That’s right, I’m back to studying to be a youth services librarian, ideally focusing in on working with children. I want to discuss my reasons why, because I know I sounded very certain about becoming a school librarian last Christmas, but I’ve had time and reason to change my mind.
I’ve known since February or March that I probably didn’t want to be a school librarian after all, and plenty of other people have heard me vent my spleen on the subject since then. But I want to write down my reasons, so I can share them with others if ever I need to do so. It’s not that I ~just couldn’t handle it~. It’s a number of things that made the prospect of school librarianship significantly less
Schools give me bad memories.
This is one of the biggest reasons I decided to change back to youth services. From around middle school onwards, I kind of hated school. I was often bored by my classes, and if I wasn’t, I struggled. (That’s the difference between language arts and math for me, lol.) Either way, the result was often a lackadaisical approach to homework, especially the homework I thought was “stupid”–the busywork. I disliked many of my teachers, and sometimes felt bullied or disliked by them. My classmates would tease me frequently, most frustratingly over things I couldn’t control, like my vocal tic. (As an aside, I recently had a kid come into work who had what I presume was a vocal tic similar to mine. I couldn’t tell you for sure–perhaps it was more intense than mine was–because I could never hear mine as I talked. But it was eerie and a little distressing; while I’ve met people with stutters, I’d never met anyone who breathed in the middle of words like I used to before then.)
I thought that focusing on elementary school, rather than middle or high school, would keep me from feeling weird about it being a school. But even an elementary school kind of wigged me out. I just plain don’t enjoy spending time with teachers in a professional capacity, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life going someplace that reminds me of some of the schools I attended.
I don’t want to be That Teacher.
Tied in with the above is the fact that I just plain don’t like myself within the context of a school. Am I a mean bully to kids? Not necessarily. Could I become one? I don’t want to think the answer is yes, but I’m not entirely confident the answer is no. What if I become that person who brushes off children’s feelings, or snipes at them, or turns a blind eye when they hurt each other? I don’t want to be, but within the environment, I’d be worried it could happen.
Librarians aren’t immune to that horrible combination of burnout and douchebaggery, after all. The head librarian in my high school wasn’t well-liked by anyone, and for whatever reason, I don’t think she liked me in particular. She reduced me to tears on at least two occasions; the one I remember most clearly was when, during a seventh-period study hall, she found me doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Other students paid the ten cents to photocopy that, she said, and I was being selfish for writing on it instead of showing basic courtesy to library property. Et cetera, et cetera. There was no posted policy, I’d never seen anyone photocopying the newspaper before, and half the time someone had already started the crossword puzzle–on the newspaper!–when I got to it. I was embarrassed and angry that she was reading me the riot act when I hadn’t known I was doing something wrong. She was a paper tiger of a woman, the kind of person who throws her weight around in the only place she can, and I think that’s a horrible thing to be.
(I hasten to add that the other two librarians were great people, and one of them had previously worked at my elementary school, so I was always terribly fond of her. But wow, the head librarian was terrible. Her ratings on Ratemyteacher are around 30%. By now, she’s retired, no doubt, and good riddance to her.)
People have said to me, you could be the change schools need. But I don’t think I have the personal wherewithal for that. I don’t think I want to be the change schools need. And I think that’s all right.
The serendipity factor.
I work with children often in my job as a bookseller. I spend a lot of time in the children’s department, I’m nominally in charge of our teen section, and my coworkers often bring customers to me if they’ve asked hard-to-answer questions about kidlit or YA. And I love my interactions with kids at work.
What was missing from a lot of the teaching I observed is that delicious moment of serendipity, the strange and wonderful chance discussions one gets into with children. A little girl comes up to me in search of a good book; within a minute, we’re exclaiming together over how much we both loved Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, and I’m pressing a copy of Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira into her hands. The kid who comes to storytime every single week hugs me before she leaves and says thank-you. I have the freedom at work to let my small customers dictate what we talk about, which books I show them, and what they (and I!) get out of their visit to the bookshop.
Teachers do an unquestionably important job, managing classrooms full of (often overflowing with) children and striving to teach them the things they need to know to succeed in college, work, and life. But there’s a structure to that, and that structure simply doesn’t appeal to me. I love to interact with children in a more relaxed way. I love the informality of what I do now, and I think that I get a lot more out of my work when my job is “figure out what Kid X needs and provide it, often on one-on-one terms”.
Oh, God, the classes.
There were very good things about our classes. The readings were often insightful, and the in-school observations we did were incredibly valuable. But when we actually met for class? While we sometimes had wonderful guest speakers, our class meetings didn’t always feel as relevant or useful. In fact, it often felt like being back in high school.
The professors were scatterbrained. The syllabi and the calendars didn’t match. The expectation often felt like one was supposed to accept readings unquestioned rather than discuss the potential biases or problems with a text. Discussions felt slow, shallow, and sometimes completely irrelevant.
I hated taking the classes, and I hated paying to take them. I got perfectly good grades to show for my efforts, but the thought of taking any more education classes makes me want to stab myself in the face.
So what about a PhD?
Right now, my plan is not to pursue a PhD when I’m finished with my MLIS. That might change. It’s something I’ve considered, on and off, since last summer, when my favourite professor in the LIS department told me she thought I could accomplish a PhD. That’s one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten, and I still can’t entirely believe it. Aren’t I supposed to be the student who slacks off constantly? The one who’s bright but barely scrapes by when it comes to grades?
(That’s one of the most miraculous things about getting my MLIS: the fact that I can, and do, complete my work and generally manage to present myself as a competent student. I don’t know if it’s that I’m finally old enough to take school seriously, or if it’s the fact that my mental illnesses are no longer going completely untreated, or that I’m finally studying something I love with my whole heart. Maybe it’s all those things. Anyway, it’s amazing to me, and it makes me so happy and proud of myself. Look, everyone, I can do school in a way that was completely beyond me back when I was twelve! It’s crazy.)
The first time I went to graduate school, I went straight after college. On the one hand, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It changed not only my life, but the lives of other people around me, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I had while I lived in New York City. On the other hand, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for graduate school or certain what I wanted to get out of the experience, and I think that’s a lot of why it didn’t work out. I knew I loved studying music, but I didn’t realize just how much I didn’t love writing papers on the subject.
I don’t want to have that experience again. I’m going to finish my MLIS degree, and then I’m going to get a job. And if, in a year or two, I still like the idea of doing a PhD and looking at professorship? Then I’ll go for it. But for now, I’m going to be a librarian. And if I may say so, I think I’m going to be a damn good one.
(Sorry if this is kind of serious-business. Next post is gonna be a lot more upbeat, don’t worry! I already know what it is.)