This is my first Monday in the library, and the beginning of my third week as a middle school librarian. I’ve had several questions — from my new coworkers as well as from commenters on the DYHJ Facebook page — about how it’s going, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my new job.
1. No one would ever believe how bustling and busy this library is. I’ve never seen anything like it. When they release the barbarian hoards from the cafeteria before school, probably a hundred kids rush into the library, and we’re still checking out books for the “it’s worth it to be tardy if I can get this book” crowd after the first bell rings. That’s small potatoes compared to break, when the library fills wall-to-wall with children. Even with two people manning the circulation desk, we can’t get through the line before break ends. It’s standing room only with kids reading, visiting, playing chess and checkers, or watching other kids playing. Sixth grade lunch passes are the most coveted property on campus. In a normal week there are 40 class periods; we have 39 different classes who come in each week or every other week to check out books, not including classes who will eventually schedule library time for special projects. The library has only been open for book check-out for a week, and we currently have almost 1,700 books in circulation (and a great many items on hold). This library is alive and it’s awesome.
2. Did I mention that the vast majority of our library patrons are boys? Because they are. Our library is stuffed from bell to bell with 11 to 14-year-old boys. How cool is that? And we don’t even let them play computer games!
3. I’m working with special education students for the first time. I know that sounds odd, considering I taught for five years, but as a secondary English teacher I rarely worked with students whose special needs were severe enough to require out-of-mainstream classes. I worked with many students on the autism spectrum — but only very highly functioning kids — and only ever had two with significant cognitive or physical impairment. The students in our special education classes here spend a lot of time in the library, and I’m finding myself very lucky to be getting to know them. We have an entire wall of picture books, and many of these kiddos zero in on them, but others are really fond of the illustrated nonfiction books and will check out volume after volume on their favorite subject (usually animals). I watch their teachers and aides working with them and I still feel astonished at their ability to help, guide, and instruct these students — but as I get to know them, I can understand why a person would love that career!
4. I get to go shopping. For books. With someone else’s money. What a great gig, right? In fact, we had a bit of a windfall this year, which means that I get to really go to town updating our nonfiction section to include CCSS-connected informational texts, and adding the latest and greatest to our fiction and graphic novel sections. I’m about to place a sizeable order, as a matter of fact. The flip side of this coin is that I get to/have to read a lot of middle-level books now, as I need to adjust to and keep up with the current middle level literature. I had some vague idea that I’d be reading as a part of my job, but I’ve yet to see an opportunity to just sit down with a novel while I’m on the clock. So, I’ve always got reading “homework” even when I don’t necessarily want to read something at the PG level… Talk about your problems 😉
5. I’m not 100% certain where I fit in the school. I am paid as a teacher, am certified as a teacher, and even get observed and evaluated like a teacher (although I’ll be darned if I can figure out what criteria will be used for that, given the fact that I have relatively little organized student contact). On the emergency phone tree, though, I’m one of the people responsible for calling a list of teachers — keeping company with the administrators and counselors. The library is connected to the main office suite, set apart from the classrooms. I interact more often with administration than with teachers, and my duties are far more administrative than educational, most days. So what am I? A teacher librarian? A library adminstrator? This school’s social structure doesn’t lend itself toward ambiguity in this area….
6. I like my new job, but I miss my old life. In fact, I really like my new job. I love my coworkers, and I love getting to do nothing but think about books all day long (haha, that’s a joke, because we’re so busy I don’t have time to think about anything, much less books!). But I have to be fair to myself and acknowledge that in leaving, I left behind all of my friends and a career that never felt like “a job.” I have over a thousand students now instead of the 170-180 about which I used to complain, and I’m getting to where I recognize a handful of them and know a few names, but I’m not going to feel close to these kiddos in the same way that I did my most sympatico high school students. I miss bantering with my nerdy almost-adults in the ITE program, or waxing eloquent about archetypes in science fiction films from the past fifty years, or scandalizing seniors by introducing them to phallic and yonic symbols and pointing them out in classical literature. I don’t miss grading essays, feeling afraid of surly male students three times my size, wondering how to teach a lesson without printer ink/photocopies, or dealing with the latest student suicide attempt, juvenile detention, pregnancy, or conveniently-timed “miscarriage.” But I sorely miss hanging out in the teacher breakroom in the English wing, chatting with my friends about everything from Chaucer to church gossip, comparing pregnancies and babies, throwing our collective hands up in the air over the latest catastrophe to befall the district. CHS was one of my homes, and it’s hard (and surreal) to not be there any more, and to know how very different it is than it used to be — because even if I were still at CHS, it wouldn’t be the same CHS, because so many people have gone their separate ways.
7. Sometimes it is really hard to keep a straight face around twelve-year-olds. Without going into too many details, I had to confront a boy who was downloading inappropriate photos on a library computer, and the excuse he gave me — well, let’s just say that it’s been entertaining the staff here for the past couple of days!