Protecting the Future of Libraries is Ruining My Life

If you’ve been following my blog for the past year, then you know my professional life has been a bit hectic. Last January, I started as a Supervisory Librarian at the Northside Library. Finally full time, I was able to quit substitute teaching for a new position that was envisioned as 20% supervisory and 80% librarian. Sadly, the title quickly evolved and my true role ended up being 100% supervisory… and still 80% librarian. In addition to acting as manager at all times, I was also the adult librarian, in charge of local and off-site book clubs, building the adult programming department, working the reference desk, maintaining and weeding a quarter of the collection, and performing readers’ advisory. After eight exhausting months, I tearfully explained to my manager that a good week was one in which I was the only person crying in my office… and that I was stepping down, internally.

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This took a bit longer than I thought it would. I assumed I was the obvious choice for the adult librarian position in Cherokee and was rather overdramatically devastated when the job went to a woman who I now know was the more qualified candidate. Then, just north of Cherokee, a position opened in Jackson, also for an adult librarian. While teens have always been my passion, my experience at the Northside Library in adult librarianship just seemed to go further than my bachelor’s degree in education or my six years of substitute teaching or even all the teen-centered classes I took in grad school. No one cared about my goals or theoretical experience as much as they did my actual experience. Since I enjoyed working with seniors and I hated being a manager, it seemed unwise to be picky. Exactly 11 months after my first day, I celebrated my last as a Supervisory Librarian, before starting as just a Librarian at the Eastside Library. Life was good… for a fucking minute and a half.

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Towards the end of January, came the announcement: my library system is undergoing a grassroots restructuring. Literally everyone’s title and job description are changing… no matter how new they might be. Less than two month’s, y’all. I had my position at a small town library with a touch of adult programming for less than two months… which was still enough time to relocate.

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The Jackson Library is unique in that it’s grouped with the Lakeville, Harmon, and Nada libraries, which all serve small, almost rural, communities around a thriving metropolitan city. Together, these libraries comprise the Satellite Libraries of my system, which until very recently, have been treated as the Hillbilly Annex, when it comes to resources and funding.

Me: “I just hate the way everyone talks about these libraries. My bachelor’s degree was in home-ec. I constantly had to defend it, even to those in the education field, and here I am again, defending the Satellite Libraries to the rest of the system.”
Boss: “How do you mean?”
Me: “We’re part of a fifty million dollar system and we didn’t have color printing here, until 2017. I had a color printer in 1997.”

This is one reason why I asked my managers to see if I could be transferred to a new branch as part of the restructuring, since it seemed at least two librarians would be moved from the Satellite Libraries and no one else wanted to leave. Additionally, despite my asking before the interview and during the interview, if my position would require traveling to every Satellite branch and being told no, it seems this position has also evolved. Instead of doing the occasional adult program and working as a librarian, as promised, I would be expected to spend my days in meetings with city officials and schmoozing business owners in four different communities.

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Me to my boss: “This is exactly why I got out of management. I spent all my time in meetings, talking about changing the world instead of actually changing the world.”

The restructuring, however, isn’t just about revising the positions themselves, but also deciding who fits best within them. We were asked to evaluate our strengths and truly consider with which population we could make the biggest difference: children, adults, or teens.

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Children’s library has never even been a consideration of mine. I only like the children I’m required to like and sometimes, not even them. I’ll like my own. I probably won’t like their friends. As a whole, I don’t like kids and I’m not sorry.

While I sort of fell into adult librarianship, I did enjoy it, especially seniors. I had a group of ladies I visited at the nursing home, and they fun, sassy, and opinionated. I was the first stop at the Northside Library if a senior needed help with an iPad or Kindle Fire, because I loved reassuring them that they weren’t stupid, technology is hard, and they could do it. Still… my heart has always belonged to teens.

For the same reason I love seniors, I love teens. They’re the forgotten population. We push them aside in favor of the most active tax payers. When they’re children, we love them because they’re cute (or so I hear) and we cater to them because their parents are watching and voting.  As teens, however, they come in alone, make a ruckus, and can’t vote. Most people view teens as little adults who have not yet learned to behave. I know that their brains are just as different from adult brains as those of children. One of the most miserable parts of management was watching the teen librarian plan and orchestrate programs and mentor volunteers, when I had missed the chance.

As much as I didn’t want to travel to a different library every day, I decided to chance it. I tossed my hat into an unknown ring and claimed teens. I could end up staying and travelling or leaving for any of our other 14 system libraries… but I’d get to be a teen librarian. Management has assured me the decision isn’t permanent, but I don’t see how it couldn’t be. No one will ever be more qualified for a position than someone who’s already doing it. Nevertheless, I was assured that they could probably still find a new place for me to serve teens, in system,  but outside of the Satellite Libraries… or so they thought.

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The next week, I was informed that I would probably be staying with the Satellite Libraries, as the teen librarian, despite the fact that two librarians will still need to leave and no one else wants out. I felt like management was trying to make a point that this wasn’t about me, but was it really so unreasonable to think I could still benefit, if someone had to leave anyway? Furthermore, why did they even open the Jackson Library in December, filling three positions, if they knew they were going to pull the rug out from under us all? After what happened with the Supervisory Librarian position, how could they do this to me, again? For the last six months, I’ve had no idea what my professional future holds. On the one hand, I understand the importance of the restructuring and I’m thrilled we have a director will to take it on to keep our libraries relevant… on the other, I’m trying to move and plan a wedding and prepare for marriage and management is ruining my life!

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I’ve gotta give some credit to Jake, here, y’all, because as much as I tried to keep my cool, I… so… horribly… failed. You have not seen dramatic Belle, until you’ve threatened her future as a librarian and at this point, the back and forth was just too much. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do teens for sure. There was still a chance I’d have to spend all day in meetings with city officials and lead book club discussions over boring grownup books about the Civil War and economics. If they made me travel and sit in meetings all day, I was seriously considering look for teaching jobs… and education in my state is not looking good. I’ve said it before, folks. I am the old man declaring that what you do is who you are and if I’m not a librarian, who am I? I spent days in bed, sleeping and crying over the stress of just not knowing.

Finally, I was able to sit down with my own Supervisory Librarian and the manager above her, where they explained that it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the Satellite Libraries, but if they do, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be their only passionate teen librarian. I was even informed that no one actually knew the restructuring would be so drastic, until after the Jackson Library was opened. My manager also made the point that, despite all this stress and upheaval, the teens in these communities need someone to champion them and I could be the best person to do so, considering the similarities between these towns and Shetland, my upbringing and theirs.

As icing on the cake, amidst all of this craziness, we received some other news: IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) might lose their funding, because President Donald Trump is ignorant and shortsighted and wants to give the appearance that he’s cutting real spending when the only impact from defunding libraries at a federal level, will be a negative one. It’s a drop in the bucket as far as government spending goes, but if it’s eliminated, libraries all over the country will have to cut staff, hours, and resources and some will probably have to close their doors for good. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in a library system that receives zero federal funding. While we benefit from a state database resource funded by IMLS, my job and that of everyone in our system, is secure.

So, over this past weekend, I was really able to process what my manager said, now that I’ve been assured that there are no hidden agendas and I can at least count on being the teen librarian for the Satellite Libraries. Maybe I really can make a difference out here and be truly fulfilled. Would the traveling even be so bad, once I’ve gotten used to each branch? After my talk with management, I realized that everyone in the system is facing major changes in their title. If I moved, I’d just be in the same trailer, different park. I told my Supervisory Librarian as much on Monday morning only to hear that the wheels are still turning and the Cherokee Library is now considered a Satellite Library, as well. I may end up working there as a teen librarian after all.

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As exasperating as they may be, however, these changes are the reason we’ll be thriving in five years. They’re going to be the reason we’re still standing as other libraries fall, because while I’ve been crying in bed like a fucking Disney Princess, because I don’t know the future of my library, others in my field have been crying because their library has no future. This isn’t just a great chance, because it’s my opportunity to work with teens.

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– I GET TO BE A TEEN LIBRARIAN, Y’ALL! –

It’s reassurance that I can still even be a librarian… because for many in my field, it ain’t looking good.

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Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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2016 Was NOT the Worst Year Ever

With only two more days left in 2016, ’tis the season for everyone to bitch about how awful this year has been… and I do mean everyone. Whether you bought your first home, got your dream job, or finally conceived a child after struggling with infertility for years, social media dictates that you must spend the next two days wailing about the cruelty of 2016, usually in conjunction with the death of a long forgotten celebrity.

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I, however, love New Year’s. Like birthdays, New Year’s provides an opportunity for reflection… which is basically receiving a grade, and that’s my favorite.

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A year ago, I had been dating Jake for six months, was excitedly preparing for my first day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library and dreaming of getting a cat after  I moved from Shetland to be closer to work. I was struggling financially, having worked as a half time librarian while substitute teaching for so long, and was still relying on the health insurance that is prayer. I was excited about all the major life changes that would come in 2016… and change things did. While I’m not so heartbroken by the death of Debbie Reynolds and Prince as to lament of the despair of this past year, I will admit that the amount of change has been a bit… overwhelming.

It all started with my new job and its surprise levels of management. As I adjusted to the demands of full time supervisory work in a new library with new people, Jake worked two weeks on and two weeks off… and then two weeks on and one week off. We made the best of the time we had together, going skiing and seeing movies… growing closer and beginning to discuss marriage. When I realized moving wouldn’t be worth the time it would save, my commute increased to about 35 minutes each way… but I still got my kitten. Thackery Binx weighed a half pound the day he joined the family and he has brought nothing but joy. Jude loves the company of his brother and even Jake likes him. Though he won’t openly admit it, I’m pretty sure he wants several more.

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By fall, I’d decided to step down from management and Jake had agreed to quit oil. I never saw him. He’d been demoted and his pay had been cut numerous times. I wasn’t game for being the oil wife, enjoying manicures and designer handbags to take her mind off the fact that she’s mostly alone. So, as the holidays neared, I chased a new dream and worked to control my nerves over Jake’s unemployment, reminding myself that he’s hard working and good and not my ex-husband who refused to hold a job for four years. In the meantime, Jake spent his weekdays on the Granger Ranch, working cattle for $100 a day and I spent mine crying in my office over how much I hated my job… simultaneously counting the days until the weekend, when I could see Jake again.

Despite all this upheaval, on November 20th, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Jake asked me to marry him, just days after I’d accepted a voluntary demotion and transfer to the Jackson Library. We could’ve waited until Jake had the perfect position and we’d relocated to Jackson, but why waste time, when we could move forward with our lives? We enjoyed our first Thanksgiving and Christmas together, since we refused to join our holidays until we were committed.

For me, this was my last Single Girl Christmas. I’ll say goodbye to my pink tree and purple glitter bulbs forever, when I put all my décor away in a few short hours. It’ll be the first of many bittersweet goodbyes as I bind my life to Jake’s on May 6, 2017. I’ll leave my little apartment, the first place I ever felt truly safe as an adult… my hometown of Shetland, where I spent my teenage nights driving around with Gaily… my maiden name and my identity as Just Belle… the time in my life where the only decisions that effected me were my own. While 2016 has been a year of change, 2017 will put it to shame as I become Belle Granger, wife of Jake, and resident of Jackson. I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday, and happily so, having accomplished nearly everything I’d planned by such a big date.

So for me, 2016 was a stepping stone to all the great things 2017 will bring… and I am so excited.

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Fahoo Fores and the Best Christmas Gift Ever

For the last six months, as a manager at the Northside Library, I’ve flirted with tardiness daily, because I just didn’t want to be at work. I’d sit on my couch every morning, fully dressed, staring at the time, knowing I’d need to leave… and stay that way for ten more minutes.

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When I got to work, I’d smile at my coworkers, participate in my meetings, create my schedules, compile the program calendars, write my incident reports, lead my task forces, do every task assigned and do it well… only to go home and think about the fact that I went to college for seven years and took out $150,000 in student loans* to hate my job.

*All eligible for Income Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness in eight years.

I felt like I never had a single moment to enjoy myself, because I was always busy working,  worrying about work, or crying in bafflement at how I got where I was. It took up all of my time and energy to be that unhappy.

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I’m getting married in six months and I haven’t worked out since June, because when you’re miserable, there’s a part of you that thinks the effort it takes must be burning calories. It’s hard to fight the part of yourself that wants to stop for frozen yogurt after a hard day, when every day is hard.

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It wasn’t just working out I couldn’t make time for, either. I didn’t talk to my friends. I sometimes even ignored calls from my Gramma and Jake. I didn’t read my favorite books or watch my favorite shows. I was starting to experience genuine symptoms of depression, y’all. I just read news articles on my phone, while compulsively checking my work email, and lying awake at night wondering how long I could hold out. How many meetings about increasing employee morale and analyzing other people’s workflow and explaining to fucking grownups what work ethic means, could I make it through before I said or did something I couldn’t take back? I’d even attempt positivity and think of every eventual outcome or opportunity my management position might afford me… but they all sounded horrible.

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Then, it happened. On December 4th, I celebrated my last day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library… 11 months to the day from my first. I didn’t even make it a year before stepping down. For the last two weeks, I have been just a librarian at the new Jackson Library…

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… and it has been glorious.

Guess how many meetings I’ve had in the last three weeks, y’all. No really. Guess.

Zero.

Zetus lapetus, that’s like ten less than I had in a three week period as a manager!

When we were setting up the new library, I spent my days deciding where different portions of the collection should be located, processing and shelving and evaluating materials, and organizing things. When the circulation desk had to be relocated and Mayor McDouchington of Jackson wanted a say in every little detail of the grand opening and the pipe burst at the old building, it was not my problem!

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I’ve been 15 minutes early for work every day, because I, once again, look forward to my job! The only thing I’ve dreaded about working at the Jackson library was having to walk across the street to use the restroom until the bathrooms were installed. I spend my days processing materials, talking to customers about paranormal romance novels, printing color sheets for little kids, and brainstorming new adult programming ideas. When my former direct reports want to talk to me and invite me to parties, I don’t have to be their manager anymore. I can just be their friend. When my friends text me and suggest we all hang out, I actually have the will to leave my apartment! I’m able to enjoy my favorite time of year, because it’s no longer in spite of the unhappiness I’ve experienced all year, professionally. I want to see my family, because I can now answer the question “How’s work?” without crying!

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When I spoke to family and friends, no one understood why I would step down and take a pay cut, but I am so glad I did. You only live once and there is no point being miserable, when the only thing standing between you and happiness is a $1,500 annual pay cut and your own pride. I don’t even mind the commute, because being just a librarian is the best Christmas present ever. It has been fabulous.

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To the Women Who Tried to Ruin My Career

At 25 years old, I’d just begun my career as a real librarian, in my current system, when I excitedly accepted a second job at the neighboring library system. Within two months, I was informed that I wasn’t “a good fit” and that I’d worked my last day there. I was never late. No customer ever complained about me. I did everything I was asked… except go to my immediate supervisor’s house for spaghetti with the rest of the team, share Pinterest recipes, and sport an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. That’s right. Instead of valuing diversity in her staff, this woman sought employees who were just like her, a modern day Heather willing to abuse her power to the detriment of the community she served.

In time, I realized that not being “a good fit” was quite flattering and ultimately the best thing for my career, because it allowed me to hone my skills within my own system. Even in that beloved system, however, there once reigned a Regina George… the girl who poured the pigs’ blood in Carrie… a Cersei Lannister, of our very own.  Indeed, this woman was… psychotically vindictive, in the truest sense. She ruined careers when people mispronounced her name. She permanently transferred librarians to branches across the city, with less than 24 hours notice and no explanation. She planted her favorites in positions of power and pulled their strings like the fucking Puppet Master. She even tried to keep my boss at the West Side Library  from hiring me, because I’d had a poor interview for a different job. It was a joyous occasion the day Cersei pissed on the wrong boots and was demoted. It was downright freeing when she and many of her minions retired soon thereafter, to practice augury and gnaw on the bones of kittens.

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I’d like to think these women are the exceptions. The rhetoric these days would have us believe we’re are all far too evolved from a half century of breaking glass ceilings and opening our own pickle jars to still be facing such deliberate workplace sabotage. It remains true, however, that one of a woman’s greatest battles toward professional success is simply… other women. Perhaps this is evolutionary and stems from a time when we each tried to prove ourselves the most valuable gatherer, in an effort to snag the best hunter, but we are long overdue to pull up our big girl panties and crush our baser instincts.

Had the aforementioned Heather and Cersei had their way, I would be… well, I don’t know exactly, because I can’t fathom the goal behind destroying the career of a random 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. Maybe they knew every detail of the devastation that would result from their actions. Maybe the fantasy hadn’t extended that far. All I’ve ever known for sure is that there was something broken inside these women, which required them to tear down another to feel accomplished. Now, years later, I have a simple message for them:

Thank you. Thank you for showing me the worst possible scenario of who I could be as a professional woman. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at a job I hated than you were at a job you treasured like the One Ring. Thank you for the strength it took to build people up, despite the fact that I spent my lunch breaks crying in my office. I could’ve let the wounds of others fester, with the reasoning that I didn’t cause them, but instead, I worked to heal those around me. I could’ve scoffed at the personality traits and communication styles that differ from my own, yet I worked to not only understand, but translate. I will have been a manager for eleven months, to the day, when I step down into my new position as just a librarian, at the East Side Library. I’ll leave the North Side Library in the city, to work in the tiny town of Jackson, under the same library system. I’ll rarely see these people again… and I’ll be leaving them better than I found them. If I’d never cried from the abuse of powerful women, I might never have made a difference in the short time I was one myself and for that, I am thankful.

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The Horrors of Being a Manager That No One Ever Shared

I hate being a manager.

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Before I became a supervisory librarian, I was confident that while official management might be an option several years from now, I wanted to spend some time as a librarian first. Managers can make damned good money, but they’re also the ones who have to deal with personnel issues, fill out paperwork when the police are called, and spend a crazy amount of time in meetings. While that wasn’t off the table entirely, I at least wanted the chance to get my feel for the challenges a librarian faces, before trading them in for new ones of a higher pay grade.

I’ve detailed previously how drastically my position has changed since I started in January. What was advertised as a librarian position with some supervisory duties has, quite literally, become the opposite. I am a manger first, a manager second, and a librarian if there’s time. Now, I’m not gonna lie. At the time, I was exhausted and disheartened by working as a half time librarian and substitute teaching when I’d had a master’s degree for two years. I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t have applied for the supervisory position, had I known what it would become… but I can say I’d have only had myself to blame when I realized just how much I hate being a manager… and all the horrors no one ever mentioned.

It’s Us against Them.
I always assumed my boss at the Westside Library didn’t join us for Taco Tuesday, because it would be awkward to mix business with pleasure. You can’t reprimand someone for using inappropriate language, if they’ve heard you use the phrase “bucket of cunts,” over a bottomless basket of tortilla chips. I felt for her, because she was the only manager at our branch and it looked really lonely from the outside. Now, I realize that she wasn’t lonely. She was just perpetually ready for battle.

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In my system, the circulation clerks and library pages are almost as quick to snarl when someone blames the group for the actions of an individual as they are to make sweeping generalizations about how “management doesn’t care/understand/listen.” People constantly air their grievances about how management is a clown that eats children and they do not make exceptions. While I’d hope none exist in my system, I’m certain there are supervisors looking out for number one, too busy stressing about their own duties to care about how anyone else is coping with theirs, maybe just mad with power. I’m just as certain that I’m not one of them.

The only thing I hate more than being a manager is the fact that I hate being a manager, because someone at every level of staff, from the library pages to the system director, has told me that they hope I have my own branch one day. I refuse to read management theory and put my employees in little boxes labeled by some arbitrary personality test, because I consider these no different than delineators such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Humans are complicated and we need to stop stereotyping them as a management technique. So, I read my employees and accommodate their individual work and communication styles. I address each and every concern. I champion my staff and they champion me… until they write about how much Management sucks… and it all feels like a wasted effort. No matter how hard I try, I’m still The Man and they still feel like cogs in the machine.

I’m rarely the one who can solve the problem.
Maybe they feel like cogs in the machine, because we’re all cogs in the machine. When someone brings a problem to my office, more often than not, I can’t actually solve it. If I’m lucky, I can set up some kind of committee and delegate tasks, helping the staff to feel involved in the decision making process, while simultaneously addressing the issue. If not, as with personnel issues, I can start doing paperwork. If I’m particularly unfortunate, the staff member causing problems won’t be under me and I can ask their manager to start doing paperwork… confidentially, of course, so I can’t actually clarify this with the person who brought the issue to my attention.

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Bigger picture problems are even less under my control, in the well-oiled machine that is a large library system. You’re upset that the dress code is more problematic for Black women, because they can’t wear head wraps? That’s a policy approved by the commission. You want an urban fiction section? That’s cataloging’s call, not mine. You want to move up, with the degree you received from an unaccredited institution? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want direct answers from your immediate supervisor? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want a fifteen thousand dollar pay cut? I’d recommend a smaller library system.

I’m the counselor from Freaks and Geeks.

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Before I became a manager, my Gramma would compare the title to babysitting. It drove her mad to supervise adults who couldn’t get to work on time or wear appropriate clothing or complete basic job tasks. That was in the seventies and eighties when efficiency and work ethic were emphasized. Now it’s all about “morale” and “empowerment” and I wish I could charge a quarter every time someone used either of those words. Years ago, Regina George ruled my library system and people’s livelihoods and careers were the casualties, so I’m not saying that I don’t agree that morale and empowerment are important… just that being responsible for them is exhausting.

I understand that change is hard for people, especially when they’ve been at the same branch, under the same management, for their entire careers, but I occasionally feel like I’m trying to motivate sullen teenagers… beyond my responsibility. There is a point when your unhappiness lies with you, not your manager. I can ask my employees about their lives and build strong work relationships. I can assign projects and tasks that will challenge them, pad their resumes, and make them feel valued. I can sit down with everyone for one-on-one meetings and truly listen to their concerns. If none of that works, though… I think our health insurance covers a few therapy sessions? I’m not being heartless here. I literally don’t know what to do about the level of discontent some of these people seem to feel!

cannot avoid the drama.
I never realized how miserable people in the library world could be, back when a good week wasn’t determined by the number of people crying in my office.

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A perfect week is defined as “just me.”

Call me self-absorbed, but when I was just a librarian, I rarely even knew what feuds were taking place and who was being called into the managers office for what infractions. I, quite literally, didn’t hear about some disputes for years and it… was… glorious! 

Now that I’m a manager, I’m involved in all of the drama and there is just so much of it. Even when my employees aren’t involved in a dispute, their workflow is directly effected, so it becomes my problem, when they come to my office and vent. Then, I have to alert the appropriate immediate supervisor, who gets upset over another personnel conflict, the terror that is addressing the issue directly… and I completely relate. Yet, if they don’t handle the problem satisfactorily, we have to involve our manager and there’s awkwardness between us. 

My worst day at the Northside Library, was the day I held a half naked drug addict until the ambulance arrived, while crying on the phone to the dispatcher. I’ve yet to top it, but the day I have to write up, or worse, fire anyone will be one of the worst days of my professional life. Most problem employees have legitimate struggles in their own lives and many of them are quite likable, personally. Their behavior is just unacceptable and unchangeable and a failure to respond is a discredit to other staff members and, in our case, the community at large. But… I just can’t sit and watch someone cry as I take their livelihood from them… and hopefully, I won’t have to, because I’ve officially set the balls in motion to move down. I suppose there is a silver lining: if I ever decide to be a larger cog in the machine again, I’ll truly be in the know.

I hate my job.

Library page: “You know who’s just a fantastic boss? Belle. She always knows everything that’s going on in the library. She walks around and sees what needs to be done and talks to people. She really is great at her job.”

Ngo, other supervisory librarian: “No, you are really good at this. You have a great balance with the staff.”

Brett, my boss: “You are just doing an awesome job. You’re also the only person who is ever willing to disagree with me and that is so valuable to me.”

It really sucks to be so great at something I hate so much. I am every sports movie cliché I’ve ever seen.

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Center Stage is a sports movie.

20% supervisor and 80% librarian. That’s what I was told the supervisory librarian position would be, when it was created and I applied in November. On Thursday night, I got off at 9:00, stopped by my favorite ice cream place for chocolate frozen yogurt and discovered too late that they’d given me a chocolate and vanilla twist. Jake was staying with me and had long since gone to bed, but came into the living room to find me quietly weeping over frozen yogurt.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Vanilla frozen yogurt doesn’t taste like anything!”
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Jake: “What’s really wrong?”
Me: “I hate my job! I have everything I ever wanted: the job, you, and I even got a cat and I am just so unhappy. I dread going to work. I never thought I would feel this way about being a librarian, but I don’t even get to be a librarian anymore! I spend a minimum of twenty hours a month in meetings and the supervisory librarians just decided we need to have another weekly meeting, between just the three of us! We sit down and have a meeting about something we just talked about in another meeting, even though we haven’t had any time to work on it since said meeting, and if I have to tell one more grown ass adult to do their fucking job, my brain is going to bleed out my ears and they gave me the wrong ice cream!”
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He wants to create an app that translates Crying Girl into English.

I love being a librarian, y’all. I love planning and putting on programs, weeding the collection and ordering replacement materials, helping little old ladies realize they can do this iPad thing, teaching twenty-somethings to make a resume, assisting ex-offenders in their job searches, and giving the rare well-behaved child a sticker. I used to be so excited when my copy of American Libraries came in the mail and now I hardly even look at it, because it’s officially a magazine full of articles about awesome things that I don’t have time to do.

Last week, I e-mailed the third grade teachers at the Catholic school just up the street from the Northside Library, where I work. I wanted to know if they’d like to take part in a pen pal program, with the nursing home I visit monthly. I received a reply immediately, that they’d both love to participate and, together, they had about 40 students. My first thought was one of excitement. The second was that I didn’t know if I had the time to devote to an 80 person pen pal project. I went to college for seven years, took out $150,000 in student loans, and I don’t have time to do the enjoyable parts of my job. I don’t have the time to talk to customers about their favorite books, to sign someone up for summer reading, to consider rearranging the collection, to make book displays, to fill out the checklist for that digital scrapbooking/online dating/adult coloring class I want to do. No. My time has been scheduled for supervisory librarian meetings with our manager, my one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, my one-on-one meetings with Brett, my one-on-one meetings with the other supervisory librarians and now our group meeting with each other; none of which I singularly despise, but rather have a growing resentment toward for taking so much of my time.

Jake: “I’m sorry your job sucks right now.”
Me: “My job sucks all the time. I just don’t talk about it.”

I immediately realized just how true that was. When I started in January, it was natural to be overwhelmed. In about mid-April, I thought I’d started to get the hang of all this manager stuff. I only had Ngo and Brett to consult with and the Supervisory Series training came to an end, freeing up much of my week. I wasn’t yet required to meet monthly with my direct reports, do evaluations, or address workflow and personnel issues, so the bulk of my management responsibilities involved making the page schedule and entering programs into the calendar. 20% supervisor and 80% librarian seemed about right. Then, the reality of my position settled in, along with all of the additional responsibilities. In the last couple of months, I’ve realized that aside from that six to eight week respite, I have hated my job since I started.

I have a more or less private office. I have my own laptop. Brett gives me the go-ahead on most of my ideas, even when they cost money. He solicits and respects my opinion. I love my coworkers, even the ones I have to supervise. I live in the cheapest part of the country and pull in about $50,000 a year, at the start of my career. I am really good at my job… and I hate it. I’m no longer waiting for the dust to settle on this new position. It’s management and if it continues to evolve, it will only become more managerial. I got my MLIS to do a job that should require an MBA. I have skipped over being just a librarian and unless I step down, I will never get that chance. I will forever supervise those I envy, because stepping down could mean that I never get the opportunity to move up again. It could mean that everyone assumes I was reassigned by force, because I failed. It would mean telling my dad that I gave up all the momentum of a management opportunity to be just a librarian.

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Well, so… fucking… what? I am not going to spend the next two and half years crying over frozen yogurt and yearning for all the missed opportunities of being a librarian, to hit some arbitrary number that will look good on a resume, just in case I want to be a manager again. I didn’t work 60 hours a week and go to grad school to hate my job, just because modern society expects intelligent women to hit the corporate ground running. I have amazing momentum with my system. I could manage my own library inside of three years and that’s not what I want. So, after discussing it with Jake, I decided to apply for an open librarian position at the Southeastern Library, in Cherokee. Cherokee is a more rural city inside the same county as the other libraries in the system, with a population of around 10,000, even smaller than Shetland. I could have the small town existence Jake and I imagine and still make $50,000 a year. I can do adult and senior programming and be just a librarian.

Jake: “Babe, I’m totally fine with whatever you wanna do. I couldn’t do what you do… being people’s boss? That would drive me crazy. I just wanna make sure you know that if you leave a management position, you may not be able to get another one.”

This is the point that keeps coming up. It’s a legitimate possibility, despite my conversation with Brett, in which he told me about prominent women in the system stepping down at some point and rising to even higher positions, later in their careers. It’s one thing to work in management for five years and step down to care for children. It’s another to last eight months, before burnout. At this point, however, if I have to choose between never being manager or never being just a librarian, there’s no contest. So, after another meeting, where everyone agreed that we needed more meetings, Brett asked for a moment to discuss why this idea upset me so much. Apparently, it’s not normal to get teary-eyed over meetings.

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Me: “Maybe you’re all exactly right and we do need more meetings. Maybe this is just about me, because every hour I schedule for management duties is another hour that I don’t get to be a librarian. I never got to be just a librarian. At best, I left a substitute teaching job in the day, to be a half time librarian in the evening, and it was exhausting. So, I wanted to tell you that I applied for the librarian position at the Southeastern library, in Cherokee.”

Brett was unbelievably supportive. He told me he’d miss me, because I’m great at my job and everyone else is too intimidated to tell him what they think. He told me he’d give me a fantastic reference and that he understands that I have to pursue what I want for my career.

It’s a hard thing to do, make a decision that will change your whole life. I don’t have to leave the Northside Library, where I have great coworkers and a great boss, where I’m making connections in the community, and working from a semi-private office. I could stay in familiar surroundings, continuing to commute from Shetland… or I could make a change, move to a new library and a new city, for the chance to enjoy my career again.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck

Why didn’t they mention this in library school?

One of the favored topics of conversation among librarians is the things they don’t teach you in library school. Some people focus heavily on issues that require on the job training. I took a collections class in my masters degree, but it didn’t cover the actual process for deciding what to keep and what to donate to the book sale. That’s something you learn once you already have the title, usually because every library and system has a different process.

The other subheading of Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School is the batcrap crazy stuff we see in our line of work. When you go to nursing school, you expect to see a man with a shovel through his chest or a light bulb lodged somewhere light bulbs don’t go. As a police candidate, you know you’ll eventually master putting a drug addict into handcuffs, despite his being slippery with his own feces. As a library major, you… shop for cardigans.

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There are some downright adorable surprises to being a librarian, such as the fact that we have a bird protocol at my branch. We have an actual procedure for what to do when a bird enters the library and can’t find it’s way out. I also wasn’t aware of the rising popularity of the Children Reading to Dogs program, until I started working in a library. Trained service dogs are brought into the library for little kids to read to, without criticism or correction. That’s right. My job includes puppies… which I’m reminding myself makes up for some of the more upsetting encounters.

Library school may stress the importance of serving the public without censorship, but it doesn’t prepare us for the number of mentally unstable homeless people and registered sex offenders we’ll encounter in a month. It also didn’t prepare me for the moment I’d find myself crying on the phone to a 911 dispatcher this morning.

The day started out normal. I was surprised things had been so quiet, considering I’ve called the police twice in my seven day stretch, having worked the weekend. I had just finished telling my coworker this and announced that I was going to do a walk-through to make sure that was correct. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

At the end of my walk-through, I had decided to use the public restroom, just in case another person was bathing naked in the sink. I thought I was alone, until I heard snoring. This isn’t normal behavior and my library has specific rules against prolonged sleeping in the library, so I knocked on the stall door… and then louder… and louder. Eventually, I was banging on the door and shouting. I went out to tell some coworkers that I wasn’t sure how to proceed. One of the circulation clerks followed me into the bathroom and repeated my actions. We decided the woman couldn’t possibly be asleep and must have passed out, so I called 911.

At this point, I had not wanted to open the stall door. I felt this would violate the customer’s privacy, but after calling me back on my cell phone, so they could direct me as to how I could help the customer, the 911 dispatcher insisted I open the door. I tried to wake the woman with a hand on her shoulder and she was unresponsive, though still snoring. The dispatcher told me to get her on her back to make sure she could breathe.

Me: “I just… she’s not wearing pants and I feel like moving her is a violation to her.”
Dispatcher: “You’re not violating her. You’re helping her. I promise.”
Me: “Okay… she’s coming awake now. Ma’am, are you alright?”
Me: “She has a syringe. There’s a tourniquet on her arm and she has a syringe in her hand.”
Dispatcher: “Is the syringe empty?”
Me: “I… don’t know? I think it has something black in it.”
Dispatcher: “Tell me, is she changing colors?”
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Me: “I… I can’t tell. Her hands are swollen, but I don’t think she’s changing colors. She won’t wake up, but she seems to be breathing okay.”
Dispatcher: “It’s alright, you’re doing good. I’m going to stay on the phone with you until EMSA arrives.”
Me: “Okay. I… I don’t know what to do. I’m just holding her head up.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, if she’s breathing, then she’s alright. EMSA will be there soon.”

When she woke, the woman tried to insist she was diabetic. Apparently insulin isn’t black and doesn’t require a tourniquet. Heroine is and does.

I sat in the lobby, trying not to cry, as the police questioned the man who’d been with the woman. I hadn’t helped the customer sooner, out of concern for her privacy and my hesitancy to bother someone on the toilet. I’d held a half naked woman up on a public toilet, hoping it was a good sign that she was beginning to wake. I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t called 911, partially out of a desire to not see another woman naked. I’d cried to the dispatcher, frustrated with myself because managers aren’t supposed to lose it like that. It was my job to control my emotions and be cool in a crisis. It’s just… they didn’t teach me this stuff in library school!

 

The new kid in school…

Of all the complaints people have about adulthood, from paying bills to digging the glass out of the garbage disposal after breaking the cherry jar that got stuck (it happens, y’all), no one ever mentions the thing I’ve found to be the toughest: still being the new kid in school.

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I’ll never forget when my daycare teachers relocated me from the four-year-olds class to the five-year-olds class. I lined up against the wall, excited to be chosen and dubbed a “big kid.” Two hours later, I sat in a circle, as strange kids played a game. When it was my turn to contribute, the only response I had was “Can I go back to my old classroom, now?”

Yesterday was my last day at the West Side Library. Today was my first at the North Side Library. I’ve been unbelievably excited about my new supervisory librarian position for the last month. I bought a new, custom-made, lunch bag, because no one ever accused librarians of being cool. I ordered a “super librarian” t-shirt and an “awesome librarian” mug, because no one ever accused me of being modest. I scoffed at my coworkers, as they fretted over change, telling them that this was old hat. I’d only moved from the South Side Library two and a half years ago. But, now that I think about it, it seems I forgot how hard that was, because by the end of my first ever, full time shift, I am…

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… overwhelmed. My new coworkers are friendly and welcoming. My boss is awesome and has made it clear that my supervisory duties will be a gradual progression and I’m not expected to immediately know how to make a schedule. I am essentially just supposed to librarian for the first month. I got keys and one of them is to my office! The weekends are finally going to mean something to me and I can save for retirement and actually see a doctor.

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But we didn’t interfile the young adult science fiction with the adult science fiction at the West Side Library. We had rickety brown wooden book trucks, not those cute and colorful metal monstrosities. My old manager didn’t use Outlook for anything and now I have to learn to use it for everything, because apparently that’s what upper management does. We didn’t keep the magazines in those magazine covers or shelve all large print with no regards to genre. We didn’t build task forces to deal with problems and we weren’t assigned readings by our manager. I don’t know where anything goes and I can’t remember if their names are Caitlin and Diane or Kayla and Diana. I don’t know where the Newbery Medal winners are, because we didn’t have a special section for them at the West Side Library and don’t knock on my office door, because I’m busy hyperventilating!

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This is my big break and literally my dream job. I’m happy. I am. That’s why I chose to make this change. It’s going to be wonderful… in a few weeks. But in the meantime, can I go back to my old library now?

Why Our Education System Fails, by a Fly on the Wall

After six years of substitute teaching, it’s quite possible that I’ve “taught” my last class. I use quotations, because I’ll readily admit that I was a moderately compensated babysitter. Sure, my bachelor’s degree was in education and I have a current teaching certificate, which raised my daily pay by $10, but my job has generally been to take attendance and make sure no one sets anything on fire.

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I jest… a little. I did just recently announce to a table full of teenage girls that they were going to have to change the subject, because I could hear every detail of their sex lives. There was also that time I didn’t really stop the teenage boys from paying each other to eat dead flies…

… but hey, they were quiet.

 

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I’m practically Dumbledore.

It’s not that I was a bad substitute. They knew my limits. I just also knew theirs. I dare you to go into a public high school classroom and tell everyone to put away their phones, when their teachers let them use them every day. Go ahead. Report back. I’ll wait…

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… which brings me to my point. As a substitute teacher, particularly one with a degree in education, I’ve had the privilege of a unique perspective. You see, no one really pays attention to a substitute teacher. No teacher worries that I’m observing the daily anarchy that is their class, as long as they get a good evaluation from their principal. No student worries that a substitute teacher is going to overhear them discussing their cheating methods. I have truly been a fly on the wall for the past six years, in a wealthy public district that scores quite well on state report cards. For this reason, I can declare, with certainty, that our public schools have hit a downward spiral, and here are my top reasons why.

Cell Phones
Zetus lapetus, what a cliche am I, lamenting the tragedy of youths with cell phones.

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Fine. It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason. I won’t even focus on that time “53 percent of boys and 28 percent of girls (ages 12-15) reported [viewing pornography]”, or that “four out of five 16 year-olds regularly access pornography online”*, or discuss those who’ve been prosecuted as child pornographers for taking naked pictures of themselves*.  For the sake of this post, I’ll limit my rant to school specific issues.

Every day, even the best parents send their child to school with a cell phone, where their teacher competes not only with it and all of the information, entertainment, and communication it contains, but with 24 other devices in the classroom seven times a day. Most people hear the opening statements of my rant on this subject and interject with “They’re allowed to have them out in class?!?!” Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to monitor whether or not 25 people are using their phones for 55 minutes? I’m only speaking from my experience giving tests. The teacher is actually trying to teach what’s on it. If he stops every time he sees a phone, demanding someone put it away/put it on his desk/go to the office, he’s going to accomplish nothing, particularly since he has to uphold this standard throughout the year, because as Sebastian the crab says, “you give them an inch, they swim all over you.” For this reason, most high schools have gone “technology friendly.”

Technology friendly simply means that we’ve given up the fight. If we forbid students from bringing the phones to class at all, their tax paying parents insist they’ll need it “in an emergency.” Keep in mind, these are the same parents who use said phone as a bargaining tool and confiscate it every time they get ticked off, despite the dread of these vague emergencies. The result of this is students discussing the fear that they won’t be able to pass their end of semester Spanish test, because they’ve been using Google translate all year. It’s students watching Netflix on the affluent school’s WiFi, because they know how to get around the safeguards. It’s teachers making the assumption that students will have the internet in their pockets when assigning work, because heaven forbid they create a thought, as opposed to regurgitating ones they find online. It’s students asking to be dismissed from class for a moment, because their parents are calling them. What, might I ask, is so important that you have to call your child’s cell phone, when you know they’re at school?!?

Ultimately, cell phones have created an environment where students are not learning.

College Preparation
My bachelor’s degree was specifically in family and consumer science education – occupational and career technology. Translation: I could teach at a career tech (vo-tech) center as easily as at a high school. Unlike most teachers, my degree focused a great deal on those not going to college. Here are the facts, according to the US Census:

86.8% of Americans have a high school degree.
28% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree.

Why the fuck are we teaching 100% of our high school students as if they’re going to earn a college degree!?!?! 

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This is a blatant waste of funding. You can argue all you want about a “well-rounded” education, but why can’t we redefine what “well-rounded” means? Why does it have to mean five core subject classes and two classes that potentially prepare students to immediately enter the workforce? Why aren’t we allowing students not planning for college to sign up for two hours of core classes and five hours of real world skills? In my state, we have an amazing career tech program, but it’s poorly promoted. We encourage the kids who aren’t “smart enough” for college to take advantage of the free welding, nursing, and computer programming courses and that’s ridiculous. There are skills involved in auto mechanics that I don’t know that I could ever possess. I couldn’t tell a carburetor from a… I CANNOT EVEN THINK OF ANOTHER KEY CAR PART.

We need to end exclusively college preparatory public high school. We need to have real discussions with students about their interests and capabilities. We need to admit when they aren’t suited for a four-year degree and stop implying that that means anything other than that every person has different skills and capabilities. I have a master’s degree. I sit in a temperature controlled library and offer customer service all day long. I have a dozen uncles who lay pipe in subzero temperatures. Could I do that? NO. Could they smile politely when a man hurls a DVD in their face? NO. Does that make either of us less intelligent? NO.

The problem with the current system is that a good 50% of students feel public school curriculum is entirely irrelevant to them. They enjoy their career tech courses, if they’re in them, but get nothing from literature courses. They’ve found a use for marketing class, but chemistry has been a complete waste of their time. So, why are we funding it?!?! Is our society any better for the Shakespeare forgotten by your plumber? NO.

 We’re Wasting Instruction Time
I would vote for a complete removal of funding for art classes in my district.

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I know. That statement doesn’t make me popular, but you substitute a middle school or high school art class and tell me what you see. No matter the instructor in my A+ school district, art class has always been a total waste of time from my vantage point. It’s not because what they do accomplish isn’t worthwhile. It’s because they accomplish so little of it. I get it. These are the Freaks and Geeks, the kids of Empire Records. They’re the outcasts and this is the only place they feel they belong. I wore overalls all of sophomore year. Believe me, I get it.

Art class, however, should be a place for self expression. You don’t have to let students come and go as they please, without a word of explanation, just because you want them to feel accepted. If this is a place of creativity, then they need to be doing something creative. I know I was only substituting these classes and I didn’t get the most accurate sample, but never have I taught another class where students just followed their whim to walk out. Never have I seen them blatantly watch Netflix as I have in art class. They do this, because it’s okay with their teacher and that is not okay. Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive and it’s harmful to suggest otherwise.

Art class isn’t the only place I see wasted instruction time. Remember when I stressed a need for strong life skills courses for those immediately entering the workforce after high school? Well, those exist as electives. Leadership is a great example. What a wonderful course to teach, even to those pursuing college. Or so I thought, until I subbed it and my students informed me that all they’d been doing for the last three weeks was painting banners to hang around the school.

A leadership student should be gaining public speaking skills by delivering presentations on effective leaders through history and the impact they’ve had on the world. They should be finding ways to be leaders in the community and possibly spending the occasional field trip volunteering at the local food bank or running winter coat drives. Leadership students should be presenting the awards at ceremonies and taking part in presentations on real world issues that effect teens, such as the consequences of texting while driving. Leadership students should not be spending three weeks painting banners. In fact, that’s actually a great activity for those art students!

Perhaps you’re thinking I’ve just proven we don’t really need those elective courses. You’d be right, were it not for the fact that this regularly occurs in core classes, as well. Because we don’t want to admit that some students aren’t cut from Shakespeare reading cloth, our high school English classes are paced for the mean, or average. If four students can finish Othello in a week and two need three weeks, we write the curriculum for two weeks, which leaves four students playing on their phones for a week and two in tears, because they don’t understand this Shakespeare Shit. We even add whole class blocks for “study hall” or “advisory”, which end up essentially being recess. Kids sit, talk, play cards, or play on their phones. At best, students spend four hours a day learning and another three waiting to learn.

We’re So Top-Heavy
There are a lot of reasons I never taught in a traditional setting and I’ve just outlined three. Another, however, is that my state has nearly the lowest teacher pay in the country. It’s still a living wage, but I make about $16,000 more as a librarian and the benefits are substantially better. Our cost of living is also astoundingly low, but even those states with a lower cost of living often pay teachers more. The result is a few days a year, when teachers rally at the state capitol over the injustice of it all, which I categorize as fitting into the previous heading of a waste of instruction time.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more. I’m simply saying that they’re protesting at the wrong location. While we could certainly use a little more state funding, the problem is primarily a district one. I just counted my district’s administrators and came up with an astounding 34. If I average each of them at $80,000 per year, that’s over 2.5 million dollars. If I’m averaging too high and it’s closer to $60,000, it’s still over two million dollars in a suburban school district with low teacher pay.

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What if, and this is a crazy suggestion, we actually give the teachers the ability to discipline their students so we don’t need as much on-site administration and enforce consequences more effectively, overall? Why do we allow repeated problem students, particularly when they’ve reached the state’s legal dropout age of 16, to continue coming to public schools? If a student ditches detention X number of times, why not tell him he still has his right to pursue an education, but he’ll now have to do it, either through another district or online schooling? Over 98% of public libraries have Internet access. If that’s inconvenient, so what? They had their chance and got plenty of warnings. Should their behavior impede the learning of other students, add stress to their low paid teachers’ day, and create a need for a more top-heavy district as a whole? NO.

I’m not talking about basic discipline problems here, to be clear. I’m talking about the student who punches his teacher, repeatedly gets in fights or makes threats toward other students or staff, or gets a designated number of detentions for other behaviors that disrupt class. I’m talking about a decision made by a panel, with the opportunity to appeal in one calendar year. Perhaps, in this case, the parent would suddenly care that their child was misbehaving, were they faced with the possibility of having them at home all day and being responsible for helping them pursue an education until age 16. Why don’t we expel students anymore?!?! When we do, it’s always for something that doesn’t effect the big picture or anyone in it, such as a student having a buck knife in his truck, because he forgot it in his truck after his hunting trip or a girl who carries her asthma inhaler on her, even though it’s not allowed. Let’s kick them out, regardless of their lack of previous discipline problems, but nooooo, not the guy who screamed at his teacher that he was going to set her cat on fire.

If the major problem students were gone, usually a very small percentage of the school and a very large percentage of the discipline issues, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to cut administration. If my district cut half its administration, we could afford to raise every teacher’s salary by over $11,000. Carry on with your protests at the state capitol, though. Maybe they’ll designate an administrator to teacher ratio.

Citations

http://www.internetsafety101.org/pornographystatistics.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/21/n-c-just-prosecuted-a-teenage-couple-for-making-child-porn-of-themselves/

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html