Teacher Tuesday

The irrepressible Sherry Gick works for Rossville Consolidated Schools in Rossville, Indiana.  Sherry describes it as a “very unique school system.” And I would have to agree: all three schools (elementary, middle, and high) are under one roof.  Sherry says, “One thousand students, K-12, in one building allows for some great interactions and collaboration across grade levels and schools.” Rossville sounds like the 21st century version of a one-room school house! 

As the school librarian, Sherry has worked primarily with grades six-twelve in the middle/high school library.  But this year, she’s been privileged to work with students and classes at every grade level K-12!  Sherry says “I love working with different grade levels and enjoy how it stretches me to think in different ways and challenges my creativity.”

Before we learn more about Sherry’s present life as a librarian, we’re going to take a peek at her past.

Sherry (in the middle) with her BFFs, Tracy Savell (L) and Courtney Flynt (R)

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: I really liked that rectangular pizza with the tiny cubes of pepperoni.  It was usually served with corn and peaches.  Yum!
  • Best friend in grade school: My best friend in grade school and middle school was Courtney Flynt. The picture shows our other best friend in middle school: Tracy Savell.  We rocked the 80s fashions of turned up collars, Swatch watches, Chuck Taylors, and big hair!  The three of us had so much fun together!
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: One of my very favorite teachers was my third grade teacher, Mr. Tom Clauset at Hall-Woodward Elementary School.  I remember him challenging us to read, learn new words, and to write…a lot!  My most vivid memory from this year is Mr. Clauset reading us A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  He sat in his rocking chair and we gathered on the carpet to listen t
    o him read each day.
      It was my first exposure to science fiction and I’ve been hooked ever since! 
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I really wanted to be in the orchestra and  learn to play the violin.  My dad said no – he was too old to listen to me learn to master a stringed instrument.  He encouraged me to take band instead because it wouldn’t take long before I sounded good.  I ended up playing the clarinet and loved it.  It was one of the few times he said no to me!  (I was the baby of four.) 

Sherry, you mentioned that you’d like to talk about why you love being a librarian. So the first question would have to be: why?
I think being a librarian is the best job in the world!  I get to talk about books to students all the time.  I get to read children’s and teens books and say “it’s for my job!”  I love connecting students with the right books.  I love sharing my enthusiasm for reading with others.  Seeing students excited about books and reading is an amazing, daily reward of being a librarian.
What kind of reader were you as a child?

Voracious!  I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bellamy, gave me a copy of Harriet the Spy at the end of our school year.  The inscription says “For reading the most THICK books!”  (I still have that book today!)

What were your early library experiences like? 

I vividly remember being able to read but not being able to get a library card because I couldn’t yet write my first and last name on the card.  I was overjoyed in kindergarten when I finally mastered that task!  My mom would take me to the library and we would check out piles and piles of books each week to read.  I loved visiting our local public library.
What inspired you to become a librarian?

I wish I had a great story about a librarian who inspired me to choose this career path, or a teacher who encouraged me to be a librarian because of my love for books, but I don’t.  I started in education as a special education teacher, earned my master’s in elementary education, and after having my daughter in 2001 began working part time in a Parent Resource Center that was part of our school system. It was a unique library filled with books, toys, and games…all education related.  I enjoyed working with parents and children (babies
through fifth grade) helping them choose  the right books and toys to borrow and take home each week. 

We moved to Indiana from North Carolina in 2005 and I had to leave my beloved Parent Resource Center job.   I began working part time at the public library after moving and spending a year home with my second child.  I enjoyed the interactions and library setting immensely.  I began working towards earning my master’s degree in Library Science.  At the public library, I found I missed the school schedule (how do people work in the summer?) and also the kids.  Working with adults was interesting, but I missed students.

I began a special education teaching job at Rossville in 2009.  In the back of my mind I thought that it would be a great place to be a school librarian in a few years when I finished my degree.  At the end of my first year, the school librarian unexpectedly retired.  I immediately applied for the job, feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time.  I was hired on emergency permit.  My first year as a librarian is a blur because of everything I tried to do at school plus all the graduate classes I had to finish to earn my licensure! 
Your colleagues say you have a gift for putting the right books in the hands of each student.  How do you lead your students to books you know they’ll enjoy?

When students come to me for book advice, I always question them about the last book they enjoyed.  For some of them it’s been a long time!  If they can’t think of the last “good book” they’ve read, I talk to them about movies they like.  This helps me guide them to a genre section with books similar to their tastes.  (I have genrefied my library to make it student-centered and friendly.  Students love being able to go to “their sections” and find the types of books they love.)  Once in a genre section, I then book talk three-four of my favorites that are available and let the student choose which one they think is a good fit. 
How do you show your students your own love of reading/books?

I’m the crazy librarian who always talks about books!  Always.  I love showing new book trailers, but also enjoy  going old school and simply holding up a book I’ve recently read, telling the students in 30 seconds or less how awesome it is and why.  I tell my classes about my yearly reading goals and they can track my progress on goodreads and on the widget on our library website.  I display books I’m currently reading or have recently enjoyed in the library.  I wear reading/book related t-shirts and jewelry.  I’m a bit over the top when it comes to my love of books and reading! 
Students like yours, in middle school and high school, often lose interest in pleasure reading (for a variety of reasons). How do you counteract that? How can the community at large help counteract that trend?
Luckily, I have teachers at my school who understand the importance of pleasure reading and bring their classes to the library!  I try to keep students reading for pleasure by having a wide range of books in the library and several programs to participate in.  Each year, I book talk our state lists (Young Hoosiers and Eliot Rosewaters) and challenge every student to read at least five books from the list.  Their reward for reading at least five of the books is an invitation to a special luncheon in the library, complete with bookish prizes.  This yearly tradition is a can’t miss!  We also have a Battle of the Books competition at the middle and high school levels with ten different books for each level.  The unveiling of the book lists in October and the actual book Battles in March are highlights of the school year.
Can you share a specific anecdote or two about a wonderful connection between a kid and a book?  

A sixth grade student came to library time with One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  

I had booktalked it several weeks before to her class.  She shared that she was enjoying it and was close to finishing it.  During reading time, she settled in to read.  A few minutes later I noticed she was holding the book and crying.  Another student sat down beside her, put her arm around her and patted her back.  When I approached the pair, she continued to sob telling me, “it wasn’t supposed to end like that.”  The other student agreed and told her she cried like a baby when she finished it.  I shared that I too had needed many Kleenexes during the same book.  

I loved knowing that these students had connected with this book in a real way that evoked their emotions.  I also loved that the shared connection to the book made one student reach out to another, empathizing with what she was feeling.
What advice might you give/do you give to the parents/guardians of your students regarding reading at home?
I think parents need to be role models to their children.  Don’t expect your kids to read at home if they don’t see you reading!  Always take time to read something you enjoy each day.  Don’t limit or belittle what your child enjoys reading.  Everyone has different tastes and pleasure reading should be just that…pleasurable!  Graphic novels, magazines, non-fiction, fantasy novels… there is something out there for everyone to enjoy.  Give your children opportunities to read and opportunities to find new books at the library and or bookstore.  Share books with your children.  My kids are seven and eleven and they both still enjoy when I read books to them. 
What kinds of outside resources, if any, do you employ (Skype, author websites, guest speakers) to generate interest in books/reading?
One of my favorite book talking resources is Teaching Books. It pulls together author websites, book trailers, reviews, and other information that’s super useful to share with students.  I also absolutely LOVE Skype.  We’ve been fortunate to have some great authors Skype in our library (e.g., R.J. Palacio, Tom Angleberger).  I think that students really make a connection when they have the opportunity to “meet” an author.  We also love to connect with readers in schools in other states via Skype, Edmodo, and Today’s Meet. Having authors visit our school and library is also amazing.  My students have thoroughly enjoyed two visits from Mike Mullin, author of Ashfall and Ashen Winter.   His books never stay on our shelves! 
What do you wish I’d asked you that I neglected to ask?

You forgot to ask me how much I love Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After!  The answer?  To the moon and back!  They are hands down, my very favorite historical fiction novels.  Thank you so much for writing them!

[blushing] Is it any wonder that Sherry’s students go crazy over books with such a passionate and enthusiastic reading role model? If you want to learn more about Sherry’s efforts to connect kids and books, check out her blog, The Libra
ry Fanatic
, or follow her on Twitter: @LibraryFanatic.

Thank you, Sherry!

No Responses to “Teacher Tuesday”

  1. Barbara Watson

    Sounds like SUCH a great job! I teach English and get to encourage kids about reading and connecting with stories too, but man, being a librarian sounds perfect.

  2. Matthew C. Winner

    Sherry is a rock star and all around great person! So glad to read more about her background and (as always) to see the passion she carries for librarianship just pour out of her words. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Carol Baldwin

    Not sure if my comments took or not, so here it is for third try. Great blog, great inspiration– I want to write a book that engages students like that!