June 10, 2016

When Your Dream Job Isn't Your Dream Job


I get asked all the time if I'm going to go back to being an elementary school librarian when my girls are older.

The short answer is no.

Of course, I never like a short answer when a super long one is possible, so here's why I don't think I'll ever go back to being an elementary school librarian.

When I did my library internship in Austin (with the most amazing children's librarian I know), she had all the K-3 classes come in for a 30 minute storytime/book checkout once a week. The other classes came in to check out books every week and then she did bigger projects with them as needed (research projects, computer literacy skills, etc).

This left her a fair amount of time to do amazing other things like lunchtime book club where interested students came in and ate lunch in the library while she read aloud to them, or amazing book fairs where she dresses up as a different book character each year, or visiting the classrooms.

I assumed that when I got an elementary library position, it would be something similar.

My job in Massachusetts turned out to be. . . not similar at all.

For one thing, I had two schools I worked at, and I'd spend a week at one and then a week at the other, so I was not nearly as integrated into either school as I'd hoped.

Also, one of the reasons I went in to libraries was that I didn't WANT to teach full-time. And the school district I ended up in had it set up so I taught EVERY class in the school for an hour a week.

At the bigger school, I taught five hour-long classes every day, with a break for lunch, for five days.

Then I'd go to the smaller school and teach three days of five hour-long classes. Then all my prep time was combined into the last two days of that second week.

In many ways, it felt like all the worst parts of teaching (the discipline, writing detailed lesson plans that corresponded to the state standards) and none of the best parts (it was very difficult for me to get to know the students since there were 800 of them between the two schools and I only saw them for an hour every other week).

(This was in 2009, so I felt so grateful to have any job at all, let alone in my actual graduate degree field).

Because my schedule was so tight, I didn't have any time to do anything extra like a lunchtime book club or longer projects (for instance, spending three hours on a project meant that project took SIX WEEKS from start to finish).

And frankly, it reaffirmed my initial opinion that teaching was not what I wanted to do with my life. I remember watching some of the really amazing teachers from my schools walk their classes out on the last day of school and think, "I cannot believe they've been doing this every year for twenty years."

Some people are really born to be teachers - it's very clear to me that I'm not one of them.

Also, now that I have children, I have zero interest in taking a full-time job that involves MORE children. If I had a full-time job, I would want it to involve only adults, or preferably no one at all.

I always say that if I were to ever get another library job, what I'd really want to do is collection development - I want to have an office where I read reviews, check out new releases, help build and weed library collections, and buy books (is this an introvert's dream job? Yes. At least mine).

I always thought being a children's librarian would be my dream job and there were definitely parts of it I loved - I relished reading aloud so much (I'm blessed with vocal cords of steel - I almost never lose my voice), I loved helping a child find a new book they loved, and I loved having my own space to organize and make reading accessible and interesting to all these students.

But all in all, it wasn't where I wanted to be long-term.

I really feel like now I have way more of a dream job. I love not having a boss, I like the freedom to work on the projects I want to and to involve my children in the things I love, and I love that I can read what I want, share it when and how I like, and I don't ever have to say which state standards reading Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat conforms to.

I also don't miss the smell of boiling hot dogs coming up from the cafeteria into my library every single Wednesday.

10 comments:

  1. Yes, it was the same way with our school librarian--he was split between two schools (except he did mornings at the middle school and afternoons at mine), and they also had him teach classes on top of it (Spanish, in his case). I have fond memories of my elementary school librarian doing the same kinds of things that your "dream job" mentor did at hers, but I think with all the changes in education (esp. in funding), that's just no longer possible.

    I just walked away from teaching after doing it for four years so that I could stay at home with my daughter, and I really wonder if I'll ever go back. I actually do think I was "born to be a teacher," but maybe not in the current climate surrounding education--it's hard to give so much to a profession that has endless demands on your time and energy yet compensates you scarcely for it and also works to tie up your creativity as much as possible.

    For what it's worth, I think you're doing fabulous things with your skill set, and I love how many great books I have found for both myself and my daughter through your blog. Keep pursuing your passions--you'll reach the right people!

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  2. You're making an awfully sweeping statement for someone who worked in one district. Library jobs are different from school-to-school. If you don't get the ideal situation on the first shake, grit your teeth, make the best of the year, and keep your ears open for other opportunities. I went into my first library job thinking I would move on after a year. During that year, building changes convinced me to stay. The next year, a massive technology upgrade made it difficult to switch. The year after that, leadership changes began and I was in it for the long haul. (Being crazy about my students also played a role each and every year). I just finished year 7 and I'm glad I stayed. I have made the library what I want it to be and I can't imagine teaching anywhere else. The moral of the story? Not everybody gets perfection on the first try. My school started out as a piece of coal and now I think it's a diamond.

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    1. Your school is so lucky to have you (and I think that continuity makes such a huge difference for the school community).

      I know that not every school district is like the one I was in (especially because it was very different from the one I did my internship in), but my bigger point, that I may not have been clear enough about, is that I no longer thing working in a school library (any school library!) is my dream job and I'm not planning on returning in the future, even when my children are older.

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  3. I really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. I, too, greatly appreciate your book recommendations for adults and children. Thank you!

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  4. Education, like many other fields, has evolved a lot over the years. With almost 30 years of teaching experience, with many of those years in a school library, I can surely say that it hasn't been easy to stick with it some years. I have worked at every level K-12, worked with effective and ineffective administrators and good and bad teachers. But I became a teacher because of the kids. Thankfully I am reminded of that every time my present book club of teenagers gets together. They are so excited and chatty about the book, they are dying to share their insights about the characters, plot, etc. On those afternoons I drive home smiling and happy thinking "YES! this is why I do what I do." It's not for everyone, so good for you for realizing it and making the changes that make you happy in your life.

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  5. As I come to the end of my college career I am faced with decisions about next year and being a children's librarian is something I am interested in--I love books and children. What are your degrees in and what led you to be a children's librarian? Do you have any advice for someone considering like me? Thanks :)

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    1. I have an undergraduate degree in history from BYU and a graduate degree in information studies from UT-Austin. Being a librarian has always been a dream of mine and when I was in college, I really developed a love for children's literature, and I knew that to get any sort of serious library job (as opposed to just a library assistant), I'd need an accredited degree (I wrote a whole post about the schooling side of becoming a librarian here: http://www.everyday-reading.com/2011/05/so-you-want-to-be-librarian-part-1.html).

      If you're thinking about libraries, I'd recommend you start volunteering at the kind of library you're interested in working in (whether that's a school or a public library), talk to as many people that ARE librarians as possible to see what they suggest, and research programs.

      Good luck!

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  6. This is interesting to me because, as a Massachusetts parent, I know lots of folks here are upset at how elementary libraries are staffed, and I always wondered how that felt to someone who did the job all the time. I also started down a career path of teaching and left because it was clear to me I'm not one of those gifted people meant to do it with patience and love. Great post, thanks for sharing.

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  7. Loved reading this. When I was a senior in high school I decided my dream occupation would be to hand out candy to children. Obviously that's not a career, so, next best thing (and much healthier!) would be to hand out books to children! I wanted to be a children's librarian. I went and got my Elementary Education degree, which confirmed to me that 1. I loved working with kids 2. I loved reading children's literature and 3. I didn't want to be a full time classroom teacher. Since I graduated, I've been the at-home librarian for my kids. :) I started a book blog. I didn't take one chance I had to attend library school. I still think I may go and get a library degree but now I think, "hey, I could probably do all the things I want to do without the advanced degree." We'll see what happens when the kids are older!

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  8. I loved this post, thanks so much for sharing. This is something I've thought about too. I did decide to go the teaching route, which I do enjoy, but there is a huge part of me that would love to get more education and be a librarian at a university. I worked under some librarians during college and it seemed so great to curate collections, research your field, write papers, and then occasionally teach. But for now, I agree that the most important work I'm doing is raising my baby girl and her future siblings. If I can help build a love of reading and learning then I will have had the best of both worlds!

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