From the Office of the Future of Reading

Alex T. Valencic is in his third year as a geeky fourth grade teacher in Urbana, Illinois. Known for his curly hair and extensive necktie collection, he shaved his head last year after the students in the school read over 1,000,000 minutes. In addition to teaching, Mr. V, as he is known to most students and parents, can be found reading from any number of his book piles scattered around his house and classroom, perusing blogs about education, politics, and religion, or relaxing at home with his wife of more than five years. They own two birds and a bunny. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. 

Alex Valencic

Building a Meaningful Classroom Library
I graduated from the University of Illinois in 2008 and that autumn started working as a substitute teacher in the community. In many ways, this ended up being one of the best decisions I made as a new college graduate. Over the three years I worked as a sub, I met wonderful teachers and saw amazing examples of meaningful classroom libraries.

One teacher I subbed for many times, Miriam, retired in 2010 and asked me if I would help pack up her classroom. In exchange for spending several hours hauling boxes, she gave me most of her extensive classroom library. I came home with about a dozen boxes of books! My wife, bless her heart, didn’t even complain when I dragged the boxes to the basement and left them there for a year. After moving to a new house, I finally decided to unpack them all and put them out on bookshelves.

Over the next few years, I frequented garage sales and libraries to buy used books. Folks would often sell me their books at great discounts or even give them to me for free once they learned I was a teacher! My mother-in-law passed on many books as she periodically weeded her own classroom library. By the time I got hired to teach full-time, I had seven tall shelves in my living room stuffed with almost 2,000 books. Many of these selections were transferred to my new classroom, much to my wife’s delight.
Nearly all of my books were well-loved second-, third, or even fourth-hand acquisitions. When I started working at my current school, I learned three amazing things: First, I have an annual classroom budget allotment that I can use to purchase materials (i.e. books) for my classroom. Second, we have two Scholastic book fairs every year and many parents in the school will buy books for their children’s teachers. Third, my students know how much I love books and often bring in books they’ve read and donate them to our library. This has allowed me to add many new, high-interest, quality books to my library.
I decided this year to acquire brand-new books for my classroom. Using a repurposed container that my wife decorated with fancy paper and cut a hole in the top, I created a suggestion box for students. I collected their suggestions for a few weeks and then went to a nearby bookstore to take advantage of a teacher appreciation sale. My wife came with me and, after about two hours of browsing and collecting and consulting with the children’s books department manager, walked out with twenty-three brand-new books (including Hattie Big Sky, incidentally) for my classroom!

So what’s the real secret to building a meaningful library? Ask veteran teachers, check garage sales (especially where young people live), and, perhaps most importantly, ask your students what books they want! Good luck and happy reading!

Thank you, Alex, for sharing some creative ideas on how to build a library! I’m pretty tickled to think of Hattie Big Sky sitting on the shelf of your classroom collection. And thanks for caring so much about connecting your students with the books they will read and love.