Saturday, March 28, 2009


At Morrinsville College where I began teaching I was put in charge of lost property and the library. The first was a chore, the second a bibliophile’s joy. During all my twelve years teaching I was school librarian – ordering and unpacking new books, encouraging students to borrow, managing the stock. It also meant working closely with another adult (the library assistant). I felt then and still believe that if we had more aides in schools and fewer teachers quite likely they would be better learning centres. The principal suggested that I take the senior student librarian and two others to Auckland to the Minerva book-sale, a poor way to build up stock. But for my three years at Morrinsville it became an annual treat. Goggle-eyed country kids in the metropolis, all four of us would make our selection, go to a coffee-shop, my shout, drive to the top of Mt Eden to view the city, and return to the college to unpack our booty. "Loved that book you gave me, sir" - it made the job worthwhile. In those pre-TV days kids read more than they appear to now. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill kid. Bookworms and devotees still exist. I relate to such people. My grandmother used to complain “that boy has always got his nose stuck in a book.”

From the library back room I saw other teachers at work. The good side was seeing effective teachers using the resources of the library as part of their overall strategy of motivating students to read and search. But I also observed lazy teachers. "Get a book, sit down and be quiet." Once a student asked, "what's the capital of Russia, sir?" "Stalingrad" the teacher replied. When the bell rang and the kids departed I gently pointed out his answer was wrong. "I didn't know but that is the one thing a teacher never admits. Be dogmatic. Otherwise you lose charge.” I didn't remonstrate, he was older. But I made a mental note to avoid such an approach. The library held several atlases and books about the Soviet Union. What an opportunity missed in terms of young people's self-discovery, curiosity, and skill acquisition. Why had the student asked the question? The library assistant saw my face. "Some people shouldn't go teaching," she said.

It concerned me that many teachers under-valued the library. I commenced a campaign to sell the place in all the schools in which I worked. I instituted a roster scheme of student librarians, they sat a small exam, and then had their library badges presented at assembly. We met weekly to discuss displays, ways of making the library work more effectively and to attract more customers. When I shifted to Thames High I became embroiled in a battle - if the library was vacant it was customary to take boys there to cane them. As librarian I refused to allow this practice to continue. "It is a place of learning, not a place of punishment." I carried the day. One way was to fill it up with classes, not just English and Social Studies, but other subjects as well. The visit to the library was not something to be rationed, not a treat or trick but an essential component to learning.

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