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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why Level 42 Isn't Just A Band From The 80's

As I've said before, my school is in an Abbott district, Abbot here meaning, "kids get lots of free things".

One of the things my classroom is oveflowing with is books. In fact, I had so many books at the beginning of the year, that I had to give some way. Now that's a crying shame when there are districts where teachers barely have 2 copies of Cat In The Hat to rub together.

Since there was no limit on money till this year, the teacher before me ordered sets upon sets of books. I'd say I have at least $70,000 worth of children's books in my classroom alone, easy.

But having those books in the room isn't enough. Oh no. When I started, I was told that the books had to be organized by theme. You know. All the chapter books with the chapter books. The non-fiction with the non fiction. The snozzberries with the snozberies. Sorry, I got away from myself there for a moment.

Now. On top of having them categorized, the books should also be leveled. Every student has a DRA level that comes with them, along with their final grades from the previous year. A student's DRA level in say June should give you a rough idea of where to start with them. Assuming, of course, you know what the number means and in which direction to lead the kid to. Which, alas, I did not.

But wait. Didn't I just say I had approximately $70,000 of books floating around my classroom? Wouldn't that make organizing all of these books a job in itself? So, my mentor told me not to stress. Put them in bins (Like oh my God, didn't you know, bins are the new bookshelves?!) and categorize them as much as you can.

So, the school year started and I explained the system to the kids as best as someone who barely had a system could. Guess what? The kids didn't care. Those who wanted to read were going to read anyway and those who don't like to read aren't suddenly enamored by the the idea of organization. They're eight years old for Christ's sake! Hell, I even have a bookshelf keeper job. But when you don't know what a book really is, how do you know where to put it?

Everything was all fine and good until whispers started circulating that the assistant superintendent was going to start making spot checks to make sure everyone had a "leveled library" in their room. Forget, putting all the mysteries together, she wanted to be able to judge a book by its cover, literally.

So about a month ago, the prinicpal stopped by my room and complimented me on my setup, but noted one thing I did not have a leveled library. I told her the truth. My books were not leveled, but I ordered a leveled library for next year. Ok. So that takes care of next year. But see, the principal wanted it done this year. So then, the crafty one that I am, said that I didn't know how to level the books. This was true. I only knew that it required the looking up of a lot of books. Time I didn't have and wasn't about to volunteer for because this was the latest fad that the district had bought into. So she said she'd get the reading specialist to "help".

Before I could say Dewey Decimal System, this leveling of the books thing turned into a downright school wide epidemic. Suddenly paraprofessionals were being pulled from their duties to pull all the books from classrooms without leveled libraries and to level...every last book.

Part of me felt relief. Part of me felt disgust. I mean what's more important here? A few measely books be leveled or that the kids actually learn something? And don't we spend so much time telling kids that winning isn't everything and that trying is what matters most? Then we turn around and level books and try to make sure the kids stick with "their kind".

Anyway, it took about a day and a half, but they came and and leveled every single one of my books. I must say, it all looks really nice. But now when kids ask me "where are the chapter books?" I can't tell them. I can show them something in a lovely 28 though.

To take the insanity even a step further, they want teachers to make mini baskets where they pull a few books from each level and the students at a particular table can only read from that bin for that week. I can't like this system. For one thing, we have a world full of wonderful books, now neatly organized, and then we tell the kids, but you can only pick from these 30? It's like going into Baskin Robbins and being told you can only have vanilla or chocolate. It's not fair.

But now remember earlier what I said about each kid having a level? So, within those bins of 30 or so books, only 5 or so will be on said child's level. Now it's as if we're saying, "I'm thinking of a number from 9 to 10". The next step being, the kids saying "why don't you just TELL me what book you'd like me to read?" Next thing you know you'll tell me the kids aren't allowed to dance in town because John Lithgow said so.

Sure, it might take a lifetime to love reading, but it takes no time at all to read between the lines.



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