Quite unbelievably a whole school year has passed! It has gone so very quickly. I thought this might be an opportunity reflect on my work here.
I have been so fortunate in this job as it has brought me back to my roots in children’s librianship but with the added advantage of having all the management experience from my years in HE. It’s an ideal position really.
Life at Shrewsbury is busy, very busy but in comparison to working in cash-strapped HE is is not as stressful. The school is extremely active and there is something (or multiple things) happening every week. It’s quite hard to keep up.
Working in a school environment has its pros and cons. We are a selective school for the elite of Bangkok which means that we are well resourced and the children are on the whole highly motivated, many of them go on to fantastic academic achievements. In addition to that I have been completely bowled over by their artistic, musical and sporting talents too. I just love listening to them perform and have been treated to some amazing concerts throughout the year.
This little girl, as well as being an exceptionally talented pianist for her age (6) is also one of my year 1 excellent readers. I do enrichment activities each day with groups of the bright and gifted children to stretch and develop them by exposing them to a variety of authors, genres and styles of writing.
Moving to a new job/new country was a leap of faith but I can honestly say that I have made some wonderful new friends here and overall I have a renewed respect for all teachers & TAs. Dealing with classloads of noisy children is exhausting and trying at times.
Although our children are largely very respectful and well behaved I do find myself saying ‘no running’ & ‘slow down’ quite often at break and lunchtime (and that’s inside the library!) Some days I feel as though I am saying it on a loop, largely because the library is on a bridge between the senior and junior schools and many children feel compelled to run between the two! Or take a running leap to get up or down our many stairs! (We have LOTS of stairs which is crazy in a library as we cannot push a trolley around and so end up carrying all our books by the armful- don’t get me started on THAT one…)
Several of our children come from extremely wealthy families however as I don’t know their individual backgrounds, to me they are all just children who need to be told to tie their shoelaces or tuck their shirts in. I have no idea which are the billionaire families but apparently we have 8!!! Regardless of their background I think our children are great. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with them, especially the younger ones. They all smile and wave at me and yell my name in greeting down the corridor. There are some genuinely lovely smiles and I feel really appreciated. Of course there are times when they drive you nuts…
Me *trying desperately to log into the online register on my phone for an after school book club*
Register being uncooperative. Meanwhile…
Year 6 boy Mrs Toner! …Mrs Toner! Mrs Toner! MRS TONER!!!
Y6 boy; Mrs Toner he touched my shoulders
Really!!!!!!! THAT was important?!?!
One of the challenges of working in a school setting for me has been the bell! I have been used to managing my own time and I generally start a job and work until it is finished but in school the bell goes every 55 minutes and it’s all change. I have got used to it now but that was definitely difficult to adapt to in the beginning.
The library itself is in need of refurbishment. The school is expanding and we simply don’t have enough space. As the only air conditioned social space on campus the library is extremely popular at break and lunchtimes but mostly from kids who just want to ‘hang’. They mess around and disrupt those who are trying to study/read so we have had to do quite a lot of behaviour management in the senior space. It’s improved considerably now after a whole year.
The space has been so well used that it is suffering from wear and tear and starting to look tired. Somewhat disappointingly the plans from the architects were not ready in time and so the refurbishment work has been put back to the summer of 2019 (although I have replaced all the computer chairs this week)
In the meantime I have been able to work on the stock. Basically it hadn’t been weeded (possibly ever) and the humid conditions here mean that the pages of the paperbacks go yellow and musty very quickly and the glue on the spines deteriorates so the spines break and the pages fall out.
I inherited a stock of 42,000 across two libraries but the school is expanding so the refurbished space will need to have more study spaces and less shelving. So far I have removed over 7000 tired, tatty or unused books. This was to the consternation of some of the Thai team who have never been exposed to weeding before!
The withdrawn books were then donated to local schools. One is a temple School in Ayuttha called Wat Khai. Marivic and I took several boxes to them. They were so excited that we were required to pose in front of the flag pole with the boxes (& some shelves)
It was good to be able to support a community school and they were very grateful. They gave us a lovely lunch which included longan juice, a fruit which is akin to a lychee but which I had never had before. Aroy!
One of the fun parts of the job is book promoting. This year I have been heavily involved in the Bangkok Book Awards. I have been part of a small working group of librarians from international schools and between us we selected the shortlist then encouraged reading and voting for the favourite title across a range of age groups.
The winners this year were:
The bear and the piano by David Litchfield in the picture book category.
Ghosts by Rania Telgemeier in the junior readers category
Scythe by Neal Schusterman (my personal favourite) for young adults.
We then read extensively and have selected the shortlist for next year in good time for a September launch. Here is a sneak peak at the titles. We try to include books from the U.K., Australia and the US as well as ones with an Asian theme, setting or protagonist.
Another fun aspect of the job has been watching the children engage with books and develop their reading. As an after school activity I run a ‘chatter books ‘ club which encourages children in years 3 & 4 to share the stories they are reading. Then we have fun activities such as quizzes or word searches. When doing a theme of fantasy stories the children were designing a dragon and then discussing their creations. Actual conversation…
Boy 1: mine is called Crusher and has laser eyes
Boy 2: mine is armour plated and has a flame thrower POW POW
Boy3: mine is called Death and has bombs and a light sabre
Girl 1: mine is fluffy and called marshmallow
Marivic and I also run a highly successful after school ‘breakout box’ club where we can subtly teach library skills in the form of codes, puzzles and ciphers. Feedback on this has been fantastic and it is much in demand. When they open the box there are sweets inside. No chocolate as that would just melt! Two teams of 6 race against each other to open the boxes first. The tension is palpable.
And the downsides? Well, it’s hot and when the air conditioning breaks down it is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to work. Even on a normal day you go from extreme hot to quite chilly as you move around the school so you fluctuate in temperature all the time. Actually I fluctuate in temperature quite a lot but that might just be my age.
I have made many new and good friends here but the way that contracts work means that sadly several are leaving I guess that’s something which I will just have to get used to. In August I will have a whole new set of people to get to know.
The other area which I have found frustrating is purchasing. Being in a private school with an owner we have to use suppliers that he dictates. Coming from the cash strapped public sector in the U.K. this has been difficult to get my head around. I have been used to VFM and tender processes etc.
I have learned an enormous amount about the international school market which has been fascinating. And I love reading the children’s books (which is just as well as I have read nearly 200 since i started!) I should at this point say that goodreads is an excellent website for keeping track of your reading.
We have run some great competitions including a bookmark challenge. These are the winning designs, one from each year in the junior school and one from the seniors. These have all been professionally printed as the official Shrewsbury bookmarks.
I would like to finish by saying that my team have worked extremely hard particularly as I have breezed in full of new ideas.
But I’m not sure that I would have made it without my Assistant Librarian, Marivic. She has been so supportive and helpful when everything was new and confusing. We work very well together and have laid many plans for developing the library service next year.
But that is another story.,,