Andrea Phillips: I’m a teacher in Florida. Here’s what the DeSantis book bans look like in my classroom
Andrea Phillips teaches third grade students in Florida. For the Independent, she wrote a first hand account of what the DeSantis book ban looks like in her classroom.
“I’m done! I’m done! What do I do now?” Every teacher, in every classroom, hears this many (thousands) of times daily from their students. In my classroom, for more than a decade, the answer has always been “Get a book and read.” That is until last week when I was told to pack up my classroom library until further notice.
Like many Florida teachers, Phillips is being stymied by the requirement of the new law that says all books must be pulled until they are cleared by a media specialist.
Many schools, including my own, do not have a full time media specialist. Due to budget cuts, we have a media specialist every other week. That means we have one person to vet thousands of books in our school alone, before we can have them in our classrooms. In addition to the mountain of work now laid in her lap, she hasn’t even been given a system to vet the books with. Currently, it is a subjective process of a single person reviewing each book with a 12-point questionnaire. One of my issues is that what one person finds offensive, another may find silly. For example, the book ‘No, David’ by David Shannon. On one page an illustration of David running pantless down the street is shown. One media specialist may find this humorous, as it was intended, while another may label it as pornographic. The lack of directives and specificities makes me fear for the future of school-based libraries.
In an attempt to shield their teachers from disciplinary actions, my district issued a directive to make all classroom libraries and media center books unavailable to students until further directed. We have been told that this is a temporary move as the district works toward compliance with this law, but with only one person to vet thousands of books, it doesn’t feel very temporary.
I work in a low socio-economic neighborhood and most of my students do not have access to books at home. Last year, with the help of my family, friends, and community, I was able to start running a Little Free Library out of my classroom. When my students finished group and had free reading time they were welcome to choose a book from my library to take home. They could keep it, share it, or bring it back and trade it out. They loved it. Word got around and students from outside my groups started asking to come and get books and I welcomed them.
Phillips obeyed the district’s instructions to pack up her library.
The next day my first group of students entered and immediately asked, “Where are all of our books Mrs. Phillips?” OUR books. Not mine, but theirs. My kids know that I use my time, my money, and my resources to collect these books and curate a library for them.