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How I became an elementary school librarian

This is a coveted job. I hear it from people all the time. And it's coveted for good reason.

As an elementary school librarian, my job has most of the perks and fewer of the challenges that being a classroom teacher has. That's a post for another day, but today I'll share with you how I ended up where I am now.

At the start of undergrad, I was undecided on my major. I took a class on career options and kept circling back to education and to art. I've always been a bit of a late-bloomer and my sense of self at the time was no exception... I can't say with any certainty that I had even an inkling about what type of work I saw myself doing for a living. In the end (and I'm not sure exactly after how much thought) I decided art was something that I could enjoy and pursue without a degree whereas teaching was something I needed a degree for. I liked the idea of teaching. I had always enjoyed babysitting and I knew I wanted to be doing meaningful work... and to me teaching felt like the right answer.

After undergraduate graduation, I spent one year working as a paraprofessional in an elementary school.

I was fiercely resenting my decision to come back to the Chicago suburbs to work after graduating from Butler University in Indianapolis. The job market for teachers here is competitive, and all of my friends who had chosen to stay in Indy received job offers before they graduated. Meanwhile, I was grinding out applications on my parents' couch late into the night on a regular basis. The accepted reality around here is that fresh college graduates rarely get hired for full-time teaching gigs out of the gate, so I settled for a position as a paraprofessional in a suburban district for my first real job. As my mom put it, this was my "foot in the door" year. I worked my tail off making copies and leading small groups for students in hopes that I would become the chosen one selected for an anticipated teacher position opening the following year.

I can say with some confidence that I had a solid shot at that opening, but for some reason I bombed that interview. Seems like it was fated, though, because a few weeks later I got hired as a full-time building interventionist for a different school district.

One thing led to another and the week before I started my new job as an interventionist my new boss was telling me the school needed to accommodate for a growing number of incoming kindergarteners. I then was switched to teach kindergarten in the morning and lead small intervention groups in the afternoon.

I didn't know it then, but this sudden change to a split position was foreshadowing my next three years in that district:

Year 1:

  • AM: Kindergarten @ Building A

  • PM: Interventionist @ Building A

Year 2:

  • AM: Kindergarten @ Building A

  • PM: 5th Grade Gifted Math and ELA @ Building B

Year 3:

  • AM: 2nd Grade ELA @ Building A

  • PM: At-Risk Kindergarten @ Building C


Perennially a suck-up trying to get tenure, I endured the changes each year with a smile. But alone in my car driving between buildings, I cried on a regular basis (especially during year three). Yikes.

So when spring of my third year came around I started looking for work in other districts.

Toward the end of the school year, a former student's father came to me. He was a principal in a different district and told me that a school in his district was looking for a creative and tech savvy teacher to fill a library position.

Again, fated.

During my three years playing job roulette I had come to the realization that teaching classes full of students all day was running me into the ground. Not only did I finally understand my introverted nature, I also saw my strengths and weaknesses related to work with a new clarity. My skills and nature were not suited for a classroom teacher. I had seen success in the growth of my students but that success had come at the expense of my well-being. Teacher burnout was a thing I was told about in undergrad, but didn't expect it to happen after just three years.

So when this position as a library media center director came up I jumped at the opportunity.

In Illinois, schools aren't required to have a certified librarian on staff. It was unconventional to have a teacher running the library, but not unheard of and I certainly received some sidelong glances at conferences and from colleagues in the field for this reason.

Despite this (or maybe in spite of it... not quite sure which), after two years I decided to go back to school to get my master's degree in Library Information Sciences. We will call my motivation 40% wanting to be better at the job, 40% wanting to increase my salary, 20% curiosity about where else the degree could take me.

For those wondering, getting a master's degree in library sciences is no joke. I did it while working full time (and while training for my black belt. 0/10 do not recommend). The heavy workload was stressful but being single and childless certainly helped the situation. In the end, I feel like I got a lot out of it, but I also feel that nothing replaces the experience I got of being on the job and getting to apply concepts I learned in my master's program in real-time.

So now I have completed my 6th year as an elementary school librarian. Each year has brought the gift of experience and wisdom, and feels a bit smoother than the last. It's a great place to be, as it's allowed me to express myself creatively, face challenges I needed to learn from, and helped me formulate other dreams I have for the future.

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