The #METOO Movement was just named Times Person of Year and I am very happy that all of a sudden people are starting to take sexual harassment seriously. For far too long women have been experienced sexual harassment and no one including other women took their experiences seriously. Women are often told that it is part of being a woman and the more successful you become at a given career the more it just becomes "part of the job." Finally, women are saying they have had enough and are no longer afraid to share their experiences. Yet it seems like women in the education field are still scared. When I did a google search for information about the #metoo movement in education I found some great articles on how to teach our students about sexual harassment, but almost no testimonials from educators who have been harassed. Why is that?
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2011-2012, 76% of public school teachers were female, but only 52% of Principals are women and only 14.4% Superintendents are female. Those statistics sadly prove that most of the time the positions of power in public education are held by men. That makes it scary to a lot of educators to stand up and say #METOO and tell their stories. Female educators are getting sexually harassed in the workplace by fellow colleagues, supervisors, principals and in some cases superintendents. Women, we must stand up and fight this. I know its scary but it is time. Here is my story and I am sharing it in hope that it will help others find their voice.
Throughout my over 17 year career as High School teacher, and then Middle and High School Librarian I have been harassed by both coworkers and men who were in positions of power. I even went so far as to work up the courage to tell not only the co-workers Supervisor but also the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources about one how one co-worker who made unwanted advances to me, texted me some inappropriate sexual things about how I was dressed, called me the C word and threatened to spread rumors about me. The problem I ran into is that I cursed the person out via text message when he said that to me and because of that my administration felt like it was going to be a he said she said thing and that if I pursued it further I did not have much of a chance at winning. I also did not want the alleged rumor to get out and because of that I did not pursue charges against the person and went back to avoiding him.
The second incident of sexual harassment came at the hands of my supervisor. Off and on during the first few years that he was my boss, he would send me weird and not very professional text messages. During meetings, he would sit next to me and at times place his hand on top of mine. To this day I can still remember the creeped out feeling I felt when he would place his hand on mine, but I was too afraid to say anything or move my hand. He would also make remarks to me that led me to believe he wanted more out of our relationship. It all seemed to come to head when he asked to friend me on Facebook. I did not feel comfortable having my boss as my friend and I nicely told him so. From that moment on our relationship changed. My rebuff of him, lead to him looking for ways to get back at me.
It started out with just little comments to other coworkers about how he could not understand how I would friend them on Facebook and not him, but quickly it became worse. Soon he found a way to move me to the Middle School and to bad mouth me to Middle School administration and others saying how uncooperative I was and how I could not get along with others. It got a little better when I left the building, but it never got much better.
When I won a state award for having the School Library Program of the Year he did not even congratulate me or do anything to recognize the award. He also found petty ways to remind me that he was in charge, be it trying to write me up for going and teaching the 5th grade at one of the elementary schools without getting his permission, or telling me in a meeting that I had to get permission from him before I could speak at a Boar of Education meeting, even though I was a resident of the town. There were many other subtle and nonsubtle things that he did that made it very clear to me and others who I told, including my husband, that I was being retaliated against. But I never said a word to any administrator about it because it was clear from my experience with the co-worker that administration did not seem to take these complaints very seriously. It was also a time when there was a pervasive culture of retaliation in the district, which went all the way up the Superintendent so I did not feel comfortable speaking out and because of that all of those factors I choose to remain silent. I have since left the district but I still worry some about what will happen since this man was given a position of power in my son's school, but I feel that I can no longer remain quiet.
My story is really no different than many other female educators out there. I know that from talking with other women in our profession. If you are too afraid to put your name to your story contact me and I will publish it anonymously, but I beg you to please tell your story so that hopefully this culture will change.
As I am about to embark on yet another book fair I am left to wonder why do I REALLY have one every year?
Is it because of the fact that we want to promote reading to our students? I love the idea of promoting independent reading to students but not all students and parents can afford the books and material at the fair. We are a Title I School and I have a lot of students who can not afford the materials at the fair. It always makes me sad to see these students want all these books but know they can’t get them cause they don’t have the money. The irony is also not lost on me that I am having the fair in my library and asking kids to pay for books when they could just check out books for free from the library. And let’s be honest, how many kids are buying books and how many use their money on the pens, pencils, erasers etc? I know at my school way more is spent on “junk” than books.
Do we have book fairs because it is one of the only ways we can get money and material for our school libraries? I know that is the case for me. My budget is small and seems to get smaller each year. I am left looking for ways to supplement it and the book fair, even though I don’t earn very much from it. It is though a sad commentary on public education today that we are not giving enough money to our libraries and we need to rely on book fairs.
Or is it because it is tradition and something we as School librarians must do? When I came into my new job I was told we always do the book fair during parent teacher conferences, so I am continuing that tradition. It does make me wonder, just because it has always been done does that mean that I must continue doing it. I am reminded of a quote from Grace Hooper that states, “the most dangerous phrase in the language is we have always done it.”
I really would love to honestly know why you have a book fair. Please let me know in the comments below.
Recently, I was touched and honored when a student of mine told me that they were transgender. I wanted to look for ways to support this students during the transition process and went to my amazing Personal Learning Network for help and resources. I have complied these resources into this Padlet padlet.com/emalespina/transresources to help other educators. I would also love it if you add other resources to this Padlet. My goal is for this to be a crowdsourced resource that can benefit many educators and Transgender Youth.
Let me start off by saying that what I am going to talk about today may be controversial to some people, but it is my belief that we need to start thinking about why these policies are in place and how are they benefiting students. My hope is that this blog post will start to really spur a conversation within the librarian community and hopefully change some people's minds on some of these policies.
The new school year is about to begin and with that comes the opportunity for each librarian to ask, are the rules and policies currently in my library breaking down barriers and making it easier for my students to access information and materials?
If you have any of the following three policies in place it is time to rethink them:
1. Students can not check out a book without an ID card - If students are required to wear ID cards at all times or if the ID card is used for multiple purposes in the school like for your lunch account etc than I have no problem with an ID Card being used for book checkout. If the ID card is only really only used for book checkout than I believe it is time to rethink this policy. Yes, I know the policy in most schools, especially High Schools is that students are supposed to have IDs on them at all times, but when the policy is not enforced and the ID card's only real purpose is for book check out, how can we really expect our students to have their IDs on them? In circumstances like this making students need an ID card to check out books is impractical and puts up unnecessary barriers for allowing students access to much needed books and materials.
2. Students can not check out books if they have a fine - Why are we denying students a chance to read due to the fact that they have not paid a fine for an overdue book? By enforcing a rule like this you are unintentionally making it so that students who might be economically disadvantaged are the ones who suffer the most. Lack of money and resources should never be a factor in access to information and no child should be turned away for checking out a book because his or her family can not pay a fine! In my over 15 years as a librarian, I have seen way too many students be afraid to take out a book because they did not want to lose it or pay a fine. Things have gotten so much easier for me once I moved to a district where there are no fines. I highly recommend looking into the idea of eliminating overdue fines for your library. Here is a great article in Slate about how some public libraries are eliminating fines. If public libraries can do it surely school libraries can also do so.
3. Students can only read certain level books or "just right books" / labeling books with level stickers - Library books should never be shelved by reading or grade level, by doing this you are unintentionally singling out students and potentially embarrassing them. I also believe that we should never make kids take out books within their "levels". Let students read what they want! When students are forced to read within levels or limit what they can read, the joy of reading soon begins to disappear. I completely agree with AASL's position statement on labeling books especially where it states "Student browsing behaviors can be profoundly altered with the addition of external reading level labels. With reading level labels often closely tied to reward points, student browsing becomes mainly a search for books that must be read and tests completed for individual or classroom point goals and/or grades. School library collections are not merely extensions of classroom book collections or classroom teaching methods, but rather places where children can explore interests safely and without restrictions. A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians. Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels. Only a student, the child’s parents or guardian, the teacher, and the school librarian as appropriate should have knowledge of a student’s reading capability."
This is by no means a complete list of all the ways that libraries policies can have unintentional consequences. Please feel free to add to the list and I would love to know your comments.
Just the other day I was at a local High School Library and I counted 23 signs like the ones pictured above in the space. Yes, you heard me right -- 23 (and I may have missed a few)! Almost every row of books had a No Eating Sign on it and all the computer carols had multiple signs on it.
Is this the correct message to send our students when they walk into the library? I say no! We want our students and staff to feel welcome & feel like they want to come into our libraries. When you have negative signs up, you are doing the exact opposite. You are also challenging kids to do the exact behavior that you are fighting so hard against. I know that when I was a high school student I would take these signs as a challenge to see if I could break the rules.
How does it make the public feel when they walk into this space? Libraries are very often the space used for community events, like the one I was attending. Events filled with Board of Education members, community leaders, etc. are in attendence. The impression that these and other signs leave is that there are serious problems going on in this space. That is not the impression you want to leave especially when library positions and libraries are constantly being cut. My recent School Library Journal Article does a good job explaining the fight we as librarians face. These signs do not help make the correct impression to those exact BOE members & community members, who we so desperately need on our side.
Librarians, it is time to break up with these and many other signs and move to a much more positive way of getting your point across!
Do not want eating in your library (I am willing to have a debate with anyone as to why they should rethink this policy.. especially in a HS setting where students often have to choose between lunch or a elective they want... but that is a blog post for another day) make your signs creative and funny like these from the Georgia State University Library.
Want students to clean up after themselves! I love this idea from the Pompton Lakes High School Library.
Want students to be respectful of the space try one of these from Trent University Library:
Want to list rules for the library try something like this:
Librarians, its time to let go of the negative and embrace the positive. I promise you will not regret it!
There is an article that has been floating around the internet for awhile now called How a School Library Increased Student Use by 1000% . At first glance the article looks really incredible, and helpful for all the librarians out there that are looking to change up their "traditional library" and include a makerspace. The school did a total redesign of the space and added technology, new furniture, a green screen and more. Students and teachers started to utilize the space much more because it allowed for more collaboration, creativity and the ability for people to connect and grow. All great things!
The problem is this "library" does not have a full time certified librarian in it. This district and many many others (including the South Orange/Maplewood School District, where I use to work and where my child goes to school) made the decision to eliminate certified librarians. One of the many arguments I hear is that with the Internet and technology there is not as much of a need for a librarian... and who needs a librarian in a makerspace. These argument is so misguided and wrong for some many reasons but I do think this letter by the American Library Association, American Association of School Librarian, New Jersey Association of School Librarians, Dr. Joyce Valenza, myself and many more experts in the field does a good job explaining why we must have certified school librarians in every school.
This leads me to the point of this post, should we continue to call the the space a library if there is no certified librarian in it? I am starting to think we should not. What do you think? What would you call it instead?
I am so excited to share that my book is now available from pre-order from ABC-CLIO. It is coming out in August! To pre-order a copy click here!
I was talking with my dear friend Samantha Morra @sammorra about the 3D printer we have at school and expressed to her that I would love to have more students be able to use it. She mentioned to me a project that she does with her students where they take drawings they made and are able to see them come to life as 3D prints! Well I just had to try this! Is is amazing & easy to do. Here is the direction sheet that Samantha give her students.
It really is that simple!! I am working with an art class now and we are trying it out!
Elissa Malespina is the High School Librarian at Verona High School and a Presenter, Author and much more. The views are my own. Find my full resume above.