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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

A Guest Blog by Susan Norwood:

Ms. Chen worked her tail off for three years. She donated thousands of books to the library, worked countless hours overtime, and functioned as a quasi-therapist to our students. She is acknowledged by the American Library Association, Tennessee School Library Association, and by Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools as a leader. Why then is she being moved to teach 6th grade? I expect it has much to do with her devotion to defending intellectual freedom.

My heart is heavy with the injustice. She has managed the library admirably. The simile that comes to mind is the “one-armed paper-hanger.” I have seen her manage several classes at once on days when her assistant was out. I think that Ms. Chen is a truly incredible person. Her job is her passion, not just a paycheck.

What do students think of our library and Ms. Chen? Last week, their assignment in the library was to write about what the library means to them. What, to them, is the benefit of having a library and a librarian? I do not know what role libraries will fill in the decades to come; however, I did want to know what students think of them here and now. Their comments tended to fall into these categories. The library is a place:

  • To check out books
  • To conduct research
  • Learn computer safety
  • Learn about reliable resources and propaganda
  • Use the printer
  • Read on-line
  • Relax and read

Let me share some quotes from my students. I have not put their names, but their initials, to let you know that these kids really exist. I didn’t even clean up the faulty grammar when it occurred; I will let them speak for themselves.

A place to check-out books

Ms. Chen helped me pick out the perfect books for me. T.A.

You know how to pick out really good books for teens. D.C.

If you can’t find a book, you can count on Ms. Chen to help you find the book you’re looking for.  . . regardless of what you want, you will find a great book at our Middle School. S.M.

You always recommend great books that people our age would love to read. You know a good book when you see one. L.V.

Ms. Chen lets everyone choose their own types of books and tries to order them. P. C.

You have the most entertaining books of every book you could think of. D.A.

A place to use the printer and conduct research

I have printed lots of pictures and information throughout the school years. Ms. Chen is a very good librarian. S.R.

When I needed the computers it was always available for me. T.A.

Ms. Chen lets me come in the library and print stuff out. That helps me get my project done quicker. A.M.

The library let me do my projects and research. I.R.

She lets us use the computer when we have projects. She also lets us print things out! And she puts a lot of useful and good informational books in the library. P.C.

We get to do tons of research there for projects. C.X.

A place to relax

The library helps boost your intelligence. Another [reason for coming to the library] is that reading sort of calms you down. D.B (boy)

Books help the students calm down. A.D. (boy)

It lets me have a peace of mind when I enter through the door. J.T. (boy)

Books help de-stress the students. That’s why I like libraries. S.W. (boy)

It is a quiet and peaceful place where students come read. M.N. (boy)

The library is one of the most important rooms in the school because it teaches you . . . that you can dream and that’s o.k. You grow in grammar and expression. T.B. (girl)

***Note: I didn’t realize until I was typing this that boys viewed the library as a place to de-stress. What a wonderful side-effect. Particularly as so many of our young men have difficulty managing anger. That’s why I included gender in this section.

Provides a personal relationship with a caring adult:

Thank you for being the best librarian ever. You have really helped me out a lot since 6th grade and I am really going to miss you next year. B.W.

You’re an amazing librarian. You will be very much missed by everyone. You are a super nice lady. Thank you for being such a fantastic person. L.V.

It’s like you were fit to be an amazing librarian. D.C.

You have helped me so much in the three years I’ve been here. I’ve enjoyed being in the Library Club and working for the Book Fair. B.B.

I don’t want you to have to be a 6th grade teacher. I really like Ms. Chen because she helps us look for a book. And you don’t scream at us or be mean. R.B.

Ms. Chen is cool. L.W.

Ms. Chen doesn’t deserve to leave the library. Because she is a hard worker. You have been a very helpful librarian to our school. S.F.

The library is just plain fun. R.A. (boy)

I don’t want you to leave, to be a 6th grade teacher. G.A.

You have been a good and kind person to everyone. J.B.

I really thank you for your hard work. E.C.

It has been a fun three years with you in the library. I have always enjoyed coming up here because it is always so relaxing. When you teach, I always learn so much. I think that the students here will miss you. I know I will. You are such a great librarian because you help us find really good books. I love you Ms. Chen J.E.

You have inspired many people to read all the years I’ve been here. You even inspired me. It seems that everyone loves to come to the library. I forgot to mention that the library has a good selection of books. Our library is way better than ______ Elementary. Why don’t you come to _______High School next year? I bet all of the 8th graders attending the school would enjoy that.  You have worked hard to help us. Thank you so much. H.M.

She is very kind. I will miss her. She is funny. I wonder where she’s going to go? We don’t want her to leave. Ms. Chen have a great time. Please stay with us. We will miss you. T.J.

There were a couple of negative comments, but they weren’t directed at Ms. Chen. Some felt that they were not allowed to go to the library enough. I will not copy those, because I want this post to be upbeat. I really do not understand this situation in which a dedicated teacher, who is so obviously adored by her students, is being removed from a position in which she does so much good for young people. Before I read what my students wrote, I was getting pretty put out with them. It’s the end of the year, and it’s been a long haul. Now and then I start to despair that they will ever value education. Reading what they wrote re-affirms why I teach.  There are many good kids who do care. Don’t let their sometimes rowdy behavior fool you.

Ms. Chen, I am truly upset with the situation. I am so saddened that I am unable to express my feelings without being negative. Therefore, I will close with another quote from one of my boys:  When I come to the library the teachers over there feel ecstatic. (J.T.) I couldn’t put it better if I tried. Good luck next year. I sincerely hope that you find a position worthy of your skill, dedication, and passion. It has been an honor to work with you.

Susan Norwood

Note from Diane: I am not giving up on the library or those students. I believe that I am the best person for that position so we’ll wait to see what happens. Have hope. I met the incoming fifth and sixth graders when they toured the building for the first time. Their faces of awe when they saw so many books and so many students using the library was very satisfying. They watched students working on presentations and many expressed how exciting a place it seemed to be. I want to be that new group of students’ librarian so we’ll see what happens.


  1. Hello Diana and Susan,

    Many of us hear you loud and clear. After being awarded a $350K Improving Literacy through Libraries grant in 2006, the librarian was sent to the classroom to teach third grade, a month later. Up until that time, our library was the only school library in the commonwealth to have a “highly qualified librarian.” The fault of the librarian was also to be a “highly qualified elementary-level teacher.” There was a position that needed filling, and the federal grant was of secondary importance—and that was that.

    Fortunately, our next adminstrators understand the vital role of the librarian at schools. The library has been reopened for two years now. This month (May 2011), the library was awarded a $5,000 Laura Bush Grant.

  2. Great article. What an incredible experience the 6th grade kids will have next year…and it will be for the short term…one year, and maybe not even that. As well it is obvious that things aren’t working because the school is on Restructuring 1 (at least maybe 2)…this is public information. Something the kids don’t know about it that you provide teachers and counselors great books to help with making AYP and general literature needs.