Hanging around outside the gates

I was talking with a teacher and I mentioned I was studying an MA in English, to which she replied “Oh, do you want to be a teacher then?” Perhaps I am taking this completely the wrong way, but I don’t understand where that assumption could’ve come from. It was like she was suggesting that anyone who works in a school would do so because their true aspiration was to be a teacher, and that my role is supplementary or, indeed, inferior. Many of my closest friends are teachers, and I have enormous respect and admiration for their selflessness, their patience and their, frankly bonkers, work ethic. I highly value their profession – but do I think that is more valid than my own? No, I don’t.

I am not so blinkered to believe that what I do is in any way more admirable or critical than what a teacher does within the school because, let’s face it, it isn’t. As much as I would like to think that a school simply couldn’t function without a library (remembering that ‘couldn’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ are quite different), the impact wouldn’t immediately be felt, even if they would suffer for it later on. I do, however, see myself as a teacher of some kind, even if I don’t stand at the front of the classroom delivering lessons. I see my role as supportive, physically and mentally, and facilitating the creation of a space which is welcoming and inclusive to students.

I have written before about my deliberations about becoming a teacher, and I’ve come to realise that I need to have more conviction in my own profession. I am afflicted by the same concerns as other school librarians. Am I doing enough? Am I valued? Does anyone really understand? These are difficult questions to answer. For me, the absolute worst thing about being a lone practitioner is that you are solely responsible for the viewpoint you create of your environment. It’s yours alone to face and, in my opinion, no amount of time spent digitally conversing with similar professionals is ever going to entirely fill that hole.

I think there is a straight choice – you either accept it, or you don’t. I’ve chosen, for now, to accept it. I won’t be able to fully utilise my qualifications and experience working in school libraries (I don’t see this as a problem which is particular to my employer – they have always been very supportive – but something which is prevalent in almost all schools) and that’s okay, I have learnt to deal with that because people have their own agendas and I don’t always fit in their boxes. What I don’t need to do is to ‘sell out’ on my own profession. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, plugging away, and hoping it’s enough.

I do think that some teachers need to look beyond themselves and see how their profession is not the aspiration that all the people they work with is aspiring to. I do not believe that there are many librarians, TAs, careers advisors, pastoral carers or IT professionals working within the walls of a school who are frustrated and desperate for the time when they can take those golden steps to the summit of Mount Qualified Teacher, finally fulfilling their true ambitions and life-long calling, but being kicked back by their own low intelligence and forced to take a menial job so they can hang about outside the gates. Excuse the cheesy metaphor, but I am on a different path.

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