Lisa Pham, Bach Elementary librarian

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Lisa Pham (rhymes with “mom”) grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been in the education field for more than two decades.  In 1999, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northern Kentucky University.  

As her teaching experience broadened, so did her technology skills.  What started as eight years in the elementary classroom moved to online teaching and curriculum development.  Her experience in helping other teachers with technology in after-school workshops led to her becoming a certified SMART Board trainer running professional development sessions for teachers across multiple states. Heading back to the classroom she took on the role of middle school technology teacher and librarian. It was then that Pham was able to begin merging her passion for technology, thirst for books, and excitement for research and output it into the lives of students and teachers. Her role then shifted over the next five years to primarily that of a technology teacher.

Since her family moved to Michigan in 2016, Pham wanted to get back into a similar librarian role but wanted more formal training from an ALA-accredited school.  She started pursuing a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science in August 2017 and graduated 16 months later from the University of Missouri in December 2018.  She joined Ann Arbor Public Schools in February 2019 as the librarian at Bach Elementary.  

Bach Principal Colette Ivey says Pham is an integral member of the Bach team and community who is loved by all.

“Mrs. Pham’s endless capabilities are a gift to her students and colleagues,” says Ivey. “She goes above and beyond in everything she does and jumps in to help at a moment’s notice.”

Bach Resource Room teacher Rachel Gowman admires the fact that Pham has been gathering culturally relative Native American books written by Native Americans after she reached out to a tribal librarian for advice.

“Lisa is an awesome librarian,” says Gowman. “She’s full of resources for the kids; she’s very dedicated and passionate about multicultural education and making sure the library reflects an equitable multicultural education.”

Pham explained that she was concerned about the authenticity of some books in the libraries after reading an article that brought up inaccuracies of the tribes they reflected. 

“I wanted to replace those materials with books written from #ownvoices, but was having difficulty with my search,” Pham says.  “I came across a tribal librarian’s name in one of my searches and took a chance by reaching out to her, as I had no one local I knew to ask.  She wrote back a fantastically informative email that really helped me frame my thinking as I search for new materials.”

Last year, Pham solicited video clips from fellow AAPS librarians and created a video to remind students and staff they were still eager to support their reading and research needs.  

Pham and her husband, Phi, live in Dexter with their four children: Calvin, Oliver, Larkin, and McKinley. She is active in her local church, enjoys attending her kids’ sporting events, spending time outdoors taking walks and biking with her family, and cooking Vietnamese food. 

What will you remember most about working for AAPS this past year?

I will hold tight the memory of how our library department came together to support one another and the district through all the transitions we’ve had over the past year.  Our team jumped in to help ITD with tech troubleshooting, pushed to get eBooks to students through Sora and MyON, and provided training and support to teachers in transition to hybrid.  This was the year I really got to know my fellow librarians and learned what amazing and unique gifts and strengths they each bring to our team.

Specials such as library time remain remote. How has the transition to hybrid learning been going for you? 

The biggest change since the return to hybrid learning is that grade-level classes are combined for specials.  For me, this has been truly a fun experience because students from multiple classes join together in Zoom for my lessons.  It has also given students who have remained fully remote a chance to interact with their peers in other classes. I wish I could have captured the students’ smiles and excitement that first combined class in April when many realized they finally got to see their friends for the first time all year.

Are you happy to be back in the buildings?

Absolutely.  Even though my classes are remote, I enjoy hearing the chatter of students working down the hallways and being able to interact with students at lunch and recess. My family is happy that the hundreds of books I brought home have finally made their way back to my library!

What do you miss most about pre-COVID workdays?

I miss having students in the library.  My library is usually active and noisy, full of movement, inquiry, discovery, and excitement.  It feels too quiet.

What’s a typical workday like for you now?

My day starts out with my earliest Zoom class beginning at 8:10, followed by morning arrival duty. All of my classes are taught virtually, so in between my scheduled zoom classes you can find me running around the building troubleshooting pop-up tech issues, covering recess and lunch, assisting classroom teachers, proctoring M STEP tests, checking out books to classroom teachers, and if there’s any time left, developing my library collection.  I am also currently the Elementary Library TLN department chair, supporting the 17 other elementary librarians across the district, plus two long-term subs, as well as mentoring one of our new librarians. Then comes time for dismissal duty, followed by my last class ending at 3:10. After this comes committee meetings and/or professional development training, some of which I deliver, as a part of the elementary CIS team.  

What’s the happiest part of your day?

Lisa Pham on playground duty Monday.

Besides seeing my students on Zoom, my second favorite part of the day is arrival duty.  I love saying good morning to students and families. It brings me joy knowing I can help start a students’ day with a smile, simply because I say, “Good morning! It’s nice to see you. I’m glad you are here.”  Everyone deserves to feel welcomed.

What’s the best thing a student said to you lately?

After teaching a digital citizenship lesson this week on staying safe online, a first grader responded, “This class will actually help me a lot, because when I play a game sometimes words pop up and people try to talk to me that I don’t know.  Now I know not to talk to them because they might try to do something to hack my game or show me something bad.”  I tell my students that keeping them safe is one of my top priorities and this includes online safety.  My hope is that all my students will internalize this important concept.

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps:

Over the past year, I have enjoyed numerous audiobooks through reading apps, such as  Sora and Hoopla. I am thrilled that we have Sora available for our students to continue reading and listening to books through the summer! The Ann Arbor District Library has also been wonderful in allowing students the ability to connect to AADL ebook and audiobook resources through our Sora app. Here is more information for families who would like to make sure their student’s Sora account is properly connected with AADL. 

Your favorite books:

It is hard to pick, as there are so many great books I’ve read, but the one I go back and reread the most is a collection of 66 books: The Bible, with Ephesians being the most meaningful to me.

Your favorite children’s books:

As a little girl, “Curious George” books were my favorite picture books. I love to read aloud “Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library”, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”, and “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”  

What inspired you to become a librarian, and when did you decide to work in schools?

I think I was always destined to be a librarian, though I didn’t know it until the opportunity had been handed to me.  Looking back, though, the signs were always there.  When I was a little girl, I created my own library book pockets with checkout cards for the books on my bookshelf.  I would hold storytime sessions for my stuffed animals and dolls.  I have always loved reading.  Growing up, my teachers would never believe that I had read as many books as I actually had read.  My second grade teacher not only lost my very first public library card but refused to let me add circles to the class reading caterpillar—one circle per book—because I had too many already and she didn’t trust I was actually reading the books. I can still feel the sting of tears that fell as I insisted I had.  My ninth grade English teacher told me it wasn’t possible to have read over 75 books in a summer, even though my volunteer work as a librarian intern at my church had given me unlimited access and I had averaged two books a day. Thankfully, those incidents only fueled my thirst for books, which carried over into my classroom teaching.

I encouraged my students to recommend books to each other and to me. I read their recommendations so I could join those literacy conversations. By far my most favorite time of the day was when I would read aloud to my students.  Much later, in what I like to call a “God-moment,” I was asked to teach middle school technology classes and fill the role of a librarian. I was honest and said, “I can teach your technology classes, but I don’t know the first thing about being a librarian.” A wonderful mentor helped show me the ropes of managing a library and after 12 years in education, I felt that I had finally found my calling.  It was after we moved to Michigan that I was able to pursue my Master’s in Library Science to make that calling “official.”  Now I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

Pham on May the Fourth

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?

I strive to have my life reflect kindness and compassion to others, easy to forgive, as I’ve been forgiven many times. If someone feels even an ounce of that in their life after meeting me, then that alone is a great compliment.

How do you keep students engaged?

Since our specials classes are only 30 minutes, it’s really important to have a focused lesson.  Focused doesn’t mean less fun, though. Our elementary library team has worked together to create some really amazing, interactive lessons this year.  I like to bring enthusiasm, movement, and silliness to my lessons.  For poetry, we sang a rhyming pirate song and all turned on our pirate filters, singing with an “arrrrr” in our voice. During the week of May 4th, I wore a Darth Vader helmet to teach all my classes, dressing fully as Darth Vader specifically on the 4th for Star Wars Day. Students would pop on to Zoom, see Darth, and run off to get their own masks and characters. One second grader came to class, saw the helmet, and said, “That was you?! You got me out of my car the other day!” 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is when I hear “Mrs. Pham, guess what book I’m reading!”  Students often excitedly tell me about their current book when I pass them in the halls or they are jumping out of their cars in the morning. I love that when students see me, they immediately think of books.  

How do you spend your summers?

We like to travel during the summer. It gives us a chance to spend time as a family and to also visit out-of-state family. Last year, we tiptoed into the UP for the first time, visiting Tahquamenon Falls. It was beautiful! This year, we are excited to trek further to the Keweenaw Peninsula.

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