Classroom Experience…To have or not to have, that is the question!!
As promised, here is the first discussion topic of a somewhat debatable nature: should classroom experience be required in order to become a school library media specialist?
I can recall the days of yore when this was the focus of very heated debate among Georgia “school librarians” and certification officials for the state. Many felt that since the librarian was also considered a teacher, he/she should have actual time in the classroom in order to fulfill that required role. Others, however, held that since the requirements for the job were much more varied and only a portion was teaching, classroom experience would only serve minimally in preparing the librarian for work in the school.
Today, as an argument for the library media specialist to have classroom teaching experience, one of my students posed the questions: Would you want your principal to have no teaching experience? Why should the media specialist be any different? In order to collaborate successfully with teachers and students, some teaching experience is invaluable. The media center is a place where creative teaching should be at a maximum, and without some prior knowledge of various teaching strategies, creativity is limited. In order to work with teachers on lesson planning, curriculum issues, and critical thinking strategies, having taught in the classroom provides irreplaceable training. Also, many questions on the GACE, where a passing score is required for certification in GA, focus on instruction and teaching strategies. Bottom line is: Can you have a highly qualified teacher-librarian who has not had classroom experience?
On the other side of the issue, many people who seek certification in GA have had very extensive training in the area of technology, which is a required skill for today’s library media specialist. We have become a doorway to the future through technology for our students, and classroom experience does not always contribute to that aspect of the media specialist’s role. Many people who have worked in the business world already have skills in place to “sell their product.” Communication skills are paramount in the role of the business executive, so they would come into the job with better preparation than that received through classroom teaching. Many skills would be transferable: expense accounts to library budgets, managing a territory or group to managing a media center, prioritizing and making a business plan to preparing a library yearly plan, etc. With these skills already in place, the transfer to managing a media program and collaborating and teaching with teachers would be easily accomplished.
I recall my own preparation as a librarian when I started my first job in Bartow County in 1974 (this was prior “library media specialist” terminology). I had classroom experience through my Early Childhood Education practicum, so was prepared through the regular “teacher preparation” channels. A more focused field experience within the library media center might have better prepared me for work in the school as a media specialist. After working as a librarian for two years, I spent 4 years in the classroom and that experience truly enhanced my potential to be an excellent media specialist. On the other hand, I am not certain that continued work in the school library would have limited my potential for excellence, even without the classroom experience??? There is value on both sides. One main truth exists: experience within a school setting, whether through managing your own classroom or gathering intense field experiences, helps to prepare and equip the media specialist to work and collaborate with teachers and, therefore, help kids!
It would be most interesting to hear others’ thoughts on this issue!
Phyllis Snipes, Assistant Professor,
University of West Georgia
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