Maeve Knoth is the PBS librarian.
Community Spotlight is a weekly video series, running mid-August through March, that features interviews with Phillips Brooks School parents, alumni, teachers, students, and trustees, who share their insights about and their experiences at PBS.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I would say I am a librarian, not a teacher, but of course I am a teacher. I feel like I get the greatest gifts from what I read, and that has been true since I knew how to read, and I just like to give that to everyone else. I can remember requesting my first library book at the public library. Before I was in Kindergarten, I remember wanting a certain book and it wasn't there, and the librarian got it from somewhere else for me like magic the next time I visited. And she gave it to me and I was so unbelievably excited to read that story over, and over, and over again. And so if can do that, that's good.
What is a lesson or unit you love to teach?
So with the kindergartners and first graders in particular, I want them to see how, to begin to see how the experience of that story, why it makes them feel a certain way, what are the pieces that work together for them to have the experience, which seems in a way crazy to have them have the experience and then also look at having the experience, but everything we do in the world is we respond because of something. So I feel like if they begin to look at a picture book and say, all those reds and yellows made me excited, then they might be able to extrapolate from that why a certain place makes them feel a certain way, why, honestly, why putting on their favorite shirt might be their favorite shirt. And I love it when they're able to, after we've discussed what an end paper is and how the choice of that paper, or whether there's art or not, or the colors, or the texture, sets the stage for that story. Then a few weeks later when they themselves say, oh, that blue, that made me know it was gonna happen at the ocean, and then I know, oh, they've pulled that thread from that discussion a few weeks ago and made a connection themselves.
What's on the horizon in your classroom? What are you eager to try?
I really wanna think more about poetry and where that fits in the experience of library time for the kids because I think all of us teachers make – I'm saying all like not just in this school, in the world of teachers – we make a mistake and we isolate poetry and we say, now we're gonna study poetry and then you're gonna analyze it and look at this. And I think it does a disservice to poetry, so I don't want them to just check out poetry in April and say, oh, it's National Poetry Month, I want poetry to be a free gift that happens that's sprinkled through their year.
How does PBS support your professional growth?
This is a very easy place to work in terms of my getting what I want and growing as a professional. I get to go twice a year to the American Library Association, I learn so much from that. This past year I said, I need to for five days because I've been asked to chair a committee and it means this much more, and he says, of course, of course, and I know when I was in Chicago this summer and I was leading my committee I actually learned a huge amount trying to make this disparate group work, and I know that that comes back to school, but the fact that admin just trusts that that will come back and enrich the way I deal with my colleagues and they way I work with the kids, that's a huge gift. I feel like I can take risks professionally outside of school and I can risks with the kids and try something new, and in both cases I feel like admin will say, keep going Maeve, see what comes of that. And that's a great pleasure.
What do you hope never changes about PBS?
I really, really appreciate how much people share in the community of adults, what they're thinking, what they're struggling with, what they want help with, what worked really well, I think people are very generous in their approach to the school and the children, and I think it makes a huge difference in how everyone is willing to take risks in trying stuff with the kids and use each other's brain power and empathy, and that I do not wanna change.
How do you instill love of learning in your students?
That's easy, because I think every single thing is interesting. I do, I mean, that you go to some museum, and I went to this Civil War reenactment one day because I thought the kids would like it, and there was a lady there making lace by hand. And that's what she does, and that's what she knows, and she knows so much about lace, and she was telling me this story about going on a tour with lace makers to the museums of Europe to see certain special pieces of lace, this lace was made in the 1650s, and that was crazy to me, I never in my life thought, really, there's people that know that. I mean, of course there are people that know that, on the one hand, but, really, wow, I never thought of that, ever, and it's so interesting, honestly, it is interesting. I'm not gonna be a lace maker, but it's interesting that there is lace in a museum from 1650 that someone would travel to go see. So I feel like every box of books I get from every publisher, there's something in there that I never knew one thing about, that I'm still surprised with every box of books that there's something, how can still write about something I never heard of, cause I read, every day I read new children's books. So that's so easy for me, because I actually think it is interesting, and so if the kids catch that then we're golden. (laughs) Because they will be open to new people, they'll be open to new experiences, and they'll go to college and say, huh, who knew there you could take a class about the history of the Russian Revolution through food, and then they'll be open to it.
Can you share about a time when you saw our core values come to life?
Last spring, the second graders, we read about, we read a lot of tall tales and looked at the structure of tall tales, and the last week I had so many more tall tales than we ended up sharing. I let kids choose one from the table and then partners go off and read it to each other in any way they wanted, and I didn't give them instructions about it, I did not also give them instructions about how to pair up, and what I saw in how they paired up and how they then shared those books with each other showed tremendous sensitivity, I thought. The kids were really aware of who is gonna be comfortable reading aloud, even to me. We've been in class together all year so they really know each other well and I didn't say you have to read evenly, everyone one sentence, one sentence, back and forth, I said just share the story together. And kids who were less comfortable reading aloud, I watched their partner, one, be super patient with them if they wanted to read aloud, and then if they didn't want to read aloud, pick up the slack, without comment, just read to my partner because that's a more fun way to share for him right now, is to listen. They worked great themselves at balancing that because reading aloud and admitting how you feel about reading aloud is tough when you're in second grade, in the spring of second grade. But they just slipped into good ways with each other, super gently, no discussion about it, they just did it, whoever they went and paired with, who was they chose cause that was a friend presumably, they did just what that person needed, so it's nice.