I have been teaching for twelve years. Five of those years were spent teaching Kindergarten, establishing the very foundation of education for little minds. It was thrilling to be the first teacher in their lives, and I loved seeing them grow so much during their first year in formal school. During that time I completed my first advanced degree (a Master of Arts in Education Administration). I will admit, I only got that degree for the pay raise. I have never had aspirations of becoming a principal. As I finished my coursework, the tiny school where I taught lost the “travelling librarian” we shared with three other rural schools in the district. It was a classic case of “Country Mouse, City Mouse”. The school board moved him to a town school, and he was thrilled to be in one place every day. There was no one in the district with the qualifications to fill the position. I was determined that our students would not be denied access to a school library. So I did what any perfectly normal person would do. I began working toward another degree! For one entire school year, the doors of four elementary school libraries were closed while I worked to get the degree. No books, no library lessons, no book fairs, nothing.
I completely my Masters plus 30 in school library media science in May and began my new job as traveling rural schools librarian in August. It was an amazing experience. I woke up many mornings unable to tell you where I was going that day. My beat up Volvo went through two sets of tires. It was thrilling and heartbreaking. Word came down that the small schools were going to be consolidated in the next few years, closing the community schools and in effect killing the communities. I could not bear to be a part of it, and I was going through a painful divorce. (Yes, that’s a story for another time.) I packed up my bags and my considerable amount of student loan debt and moved to my current city. A forward thinking, progressive school system in the fifth largest city in the state, our district feeds from the Army installation and the ever growing population. I am so blessed to be a part of this elite group of educators. I spent the next four years at one of the many elementary schools, being a teaching librarian. I had library classes and open checkout all day, every day. I began to see that some teachers think that librarians (and music teachers, art teachers, PE teachers, Guidance counselors, and computer teachers) are only there to provide them with planning time. How many times has someone said to me “I didn’t know you had to have a college degree to be a librarian!”. I always want to say “Yes, idiot- in my case it takes THREE and I have more student loan debt than you make in a year thankyouverymuch!”. I don’t say it though. I was raised in the South. I just smile and say “Bless your heart”.
This year I made a change. I’ve spent my entire career in an elementary school setting. It’s safe there among the little chairs, kidney bean tables, crayons, and picture books. Besides, the librarian is a rock star in the elementary school. I likes walking through the cafeteria or down the hall and hearing screams of “Hi Mrs. Library Lady”, or “Hey I love that book you gave me”. Rock star status, people. For real. Yet…for some reason I glanced at the open positions sheet posted in the school office last spring, and there I saw an open library job at the high school about ten minutes from my home. High school. BIG kids. BIG books. BIG building. But I felt led. I loved my faculty, my school, my principal, but something was pushing me toward THIS job. I applied, interviewed, and got it. I just finished my first year as a high school librarian. It’s been a challenge. I haven’t taught lessons about how to cite reference materials since library school. I haven’t been “in the know” about the latest young adult fiction, except to know that vampires are hot commodities and that manga/anime books have to be read backwards. Slowly but surely I have become acclimated to my new surroundings. I’m getting used to more mature subject matter in the fiction, and reaching into the far corners of my brain to remember biology terms when students come in asking for help with research. I’m even getting comfortable patroling the stacks in the mornings before the bell rings, watching for young lovebirds who like to hide among the shelves and steal kisses. I’ve even heard a fellow librarian tell those lovebirds they shouldn’t try to make a baby in the library, because that won’t make the baby smart!
I love my new school. I love my job. I love my students, even though instead of 500 I now have 1500 and there are so many I haven’t gotten to know personally. I feel like an equal, a part of the faculty, and a part of the school community. I’m getting used to seeing my students at the salon instead of Toys R Us. It’s nice for them to be able to introduce me to their parents, if they don’t hide from embarassment because they don’t want to admit they know the librarian.
So I told you all that to tell you this. Sunday afternoon I was standing in line with my Handsome Husband and Little A at Publix, playing my usual game of “guess the grocery total” and losing miserably. Someone at the next register tapped me on the back. I turned to see the rosy cheeks, acne scars, and gelled hair of a student, wearing the green apron that proudly proclaimed he has gotten a summer job bagging groceries. I smiled in recognition because he is what we call a “frequent flyer” in the library, not so much for the books but to use our computers and iPads. He opened his mouth just as I was about to ask about his summer, and I know my face fell. He said “Ma’am, do you work at RHS?”. I smiled and replied, “Why yes, yes I do. I recognize you, John.” A grin as wide as the Mississippi spread across his face and then he said it. It sliced like a knife, and set a fire in my throat. He said “I thought so! But I know you’re not a teacher. What are you, a lunch lady?” Handsome Husband drew close to my side, I’m sure he could tell it felt like a slap in the face. I felt as far from being a rock star as I could, but I smiled and said “Yes, John. I’m your librarian.” I know he was oblivious to what he had just said- that I am not a teacher. I am somehow less than a teacher. Despite the fact that I have three degrees, twelve years of teaching experience, and countless hours of inservice and professional development. All I could do was gather myself, give him my most sparkling smile and wish him the best in his new job, hope he enjoys the summer, can’t wait to see him in August, etc.
Walking to the car Handsome Husband put his hand on mine, pushing the shimmying cart across the blisteringly hot parking lot. I knew he was treading lightly, looking for signs that I was not about to start screeching about my education, the lack of respect, lack of acknowledgement for what I do, and more. All I could do was take a deep breath, smile at my beautiful family and say in my sweetest voice….”Bless His Heart”.