So we sit at the $20,000 mark. Students still request titles. I just bought some science-related books, thanks to a recommendation from one of our regular substitute teachers: Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, by Nathan Wolfe. There’s money in the bank, and the requests are slowing down. I should be happy with what we’ve got, right?
The library is just over half full. And many of the books are left over from the crusty donated books that have been with us for so many years. We have at least three copies of all of Shakespeare’s popular plays, and seemingly thousands of copies of Winter’s Tale. Great! But our kids aren’t reading those books.
I have to decide: Leave the shelves half-filled, but with high-interest books? Or put the old, crusty books in there so the shelves don’t look quite so empty and forlorn?
I leave them empty. Because too many bad books is way worse than barely-enough good books.
Bad books are a turn-off. In my experience, it is only book lovers who get excited to comb through shelves and shelves of titles, excited to find the next good story. Reticent readers look at those shelves and see more books about boring people they can’t relate to. They see lots of big words and meaningless characters, and they confirm what they’ve always known: books have nothing to offer them.
I’ve got to get off my butt and get back to work. Those shelves aren’t going to fill themselves!
Friday, 5/1 2:30 pm
C. tells me, “That thing happened yesterday!”
I don’t know what she means.
She looks at me meaningfully and says, “That thing. Remember? I told you about it? I told you I was nervous. Remember?” She waits for me.
I think and think. When did we talk last? She’s not one to share much with me, so I struggle.
And then it comes to me.
“Yes! How did it go? Everything ok?” I ask.
She looks relieved.
“I had to stand up and talk to the judge. I was so nervous!”
“How brave! That must have been so scary,” I tell her.
“I cried,” she says. “I wasn’t strong. But I’m glad I did it.”
“I am too. And so is your dad, I’m sure. What was the verdict?” I ask, afraid of the answer.
“Five years. But I thought it would be 15, so I’m happy!”
I smile at her. How could I forget her dad’s hearing? She mentioned it when I met with her and her mother, in passing, like she wanted me to know, but not really.
“Five years, and then he’s deported back to Mexico,” she says, and puts her earbuds in. The bell has rung, and she’s done sharing.
Monday, 5/4 3:35 pm
A. has stopped coming to school. When I met with him and his mother a few weeks ago, it was clear that he wouldn’t be able to graduate with his classmates next spring. He’s failed too many classes, and he’s currently failing Algebra.
He translated the news to his mother. The counselor then told A. about a college to career program at City, where students can finish up their high school classes and get college credit. He got excited and translated for his mother, who asked some questions and looked doubtful.
Ever since, he has been to school only a couple times.
I miss him.
Wednesday, 5/13 – 10:15 am
Independent reading time. Every student in the room is silent, reading something he or she is interested in. Time and National Geographic cover stories about weed are a big draw. One student is reading Beloved, and I must resist the urge to try to make her love that book as much as I do. Someone’s reading The Oral History of Hip Hop, someone else The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I only had to ask them to be quiet a few times before they settled in and started reading. I don’t know what’s going on with them, but it sure does make me happy. And it reminds me: must get more books.
Thursday, 5/28 – 2:20 pm
They’re gone. We’ve had our last Advisory of the year, and now they’re gone. They’ve left their cookie crumbs and empty soda cups, as well as an entire, unopened bag of carrots (the Funyons and Doritos got eaten, though), and now they’re gone for the summer.
We said goodbye to A., who will go to City next year. I had to beg him to come today, and had to contain my excitement when he walked in the room. He promised to keep me posted about his life. I hope he does.
The others I’ll see in just a few short months, and we’ll do it all over again. But it’ll be different next year, as graduation becomes more and more real, and they have to make hard decisions about their life. All of us are looking forward to the summer break, but I think we all agree: It’s been a good year. And we’re ready for what’s next.
Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!