Last August, as I started in my new role of instructional coach for my district, people often said that I would go through a grieving process as I left behind what I once knew to embrace the unknown. Throughout the year, many have asked if I have missed the classroom, and of course, to some degree the answer is always yes, but there is one specific thing that I miss the most… MY BOOKS!
Walk into my room and more likely you would have asked me, “Jeez, Heather, do you think you have enough books?” Of course, my answer was always, “Uh, NO! How would that ever be possible?” No doubt, the best part about my classroom was my extensive library. If I spent a day and counted, I’d probably total close to 1,500 or more books, all cramped on shelves, waiting to spring into the hands of an unsuspecting reader.
Kids need easy access to books, just like they need easy access to their cell phones. The library can be too intimidating; the book stores are too far away, and often the shelves in their homes are void of books. As the teacher, if I wanted to send the message that books are important, there is no better way than to fill my room with books – good books, colorful books, books that students want to read.
Where I Find Books
* scooped up from a retiring teacher (Why won’t more teachers take early retirement?)
* freebies at conferences (Yes, I lurk in the corners of exhibit halls, executing a flawless freeloader innocence. Note to self: ask Amy to write about her stealing from a vendor experience.)
* purchased at the Scholastic Book Warehouse clearance event (Watch the calendar and pay attention to the Scholastic website)
* given to me by a students – (Please, no more Starbuck’s giftcards and scented candles… I NEED BOOKS!)
* Half Price Books (If near a warehouse, the free give-a-way for teachers is worth it. Otherwise watch for coupons. I just used a $15 off of $50 purchase that meant 21 new books.)
Why I’ll Never Have Enough Books
It’s more effective to walk over to the shelf and hand a student a book than it is to tell her to go to the library or to the bookstore and get it herself. Ever had this happen: a friend tells you about a book, and you think “Oh, I want to read that.” Unless you write it down or make a stop at the bookstore on the way home, you’re not likely to get that title any time soon. Magnify that by 20, and you’ve got what happens with a student. Most often you have to put the book in the child’s hand. Is she guaranteed to read it? No, but I increase the chances exponentially when I grab a book, chat about it, and hand it to a student. And with some students I place one book and another and another, until the student finds the one she wants to read. That’s why my shelves scream with diversity.
In my classroom, I arranged my bookshelves by genre because students may not know what they like to read, but they know what they like. A girl may not know she likes Sarah Dessen novels, but she knows she likes romance. A boy fascinated by the Civil War may search my shelf of war-themed books and discover the writing of James L. Swanson. By placing the books by genre I am able to create a type of comfort zone where my students feel free to explore. Just like no two students are alike, no two readers are alike. The more books on my shelves, the more opportunities I have to get students to read.
How I Kept Track of My Books
I didn’t. I literally have a love relationship with my books. My students know of my affinity, and they quickly understand that the books on my shelves are my personal friends. Friends that will break my heart if I lose the connection. Many a time when a student lost one of my books, he’s replaced it because he knows I care about each of my books. The real deal though– if a book doesn’t make it home to my shelf, I’m okay with it. Maybe it’s altruistic, but I hope she’s happily getting read somewhere by someone. As teachers and librarians we must remember that we cannot be the keeper of the books and the stories they hold (even if they do end up at Half Price Books with your name clearly stamped on them.)
Last May, at the end of the year I carefully selected my most treasured friends, but then I, like someone had once done with me, passed them on to another teacher to share the love of reading with her students. I can only hope her students have found as much pleasure in them as mine once did.
How do you build your classroom library? How do you prevent your books from never returning? (or do you?)
I built my classroom in many ways like you did. One of the things that really helped bring my classroom library to life were donations from citizen philanthropists through DonorsChoose grant proposals I wrote (that got funded).