!” the response is, “One, two, eyes on you!” followed by listening. Many teachers use “catch a bubble” or “if you can hear me touch your nose…” in their classrooms and storytime kids will recognize them. Using other regular phrases in your like, “I’m going to wait until we all have our listening ears ready” or simply speaking in a softer voice also helps quiet a crowded, humming room.
  • Slowing Down: Teachers reminded us that young children who are learning language need time to digest and think about what they hear. Slowing down instructions and allowing for a few “awkward” beats of silence after asking a question gives children the opportunity to follow and respond successfully.
  • Getting Down: Librarians are used to “getting down” to a Laurie Berkner or Jim Gill banger, but “getting down” here refers to acknowledging where your little ones are by lowering yourself to kid-size on the rug and engaging them with eye contact. 
  • Trying Again: Every teacher has tried something that has failed but that doesn’t deter them and it shouldn’t deter librarians. Acknowledge and celebrate not just the successes but also your and the children’s attempts at simply trying something new!

Teachers also shared what they’ve learned about communicating well with parents and the common theme was approaching caregivers from a place of positivity and respect.

  • One former teacher used the librarian-recognized phrases, “you are your child’s first teacher” and “you know your child best” in the classroom every time she met with parents.
  • The power of complimenting parents on their hard work should never be underestimated.
  • Needing to talk to a parent about their child’s behavior? Always start with something positive before you address what you need help with, and definitely save it for a private moment, away from other caregivers and children.
  • When providing readers’ advisory, remember that teachers might be tied to a leveling system but that they also want kids to choose books they are excited about. Encouraging parents to check out the books their kids are drawn to in addition to those that are “on level” is helpful.
  • Remind caregivers at storytime that the time you’re spending together is for them as much as for the child. Give them permission and encouragement to participate, learn, and bond. 

When teachers were asked about how libraries helped them most effectively during their time in the classroom, responses varied. Some didn’t feel their public library connected with them or they were too busy to take advantage of opportunities, but they nevertheless encouraged libraries to continue to reach out. One librarian told us her district offered a “Back to the Library” night for teachers, akin to a school’s “Back to School Night” to acquaint teachers with how their public library could help. Denver Public Library offers educator chats, giving teachers the chance to ask librarians for specific support. Another former teacher appreciated having librarians share online resources such as databases for students or lesson plans for themselves. Finally, it was recommended that libraries take advantage of Colorado’s Growing Readers Together program which helps support preschoolers and their caregivers.

Ultimately, many former teachers shared that while they sometimes miss being able to form longer bonds with children, their transition to librarianship has been a positive one, as many are now experiencing a healthier work/life balance. 

Are you interested in joining us for our next Member Meetup? If so, join us on November 17 at 1 pm. We’ll be talking about our favorite picture books of 2022!