We face a lot of behavior problems in the urban setting. A lot. We both agreed that sometimes behavior can be even more of a challenge for the librarian because we do not see the same class of students every day, so it takes longer to build vital relationships with kids. One way to deal with behavior problems in the library is to give students particular jobs or responsibilities. We often seek out the well-behaved student to help in the library, but many times if you give specific jobs to the chronically disruptive student, you will find he/she may be less disruptive. We also want to make sure we are designing engaging lessons and activities to combat behavior problems. Make sure students are not sitting for too long, incorporate technology, relevant video clips, etc. As for building those relationships, try to ask students questions about their lives. Talk to them about their favorite sports team; ask their opinions on things going on in the world. Just like all of us, they want to feel listened to and valued. (It also helps us learn what their interests are so that we can continue our never-ending quest of finding the perfect book for each of our students).
Low Academic Performance.
In this day and age of data and testing, this one is huge. It is huge because for many of us in urban schools, we are faced with a majority of our students performing below grade level. In doing research, we stumbled on some staggering statistics (according to 2009 NAEP data) that are too shocking to ignore:
- Fewer than half of African American males receive their high school diploma
- African American men make up less than 5% of the U.S. college population
- African American men make up only 14% of the national population, but over 40% of the prison population
- Unemployment rate is twice that of white males
- African American adolescents and young males are eight times more likely to be the victim of homicide than whites in the same age group
- Provide quality and relevant text that reflect our students own personal experiences
- Maintain high expectations for students (teach them it is okay to struggle)
- Emphasize collaboration through PBL, as well as with community members and mentors
- Utilize resources that can help students, such as read-aloud options on databases, playaways with a book, etc.
Regardless of what “population” you serve, we can all agree that our work begins by building a culture of acceptance in our libraries. My biggest issue when researching “the urban school” is that I felt like a walking contradiction. I feel like the very nature of presenting information about any particular group may come across as though I am stereotyping. If I have learned anything in my 8 years working in a school library, it is that each and every individual that walks through the door should be treated as such. We must leave our preconceived notions at the door. Yes, we are operating in a data driven time, but we should see the student first, before we see the label assigned to them from a standardized test. We must meet our students where they are, but not waiver in what we expect of them, because we know they are capable of rising to the occasion.
We teach, we listen, we counsel, we advocate. We are librarians.