29 April 2015

My Path to the School Library

April is School Library Month and several librarians have chosen this month to share their path to the library world. I've enjoyed reading these stories and felt inspired to join in. So, here's mine. 
[Interesting note: I started this post in April of 2014, but never got around to finishing it. And barely made it in under the wire this year.] 

Libraries have always been an important part of my life. I remember going to my local public library as a child. I remember spending hours in libraries on the campus of the University of Georgia while my mom worked on campus. The science library had an awesome sabertooth tiger skeleton out front and it fascinated me. I was even a library intern in high school. But for some reason, being a librarian never really occurred to me when I was considering what I wanted to be. I just saw libraries as a nice sanctuary for a shy, inquisitive kid. And they were. I could have done something else with my time while my mom was working at the university, but I didn't want to. Any time she worked on campus, I'd end up on some random floor at the main library, learning about who knows what. I could have gone to lunch in high school, but I preferred to eat in the library workroom and shelf books. Looking back now, I can't believe I didn't realize then that I should be a librarian. 

As a college student, I worked at my public library, listening to public radio while shelving books. Not a bad gig, eh? I liked it. I especially liked the part where I could sometimes steal a few minutes to just browse through a particularly interesting book on the cart. I always tried to avoid shelving the picture books though, as you could fit about 3,000,000 on a cart. No thanks, I thought. The irony

The shelving job eventually led to a job behind the desk in the Young Adult department, which I also enjoyed. Meanwhile, I was wrapping up my college career and preparing to graduate with a degree* in Middle School Education. That asterisk is there because while I graduated with that degree, I wasn't certified to teach. Why? I didn't student teach. After a short practicum at a local middle school, I felt like maybe teaching wasn't for me. So, I kept working in the Young Adult department while also working overnight stocking at KMart. It was a glamorous life, full of patrolling the web browsing of teenagers and sometimes napping in the KMart toys' aisle in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, that slump was brief.

After realizing I needed a "real" job, I turned back to teaching. But I sought out jobs on the lower end of my certification; I wasn't at all interested in working in a middle school. It was a noble goal, I decided, to work with students during the most difficult years of their educational life, but it wasn't one that interested me. I'm still glad I was a middle school major, because I took some great content classes tied to my two focuses: social studies and language arts. After my first interview, I got exactly what I was looking for. I was lucky enough to land a job as a fourth grade teacher here in Athens.

That first year as a teacher, it was tough. I had 29 students and I didn't really know what I was doing. Teachers will understand what I mean. Your first year is almost always a doozy. I survived in that job for two years. I say I survived, because it was really my teacher training. Looking back, I wasn't half the educator I am today. Fortunately, I'm passionate about what I do. That helped make up for my lack of skill. So, I survived and I learned a lot during those first two years as a teacher. 

Then, I got married and left my hometown for the big metropolis of Atlanta. While there, I worked on a failed Senate campaign and spent the rest of that year remodeling houses. I'm sad to say that this was a fairly library-free year for me. I didn't even get a library card in our new town. Our little adventure in the big city was short lived and we returned to Athens a year later. My luck continued when I was hired as a fifth grade teacher back in the Clarke County School District. And it was during this time as a fifth grade teacher that I finally realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a school librarian. I think part of it was that after a few years of teaching, I'd become much better at read alouds. That may sound a little silly, but it's true. When I first started teaching, I wasn't very good. I wasn't using different voices for different characters, I doubt I was reading with real emotion and inflection, and I wasn't reading the right books. But by this point, in my third year of teaching, I was reading Roald Dahl books to my students and they were hooked! As a classroom teacher, I taught all subjects, but I started realizing that teaching reading was my favorite. Plus, the librarian at my school was a few years away from retirement. Everything sort of just fell together for me.

I enrolled in a master's program at The University of Georgia and started the fall of 2006. I'll be the first to say that I don't know how some of my fellow students did it. Many were working full time, had kids of their own, and were still giving 100% to grad school. I couldn't hack being a teacher and a student at the same time. So, after completing my first year of classes, I took a break from grad school. After one more year as a fifth grade teacher, I took a year off from teaching and went back to grad school full time. It was a great year and it really enabled me to give all my attention to my studies. I loved the program at UGA and especially its leader at the time, MaryAnn Fitzgerald. I learned a lot, made great friends, and truly felt prepared to go out and find a library home of my own.

And I was fortunate. My first job as a school librarian was at Oglethorpe County Primary School and I loved it there. The only downside was the drive, plus I missed working in Athens. So, after two years as a school librarian in Oglethorpe County, I returned to the Clarke County School District as the librarian here at Stroud Elementary School. After four years here, I'm happy to say that I'm proud to be Stroud. 

I love being a librarian. I have so much freedom to teach, I get to know every single student in my building, I get to see kids get excited about reading every single day, and I have gadgets galore. What more could I ask for, right? 

Actually, I do need some benches for our courtyard. 

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