Feeling Discouraged As a School Librarian

Feeling Discouraged As a School Librarian - Changing from a respected classroom teacher to a quaint School Librarian in a misunderstood job can make us feel quite discouraged. Here's a heartfelt response to frustrated colleagues, and some ideas for expanding your influence. #NoSweatLibraryOccasionally on library listservs or Facebook groups we School Librarians express frustrations which we have mostly accepted as part of our job—we just need to share with our colleagues and get a virtual hug.

It’s different, though, to see a new School Librarian express feelings of worthlessness. We feel especially sympathetic because we don’t want to lose them to disillusionment. Nearly all new School Librarians become discouraged during our first year after moving from the classroom to the library, so I hope I can offer some encouragement to you newbies who may be feeling unappreciated.

THE TEACHING DIFFERENCE

After becoming a School Librarian, I came to realize the big difference between being a school librarian and being a high school science teacher is dominion, that is, having authority over my classroom instruction. Even given federal, state, or district requirements, a classroom teacher pretty much decides what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach.

A classroom teacher has continual personal contact with students, with their learning, and with their end products. As School Librarians, especially at the secondary level, we teach haphazardly, and rarely are we a continuing part of a project, or even see the end product, let alone have input on how it is assessed.

Folks aren’t aware of our school library curriculum, so we aren’t viewed as teachers—we’re seen merely as the book caretaker. Our colleagues and administrators seem to forget that we are accomplished teachers with teaching degrees and years of classroom experience. That makes us expendable, thus many schools no longer have a certified School Librarian.

“If it isn’t written down it never happened.” 
Tom Clancy

I believe a huge error is made when library information literacy skills are embedded into subject curricula without identifying them as such. Information and Media Literacy gets pushed onto classroom teachers, who have neither time nor the training to teach it properly. Thus a School Librarian has to work extra hard to convince classroom teachers to do a lesson, to “let the librarian do that part,” that we are professionally trained to integrate such knowledge & skills into their classroom activities.

THE ROOM DIFFERENCE

Another big difference between a School Librarian and a classroom teacher is jurisdiction, having authority over my own “classroom”. Unless a school is particularly pressed for space, no one else uses a teacher’s assigned room, so they have nearly complete control over it. Au contraire the school library! Because of its size and layout—and being cozier than the cafeteria or gym—the school library is frequently appropriated for meetings, professional development, and special events, as well as student testing, guest speakers, and presentations.

No one thinks twice about planning to use the library, and all too often they don’t think to ask or notify the librarian! What is unthinkable for a classroom teacher is a common occurrence with any school library. Many an afternoon a teacher or administrator would enter my library and begin moving things around to set up for their event the next day, and I’d have to scramble to make alternative arrangements for the groups of students I’d planned to have in for lessons.

Such occurrences are why I ask to be in charge of both the print and online school event calendar, so folks have to let me know about any event in the school. Not only does this help immensely for scheduling library use, it also gives me an “in” for taking photos or videos to add to the school website.

THE ROLE DIFFERENCE

A third big difference between a School Librarian and a classroom teacher is function, having authority over our daily activity. In the classroom we have one role: a content-area teacher. Not so as a School Librarian. We must be a supreme multi-tasker: a secretary, a custodian, a tech whiz, a babysitter, a therapist, an accountant, an audio/video engineer, and a diplomat, and in between still a teacher. We need to know everyone’s curricula, and supply any resource we are asked for at the drop of a hat. We’re “always on call”, and everyone is hopeless if we’ve made plans.

Much of the time we’re treated somewhere between a sub and an aide—until we accomplish some feat of wizardry and then we’re regarded as a genius, and everyone wants us to help them accomplish the same thing in the 5 minutes between their phone call to us and when their class starts.

I remember in one of my MLIS courses a couple teachers were retiring from the classroom to become librarians because it was ‘easier’. Of course, we who had already begun as librarians laughed uproariously—this is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but thankfully I love it anyway!

FINDING OUR NICHE

Accepting the Changes When Becoming a School Librarian - There's a huge contrast in responsibility when changing from a classroom teacher to a School Librarian. If we understand & accept the 3 main differences, we can work toward our "new self" and avoid becoming discouraged. #NoSweatLibraryI’m still convinced that other educators will gradually “get it,” that eventually they’ll realize the School Library’s information & media literacy knowledge and skills learned from the School Librarian are important to our children’s futures, more than just about any other thing they learn in school.

While waiting for that time, I trade dominion and jurisdiction for influence, becoming a powerful and compelling force on the learning and actions of everyone in my sphere. I do what I can to slowly turn each teacher, student, and administrator into viewing me as the most indispensable person in the building.

The School Librarian needs to be a true renaissance person, expanding into every avenue of education and technology, finding personal satisfaction in our own accomplishments, and knowing that it will take at least 5 people to replace us. Strive to make the library a Knowledge Production Center—the place students come to for creating audio, video, digital, and designed work products, and where teachers come begging to help them learn and integrate!

It took until my 5th year as a librarian to really master my job and to convince colleagues that “I really am a teacher.” For those who find they don’t like school librarianship, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the classroom. We all need to find our niche, and having tried something that doesn’t quite fit should not be disappointing: it’s actually a giant step on the road to self-actualization.

Actually, it might be good for librarians to periodically spend some time back in the classroom, just to keep fresh, although who they’d get to cover for us is beyond me!

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

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2 thoughts on “Feeling Discouraged As a School Librarian

  1. This is encouraging. I agree with these points, and only over the last two years have I surpassed the number of years as a classroom teacher vs school librarian. 23 years in all (on record), 10 vs 13 years, respectively. Yes, I must say, I do miss much about the classroom . Yet as I look around, much has changed in both arenas, and I’m often times left wondering about the overall direction of our education system as we all fight to maintain balance in our ever-shifting tech rich environments. This is indeed a battle….one I aim to win with the help of my legion of fellow educators, technology specialists and eager children willing to roll their sleeves up and help us maintain a fully functioning, organized, welcoming and relevant school hub! A daily battle it is, and Lord knows I can’t do it alone!

    • Hi Natasha,
      It’s so kind of you to respond to my post. You certainly have a legacy to be proud of, and it sounds like you already have a positive and dedicated attitude toward your “school hub” (love that wording!). If my blog can help, I’m pleased; if you need something I’ve not yet covered, let me know. My highest hopes for continuing your battle to bring joy and learning to students.
      BrP

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