19 September 2014
Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! Rules o' the Ship
Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is a great holiday to celebrate in a middle school. I will definitely be talking like a pirate and telling [probably lame] pirate jokes to the students all day. However, even though we will be swashbuckling and making people walk the plank, I still expect my students to follow my rules.
Every library, every place really, has rules, and my students are very used to that by this point in their lives. They spent the first several days of school learning the rules for each of their classes, the rules for the cafeteria, the rules about what they can and can't wear to school, etc.
When I first set foot in this library, there were no less than five different "library rules" signs on the walls, and each one had a different set of rules on it. I was amazed that the students weren't confused by all the inconsistency, but one of the first things I did [after removing the toilet bucket from my desk, which is another story altogether] is remove all the rules signs. I wanted to start the year with my own set of rules, once I figured out what they were.
I had my own rules-for-the-rules, too: I wanted fewer than five rules (three seemed a good number), and I wanted them to be positive statements, not negative ones. Rules that say "Don't do X!" just beg for children to test them by doing X. I finally settled on the following three rules, which are posted by my desk on a nicely portable sign in both English and Spanish:
1. Be respectful to adults and other students.
2. Be responsible for all library items you use.
3. Leave all food, candy, gum, and drinks outside the library.
The "be respectful" and "be responsible" rules I borrowed from my teaching days. Those two rules cover just about everything that could possibly be a problem, because behavior issues can usually be tied to disrespect of another student (like taking a person's chair or name-calling) or irresponsible behavior (like fighting over a computer or neglecting to pick up game pieces when the bell rings for class). I like that these rules are simple and that the students generally understand that I want them to act like nice people and not jerks in the library.
I don't have a "no running" rule, because running is dangerous to other people in the library and falls under the "respectful" rule. I don't have a no screaming rule for the same reason. The food rule is easy enough to enforce; I've told the students that if they are chewing gum, I'll ask them to spit it out, and if they have another food item I'll send them to the hallway to finish it. I don't throw away their food or drinks, but I do relocate them. Throwing away something the students paid for just makes them mad, and I don't want to anger them unnecessarily, but I do want to keep the library clean.
I also don't have a rule about cell phones. A cell phone rule makes sense in a classroom, since we want students to pay attention and learn. But in the library I have students who chat with each other, who read books, who play board games, who recommend books to me or to others - all of those things can also be done on a cell phone, and I don't mind if they use them to look up an answer on Google or to show their friends their high score on Flappy Birds. It's important to me to have rules that are enforceable, and trying to stop all 50-60 students who are here during lunch from playing with their phones sounds like an exercise in futility.
These rules work well for me in my middle school library, but I can understand if other types of libraries need different types of rules. What rules do you have in your library?