The “Interview with a Christian School Librarian” is a series that features Christian school librarians and school library staff (both active and retired) from all over the world. The goal of this series is create a sense of community among Christian school librarians and to share our professional wisdom.
Christina Larrechea is the Teacher Librarian at Mission Oak High School in Tulare, California.
How long have you worked in libraries and how did you get your start?
I have worked in libraries since I was an eighth grader, I was a library aide in my school library. I think I just bothered the librarian so much that she asked if I wanted to take it as a class so that she didn’t have to try and keep up with my reading habits. I remember that is where I was when the Challenger exploded. Then when I was in high school I was a student library aide. They actually hired me over a couple of summers to do inventory—back before there were computers and I had to take each card in the card catalog to check! When I was in college I worked in my college library. I was a “normal” English teacher for the first 3 years of teaching as I went back to school at night to get my credential to work in school libraries. I worked 1 year at an elementary school, and 5 years at a middle school. Then we moved to CA and I have worked in a public high school library for the last 5 years.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
The most enjoyable part of being a Teacher librarian is connecting students with books. A motto I live my professional life by is “The Right Student, The Right Time, The Right Book” I truly believe that books can change your life and help you make decisions because you can experience as many lives as you can read about . I also love that I am still a teacher so I still get to teach classes but I usually get to do all the fun stuff such as projects (Poelicious for Edgar Allen Poe or March for Freedom with Social Studies, etc)
What is the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge professionally is being recognized as a teacher with the same rights and responsibilities. It is quite a blow when you’ve worked with someone for 5 years and they still make remarks like “Oh I forgot you’re at this meeting because you’re a teacher.” It is also really hard being the only person on my campus with my job. Most teachers have at least one other teacher they can depend on for help or just a sounding board, but as the TL while you are more connected around campus you are also less connected. I have to “force” my way into dept meetings and insert myself into discussions that would be automatic if I had a “regular” classroom.
What advice would you give to someone just starting off?
The old stereotype of librarians is gone. Your main job is not checking in and out books. Your main job is teaching literacy whether it is digital or traditional. Today’s librarians have to be out and about going into classrooms and forcing themselves to be available as a “resource” to teachers. You have to be very familiar with what is going on at the state level to understand how that affects your job and you have to know a lot about your campus and who is teaching what and when so that you can make yourself a resource.
Brag a bit! Tell me about the best thing you’ve done at your library. Did you implement a program, a policy, or create something you’re proud of?
In Oregon I was selected as the Teacher Librarian of the year by the Oregon Association of School Libraries (2007). Last year, a few teachers nominated me for our local Tulare County’s Teacher of Excellence award-which I didn’t win, but as they say it was an honor just to be nominated. The program I love the best in terms of recency is one I developed in conjunction with Junior Social Studies teachers just a few years ago. Students were studying about the Civil Rights and the Soc Studies teachers approached me about helping them. We developed our own March for Freedom where all juniors would get out of their normal 2 hour block and march to different checkpoints around our campus to learn about this significant time period in our history—literally making the textbook come to life. They experience school segregation and bus segregation; they go to “jail;” they listen to community speakers talk about what it was like to live during that time period; and they hear the words of MLK himself from his I have a dream speech. Students have left in tears and said they never knew what it was like before even though they have learned about that time period their whole lives.
I also really loved a program I developed at my middle school called Survivor: Book Islands. Teachers would vote to put 20 books onto an island (a display case I had decorated to look like an island). Then every week students would have a chance to vote a book off the island and try and win immunity for their favorite book to stay on the island. We had lunch time competitions like basketball shoots and trivia questions, shuffleboard and jump rope competitions. Students would compete in the name of the book and whichever book won could not be voted off that week. Every week we made a video highlighting different events for the whole school to watch and then students would vote. Students were talking about it in the hallways and trying to convince other students to compete for their book. It was amazing. When the island was first set up with 20 books students could vote for the book they thought was going to win immunity and in the end the last book left standing, everyone who voted for that book was invited to a pizza party. It was a lot of fun and it really increased reading.
What are some of the issues you deal with that you feel are unique to Christian school librarians?
Being a Christian teacher in a public school you have to walk a very fine line between professional obligations and moral obligations, but I don’t think those challenges are unique to librarians. Maybe the only issue unique to Christian TLs is the issue of censorship vs choice. Often times you have to make decisions about putting books on shelves that perhaps personally you don’t agree with or that don’t align with your moral views. Every person is different and every location is different so you have to make the best choices for you and where you are at. At the end of the day the guiding principle for the choices I make for my library is: Does this book teach a life lesson that will make a person a better person. I don’t agree with teen pregnancy but I have tons of books in my library on this topic. I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol but I have tons of books in my library that talk about this topic. I can’t just decide unilaterally for everyone that a book is “bad” because it doesn’t line up with my personal beliefs, but I can decide if it will be to the betterment of my community and my students to make this book available. Early in my career this caused me great stress, but as I have been in libraries for over 10 years now, I realize that I cannot force someone to align to my beliefs because then it wouldn’t be free choice and I would force them if I only had certain “safe” materials available.
Do you have any thoughts on how Christian librarians in secular schools can be lights for Christ while adhering to workplace rules about sharing our faith?
I can’t tell you the number of opportunities I have had to share my faith with students because I am not a traditional teacher. Students talk to me all the time about what they are reading and it is a perfect opportunity to share my personal beliefs. Students will read a book about suicide and share about a friend of theirs who committed suicide and then they ask me how they should cope. You can always answer personal questions with personal beliefs, you just can’t “teach” those beliefs as the only way to a whole classroom full of students.
Many thanks to Christina for taking the time to answer my questions and share her thoughts! If you’d like to be interviewed for this series, click here to let me know about your interest!
Also, don’t forget to enter my giveaway to win a copy of The In-Between by Jeff Goins.