The Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) has developed a unique initiative under the leadership of Victoria Sanchez, Education Specialist at MPL: the Teacher in the Library program. This community-minded program brings certified teachers in nine neighborhood libraries “to assist students in grades 1 through 8 and their parents with homework help, academic support and encouragement.” This mission statement reflects an educative program that invites in the conversation “those with the most to gain or lose by its outcome” (Delpit 6), ie the parents, especially of children from disenfranchised communities. The program makes it clearly explicit on its flyer:
“Teachers will help parents
- learn ways to help their children at home with school assignments
- by answering questions they have regarding their child's homework”
Lisa Delpit in her book Other People’s Children (2006) emphasizes the necessity for educational programs to include parents, particularly of children of color, and to “value and make use […] of the language and the culture children bring from home” (Delpit, xxvi). The language at home is often time not the Standard English promoted at school, it can be a different English or for many, another language. The mission statement of Teacher in the Library acknowledges this diversity and features on multilingual flyers available to parents in each library, in English, Spanish and Hmong. A bilingual Spanish/English teacher is also available at one of the locations.
Like in the program MANOS that Steven Alvarez describes in Brokering Tareas (2017), Teacher in the Library is an afterschool program, where teachers help students and their parents with student homework. Nicole Taylor is a teacher at Villard Square Library. According to Taylor, the majority of the students at Villard Square are black and live in nearby neighborhoods. Four of her regular students are from African immigrant families. These four students are her “regulars” who come every day, the others are mainly “drop-ins.” On an average day, she will help between 4 and 13 students.
In an interview, Taylor first emphasized the necessity of establishing trust with parents and children, and of creating a safe place. She explained how she slowly established trust with parents through simple greetings, small conversations, and invitations to join the children’s table to watch and participate. It took about one month before parents finally directly came to her with questions regarding their children’s homework. These questions often time dealt with math literacy: students are learning math through the Common Core Standards, which looks different from how their parents learned it, in terms of wording but also strategies.
The role of the teacher in the library is then to bridge this gap and empower parents vis-à-vis their children’s education. It echoes what Steven Alvarez observed at MANOS with language literacy, where the mentors’ “involvement also helped to disrupt asymmetrical linguistic inequalities among minoritized parents and their emergent bilingual children” (Alvarez 5). Similarly to MANOS, Teacher in the Library offers a safe space outside of a school system that promotes standard literacies and undervalues home literacies—whether they are math or language literacies.
The four “regulars” who come to Villard Square Library are students from immigrant families. Taylor observed that their time at the library is felt like a social and emotional relief as they feel free to share and express their own culture and language. She sees her role as “building bridges” between the four students and their parents, and between the four students and the other students.
Like at MANOS, Taylor helps parents and students with literacy homework. If the parents of the four students seem to be at ease with English, they are however eager for advice on how to better help their children with English literacy—especially reading. As Alvarez underlines in Brokering Tareas, the pressure of school achievement is often higher in immigrant population, where parents’ sacrifices “are to be redeemed and validated in the future through their children’s academic merits in U.S. schools” (Alvarez xxiii). Programs like MANOS and Teacher in the Library can help alleviate this pressure.
Teacher in the Library also helps bridge cultural differences by initiating and/or negotiating discussions and interactions between students. Taylor gives the example of a discussion between two students, one who is Muslim from Guinea, and another student who is Christian from Milwaukee. Both students are 3rd graders and Taylor helped them find the similarities between their lived experience with their different faiths. As Lisa Delpit underlines, a better education for students of disenfranchised communities (and really, of all communities) lie “in some basic understandings of who we are and how we are connected and disconnected from one another” (Delpit, xxv).
The Teacher in the Library program offers this “third space” evocated by Kris D. Guttiérez in Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies (2017) “in which equitable learning, dignity, and educational rights are understood from a social interactional perspective.” (Guttiérez 253). It is an inspirational program that gives an insight on how “culturally sustaining” education can be developed outside of school.