I know that story, I was sitting right behind you.

I don’t want to jinx it, but the two classes that I am currently teaching seem a little bit less challenging than the two that I had in my last rotation. I think I am going to have some rowdy boys again, but there are rowdy boys and there are rowdy boys. I think these are the ones who will challenge me, but who are going to give me a fair shot. Also, I am not above bribing them with candy. Today at the end of the day, after we had done the rules and our getting to know you activity, I passed out candy. And one of my rowdy boys said, “This class is cool.” He may not always feel that way, but I was glad we got off to such a good start. A peppermint flavored one.

After Mike went back to school to become a teacher, I often heard him discussing or reflecting upon his own school experiences. It was a shock to me to realize that, when it came to school, he had positive feelings overall, much more positive feelings than I have ever had about school. While I was always very good at school, I never enjoyed going to school and always considered myself one of those kids who hated school. When I began working at a school last year, I noticed that I have a different perspective on school than many of my colleagues and have at times wondered why that might be.

One of the things that I found challenging about school was the idea that we—students and teachers—were doing things because we had to do them, not because we wanted to do them. My school experiences were before the testing environment began to dominate, and even then I never felt as if we were encouraged to be curious or creative with our learning. While schools now emphasize meeting different kinds of learning styles, I was lucky that lectures and note-taking are the ways that I learn best. Even so, I never felt that we were encouraged to think or make connections. It seemed instead that we were focused on a certain amount of material that we were supposed to get through. For better or for worse, I have inherited a bit of a rebellious spirit when it comes to the idea that we are supposed to do things. At home I was encouraged to question “the system” (whether that was school or church or government) and think about why certain decisions were made. I am a good girl with a rebellious spirit, so I knew how to play the game that education requires, but I always did it with a certain resentment or bitterness. And that is not even considering the arts, which are not disciplines in which I am skilled, or social aspects of school, which were also areas in which I struggled.

What I find so interesting about the overall negative feelings I have about my own education experience is that I cannot exactly identify what would have helped me be happier when it came to school. The only thing I can think of is that I would simply have needed to have a more docile personality, one that was not so frustrated by the overall school system. As a good student, I did thrive on the approval I always received when making good grades. I enjoyed the feeling of getting 100 on a test or an A on a book report. However, those things did not erase my overall feelings that I was just making the right moves in a game that I was lucky to understand. People would explain things to me in my biology class, and then I would score much higher on the test than they would. Did I understand the material better than they did? I am not convinced that I did, and I felt a lot of guilt about it at the time.

My most positive school experience came in my high school library. I have mentioned before what a powerful influence my high school librarian was on my life. She went out of her way to mentor me, to recommend books, and to make the library a welcoming space. She coached our high school Quiz Bowl team, and my fondest high school memories have to do with our practices and our matches. She is certainly a big reason that I considered librarianship as a career, and when I decided two years ago to make the switch from public libraries to the school system, she was one of the people I called for advice.

My feelings about school have, at times, made me feel very out of place in my education classes. Whether my classmates seem positive about the current state of the education system, I can tell that many of them have strong positive feelings about learning or about their own school experiences, and even though I enjoy my job, it has made me question if there I am missing a certain something that would help me be a better teacher or librarian. However, when I go back to work, I see the value of having a different perspective than many of my colleagues, because I am able to understand and reach out to students who have similar difficulties with school and the school system. I also remember how important it was in high school that my friends and I had a place to be, and I am thankful that place was the library. If I still cannot consider school to be one of my most favorite places, I can make my library a positive place for my own students, especially those who feel marginalized by the system in the same ways that I did.

That’s one reason I have positive feelings about the classes I have taught this year, even though it has been incredibly challenging in many ways. I have students who enjoyed the class who would probably not be big fans of the library otherwise, but they are happy to see me in the halls or to come in and check out a new book. I doubt I have changed anybody’s life, but if I am helping make a space where they feel valued, where they feel safe to question things, and where they can enjoy themselves (and eat candy if they have been good), well, I feel okay about that. You can’t change somebody’s life every day. But if you can make a kid smile (a beautiful smile) by telling him he did a good job and giving him a piece of candy, that’s not a bad day’s work.

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