Column Description: Working with new populations of students at the different schools at my campus is a new learning experience for me. Most of my teaching career was teaching students with Autism. I have discovered that despite what I have learned in my academic career, there is room for growth, personally and professionally, both of which will give me the insights to reach my students.

While driving to work one morning, I saw a young boy walking in the rain. He walked right into a deep puddle of water that drenched his sneakers and the bottom part of his jeans as he was trying to get to school. He just kept walking on,  as if nothing happened. I was speechless. In reflection, I realize that when they say, “Hi Miss, how are you?”, they really mean it. When they reach their arms out for a quick hug, they really need one.

I started my new position as a librarian in September, at the Adlai E. Stevenson Educational Campus in the Bronx. The campus houses ten schools, including one middle school and 9 high schools, and holds approximately 2,300 students.  My workload has been intense and overwhelming. However, as intense as it was, a student had expressed that he loved to write and he loved comics, so I mentioned that I can create a creative writing club. My heart had jumped at the idea of offering this senior a chance to express himself. 

A few days later, he comes back with a group of his peers and says that they, too, also want to join the after-school creative writing club. I was deeply touched. I remember how eager each student lined up to write their names down as I stood there surprised and speechless. So, when I see students reaching for the new manga, standing there perusing the books, or sitting down to read through the first few pages before deciding if that was the right one, I am surprised and quite happy. Although, I thought I knew better. 

I’ve been a special education teacher for nine years and a high school teacher for several years prior. I thought I knew how to keep my standards high for all students. I thought that I would never be surprised to see them coming back to me to ask me when the new manga books were coming- some of the same students. I had envisioned myself as a calm, knowledgeable educator. However, I see that setting high expectations is something that I still need to work on and that working with new populations of students requires continuously setting higher standards, despite all that I know or had learned throughout my academic life. 

The students have helped me see weaknesses that I need to overcome if I want to reach them. I’m learning that I have a lack of confidence in myself and that I have a critical attitude that blocks out how really giving and caring I am to these students. After all of the years of education that I’ve had, it has not given me the knowledge to overcome these attitudes. I am getting used to the sunlight- its lightness, high energy, and welcoming warmth. One would think that since I’ve been a teacher for over ten years, I’ve always been in the spotlight, but it has required internal reflection.

I try to live a life of meaning and purpose. As a librarian, I have opportunities to create and build what I want my work to be, how I want to give, and how much meaning I want to fill my life with. Each day, life is changing for me; I am constantly reflecting on who I am becoming and a sense of pride is growing within. The creative writing club will begin in a week. This newfound light that I feel is always shining, I hope to share with the students, as they grow through learning to express themselves by using their own voices. Maybe, with the sunshine, they will see the puddles in their paths.

Jaklin Sweis is a school librarian at the Adlai E. Stevenson Campus in the Bronx, in a library that serves ten schools. Her educational career includes earning a Masters of Library Science, with a specialization in School Media (2021), a Masters of Science, with a specialization in Adolescent Education (2008), a Masters of Arts in English (2001), and obtaining Students with Disabilities Certification (2012). She has a love for yoga and earned her 200 hour certification in 2019. She also loves going to the gym, and her newest form of exercise that she enjoys doing is Pilates. She is also passionate about writing and reading.