Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guilt. Failure.

I made a mistake recently. Not a huge one. I might have made a friend angry; at the least, I annoyed her a great deal, but I'm pretty sure she is still my friend. I didn't mean to annoy or anger her. I made some assumptions that were faulty, and I greatly inconvenienced her. I felt horrible afterwards. I apologized at the time and will likely apologize again the next time I see her. But I felt horrible.

Really horrible. I couldn't let it go. My stomach was in knots for hours afterwards. I kept thinking about what I did and how I wished I could undo it - make different choices that would have led to a less awkward situation. I tried to put it behind me - I couldn't fix it. What was done was done. But still, I stewed. I kept kicking myself over and over and over and over as if I had to punish myself for a certain block of time before I could absolve myself. The stewing was like my penance. I was paralyzed by this situation and my guilt.

When I thought about it, I realized it wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be. I didn't physically injure this person, I didn't say something hateful. I inconvenienced her - my timing was really bad. But that was the extent of my sin - bad timing, inconvenience, unintentional thoughtlessness. But the feeling of failure and deep guilt were like I had done something grievous.

No matter how rationally I could think through the situation, I couldn't move past it. Finally I started writing it all down. I had only a small piece of paper, so I just wrote and wrote, on both sides, over the print that was already on the paper. When I filled every space, I wrote over my own writing again. I wrote my actions and the consequences and my guilt and then I just wrote "guilt," and "failure" over and over and over again. I don't know that anyone else could have read what was on that paper when I was done. It felt good to get it out of myself and onto paper. Then I tore that paper into little pieces and threw it in the trash. Finally, I felt like I had released some of that guilt.

Isn't that weird? That an error in judgement could grab hold of me so tightly that I couldn't let it go? I know I am a perfectionist. I've blogged before that I have a self-concept that says I only matter when I get things right. This was some sort of super-sized example of that. I didn't get this situation "right," and it meant I was a complete, irredeemable failure.  I don't know if this was a spiritual exercise in forgiveness or fighting perfectionism - something that God is going to have me dealing with over the next few months - or if it is just a sign of fatigue that comes at this time of year. Whatever it is, I am hopeful that I can deal more healthily with my failures in the future.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Am the Gatekeeper - and I Am Tired

I was reading a book for adults this weekend and came across a part where the main character was having a party. Her party planner invited a medium to do a seance at the party. The following thoughts went through my mind:
- Dang it! Now I can't put the book in the library!
- Wait! This is a book for grown ups. It doesn't matter. I don't have to screen this one.
- *sigh* I think the "gatekeeper" role is starting to get to me....

I feel like I have to be the gatekeeper for the library at my school. It is best practice for my job that I read widely and often. I can't connect students to books if I don't know my students and I don't know the books that are out right now that are written for elementary-aged students.

The fact that I teach at a Christian school adds a layer on top of those general responsibilities, though. My feeling is that parents and the administration/board expect that the books we put in the library (and to some extent what we sell at the book fair) are going to fit with (or at least not go against) their beliefs - and those beliefs are as varied as you can imagine. While we include materials from Christian publishers, we also have a reading program that doesn't always cover those materials. And more and more, secularly published books are including language, romantic situations, magic/fantasy/paranormal creatures and monsters, and alternate lifestyles even in books for younger readers.

So, I am the gatekeeper. When reading a book that I might want to put in the library, I can't just be swept away by the story. I have to be watchful of language or characters or themes that could raise flags in a Christian context. If there is any element of fantasy or "magic," I have to decide if it could be perceived as witchcraft or evil in any way. If there are a couple swear words in the story, I take it to my principal to make my case for putting the book in the library because I feel there is more merit in using it than "danger" with the language. I've never been told I have to take these issues to my principal. I think I'm just worried about creating a situation that prompts a challenge and I want someone in authority to have given me the okay for choosing to value the content as more important than the drawbacks.

At our recent book fair, a colleague asked if I was going to put a particular book out for sale. The secondary school had chosen not to sell the book in their fair. I had read the book and had been talking it up with all of my older students. Several were eager to buy it or read it. I felt it was more of a super hero/super power story than a magic story. A few days later I received a Christian newsletter about children's lit and this book was highlighted as a fun adventure story for kids. I felt vindicated - it was "okay" that I was okay with this book. But I still had a parent say "absolutely not" for her child when I described the story line to her.

I think I am more aware of my gatekeeping fatigue right now because I read for the library intensely this summer and that intensity has kept up through the first 4 months of school. I'm tired from the pressure. And I'm starting to wonder if the pressure is really there from parents and the school, or if I am letting my fear of failure - which in my mind would be a challenge of material I read and chose to put in the library that someone else wants removed - drive me to a higher standard than was intended when I was hired for my job. Besides, it's a LOT of work to put a new book in the library. I'd rather not do all that work for a book that won't stand up to scrutiny.

So far, I have had individual students return materials they borrowed from the library because a parent didn't care for the content. Two cases I remember specifically - one was a book from the Chronicles of Narnia that used the d--- word and the other book referenced magic in a fairly mild way (in comparison to a book like Harry Potter) and the family said the student shouldn't read anything with magic. A student reminded me recently of another book a student returned because a character took the Lord's name in vain. I don't remember that instance, but it felt familiar when she mentioned it. In all of those cases, the student returned the book and I helped them find something else that was a better fit. There was no challenge of the material for the school at large - just a parental preference for their own child. On the other side of the issue, if a student wants a book I don't have in the library - for whatever reason, be it limited resources or content, I readily refer the student to the public library. We have a fantastic one!

I really wrestle with all this gatekeeping.... A friend called it censorship. And he is right in a way. I don't black out swear words in our books, but I won't put Harry Potter in the library, either, because it is a fight that isn't worth starting. I've had families touring the school say, "You don't have Harry Potter in the library, do you?" I've had two discussions about Harry already this school year, and the folks who raised objections about the books in the conversations were vehement in their disapproval of the series. Is it censorship not to have the series in the library? No. It is a choice. My students can access the books at home, on e-readers, and at the library. And my students who read Harry know that I have read the series and I'll talk to them about the books. But I also cringe inside every time I read Wild About Books out loud to a class because she buys "waterproof books for the otter who never went swimming without Harry Potter." I wait a heartbeat before continuing, always wondering if I'm going to get a negative comment from a student about even mentioning the series. Even at school yesterday, when talking with a colleague about some books her kids are reading I paused, wondering if I should warn her about some controversial content in an upcoming book. I decided that she wasn't asking for my professional input so I kept my thoughts to myself. Their family can enjoy the series and encounter the material as they choose.

There are times I envy public school and public library employees. They just provide the materials and let the children and the families make their own choices about content. Patrons or students check out what they want and deal with the content if it comes up. I guess this was the approach I tried with the colleague yesterday. This is not the first time I have wrestled with this issue of censorship on this blog, but I feel no closer to answers than I was back then.

I guess if the alternative to all of this is not putting new books in the library or only being able to talk to students about books and then send them to Amazon or to the public library to get what they want, I wouldn't be happy with that alternative either. It may be time to process all this with my principal and find out what the expectations truly are.

What are your thoughts? What is "censorship?" When is gatekeeping an okay thing and when is it bad? What responsibility do Christian teachers have when it comes to students and literature?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Has It Really Been that Long?

Has it really been a month since I posted here? Wow.... That might be a sign that it's time to scale back the blogging. I have had a couple ideas of things to write about but nothing that felt blog-worthy.

I was all ready to explain my absence with "book fair." Lately, it's what I blame for anything that isn't getting done, from laundry and household chores to emails and blogging. Thankfully I read so much I can get ahead in my book blogging at times.

Book fair was a great experience again this year, but it really does consume about 3 weeks of my life. I start planning and reading some of the books that we'll sell about 6 -8 weeks before the fair. In the month right before, I am recruiting and scheduling and confirming volunteers. The fair itself, from set up to tear down covers 10 days. Those tend to be long days at school and then I bring books home in the evenings and over the weekend so I can talk intelligently with kids and parents about the books we are selling. Tearing down the fair is faster than setting it up, but then we have to put the library back together for school on Monday and we have to wrap up all the financials for the event.

By the end of the fair, I'm usually not sleeping well, so when we finally wrap things up, I try to just sleep and take it easy for the weekend. Otherwise I will be useless to my students and colleagues on Monday. And I have learned to schedule a day off some time during the week following the fair. In my head, this will offset the 10-12 hours days during the book fair, although in reality it probably doesn't do as much for me as the 11 or 12 hours sleep I get the first night after we close the fair.

So, the fall fair is complete. We'll do another in the spring, but I'm going to try not to think about that until January!