NOTE: This article utilizes the terminology of classroom libraries in the context of physical books but digital books are a recommended alternative (i.e. Reading Spot). Educators should consult with school leadership and take any necessary precautions if distributing physical books in the era of COVID-19.
Back when I was in the classroom, I was one of those teachers whose classroom library consisted of bins of picture books neatly labeled and organized by different themes and holidays. Before my first teaching job, I had worked so hard on creating themed stickers to put on the books so my little kindergartners would know where each book belonged. I was also fortunate enough to have a large closet in my classroom where I housed all of those books on cultural heritage days and months. They would live in my closet until the specific holiday rolled around. Then, I would pull my bucket of themed books out and proudly display them for my students to read.
As soon as the specific holiday or remembrance day ended, I neatly packed the related books up and put them right back into the closet for the next 365 days.
I was so proud of myself; I felt like such a great teacher. I was exposing my students to different holidays and cultures, all while recognizing the many great leaders that paved the way for others. There was no way I was ever going to stop sharing my different themed books with students…
I’ve grown a lot since my first year in the classroom; I’ve developed into the educator I am today. However, looking back at that practice now, I find myself cringing. Walking into classrooms, or seeing teachers online that have buckets they pull out for certain days, makes my heart sink. Over the past few months, I’ve done some deep reflecting on myself as an educator and one of my biggest realizations has been “why are we only displaying these books for a couple days, or at most, a month?” What a disservice we’re doing to our students, especially the ones that identify with these holidays. What do they think when they see their teachers putting those books away? That they only get to celebrate their background once a year? That was my privilege before; I had never stopped and thought about what the message was to our students.
What a disservice we’re doing to our students, especially the ones who identify with these holidays. What do they think when they see their teachers putting those books away? That they only get to celebrate their background once a year?
Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Civil Rights Day
Black History Month
Women’s History Month
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month
Arab American Heritage Month
LBGTQ+ PRIDE Month
Indigenous People’s Day
Hispanic Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month
These books should be a permanent part of classroom libraries where students can read them anytime and where they help foster a sense of inclusion within the classroom.
Students deserve to be able to read and learn about people from different cultures and races all year long. Why should black history books only be displayed for the month of February? Why should only LGBTQ books be out in June? Why can’t we read books about indigenous people, or written by indigenous authors, on days other than October 12th?
When we know better, we do better.
If I ever end up back in the classroom, I’ve already thought about how I’m arranging my classroom library. I will have all of my books, featuring characters from all different races, mixed together. Each day, I’ll pick new ones to display that feature great people in history or different cultures around the world. And, this time when black history month rolls around, I won’t have to pull a tub from the closet…they’ll already be out and part of our classroom culture.