I spent three days in Orlando last week at the Florida media specialist professional conference, Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME). Being the only person in my position at my school, and having limited access to other media specialists in my district throughout the year, the collegiality and collaboration time I get at this event every year is immeasurable.
I realize many parents and others outside of teaching devalue time that’s “on the clock” but not being spent actively teaching students. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of how we spend our time away from our kids and the future impact that has on them. I realize now I have compounded that problem.
I used to be self-conscious about my time at conference. I didn’t draw a lot of attention to where I went or what I was doing. When it came up in conversation, the conspiratorial winks and sarcastic “Sounds like hard work” comments made me defensive. And with most things, the more I tried to defend what I was doing the more I sounded guilty of doing something wrong.
I was wrong to keep that information to myself. I have been doing a disservice to my profession, my colleagues, and myself. So here’s what I learned last week.
- I’m alone, but not alone. There are many media specialists in my district and across my state that are facing the same challenges. They work in isolation in their school. They are facing pressures to balance their time between book checkouts, teaching, and technology maintenance. They fear the outcomes of district budget conversations that look to save money through re-evaluating non-classroom jobs. They wish they could do more for their kids in the limited time they have access to them. And, that it’s OK that I don’t always do everything I want to do as long as I don’t stop trying.
- Books can heal. I listened to authors Kwame Alexander and Jay Asher talk about their work. Alexander encouraged us to help students find the power of their words, to encourage them to create and share. Asher reminded us when students can find those words, books can build empathy and communities. I learned about new books that can be used to teach about diversity, love of reading, humor, social issues, and death of loved ones. It is a good reminder that the time I invest in helping my students find the right book is more than just a reading level or comprehension issue.
- We all have doubts. Teaching is hard. Being in charge of books and technology for an entire school site is hard. Some days we all question our choice of careers, our choice of schools, ability to do our job effectively. But the good days far outweigh the bad and we keep going back for the kids and our colleagues.
- We may be at a new beginning for libraries and school librarians. The adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides highlights the importance of school libraries and identifies media specialists as teaching personnel. Who better to be a steward for public money than a media specialist? Our job is to share resources! I have work to do, advocating at my local and state level to include school libraries in their plans.
- I have impact on student achievement outside of my classroom, school, and district. I met people that I “knew” through Twitter and we shared our best practices. I taught two sessions on design thinking, helping media specialists work together to find new solutions to problems and stealing good ideas for myself as well. I taught a session on blogging and hope to see many new writers online sharing their strategies and resources very soon. Especially on those days when nothing goes the way I think it should I can know that what I’m doing has value.
- I have the best job in the school. Ok, maybe I didn’t just learn that last week but it’s good to be reminded of it, especially when the work gets tough.
I paid for my conference registration, lodging, meals, and drove myself. It’s not something every teacher can afford to do. But for me it’s an important investment in my work life. I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and I am so looking forward to going back to my classroom tomorrow. I’m refreshed and reinvigorated, with new friends in my personal learning network and new ideas in my head. Wish you were there!