I'm one week away from my two-month mark as a school librarian. Many things have been new and different for me, from learning the names of 70 colleagues and knowing what they teach, to knowing where items in the collection are shelved and how to catalog new pieces. The budget comes with a huge set of rules and regulations (as it should), and finding a successful method for scheduling and learning the school's student broadcast system are a few more components of the new job that involve learning - in addition to the main task of teaching students and supporting teachers and families with resources.
I belong to several social media groups for new librarians, and the question about what to expect comes up a lot. Every situation is different, but here are three key differences I notice about working as a librarian, compared to classroom teaching.
First, relationship-building is key, but learning names is so much harder. There are over 800 students in my school, and I had a plan for students to enter the library every time, circle up, and have a few students share something about themselves before checking out books. It is still difficult to learn names, and I hate not having that information down. I spoke to a colleague who is a specialist teacher, and she mentioned seating charts, but that doesn't work so well for our checkout times while students are moving, or lessons, which occur in different spaces, depending on the learning objective. For some reason, human beings don't stand still and they keep changing their outfits every day, and this complicates the name-learning!
As a visual learner, I brought class lists home to study and make a few sample seating charts even if I never use them, to help memorize the names, and make it easier to attach to the faces. Some of my school involvement helps, too - I supervise PreK dismissal, mentor a student, and co-manage the morning broadcast, which involves different student teams. However, as a classroom teacher, I knew 24 names before lunch, and being deficient in this area is rough for me. I did a mental count last week and I only knew about 50, but the good news is that it will never be as hard as it is right now when I'm trying to meet everyone all at once.
A second big difference involved with moving from the classroom to the library is time. No matter how well I try to orchestrate the schedule, most days have ten to fifteen minute gaps, but very few longer blocks of unscheduled time. This includes before and after school times when people stop in for various purposes. Let me be clear - my primary goal as a librarian is to create a space where people love to come to for learning, so I am happy that people are coming in! The difference, though, is that I have a number of tasks that require concentration and can't be interrupted, especially when I'm new and not sure how to do each step. Most are tasks I can't take home to do, either, as I could with classroom teaching. Figuring out how to maximize small blocks of time to complete small steps of bigger tasks is a goal. It's also important to build relationships with everyone in the school community, which means taking time to chat and get to know people, so balancing time for that and time for everything else can be tricky.
The third change is something that every specialist teacher deals with, and that is being able to shift from grade level to grade level with very little transition time. I have taught students in preK - 12th grade before, but I've spent the last eight years teaching fifth grade. It is quite a shift to be tiptoeing from the story corner to the Everybody section with the kindergartners so as not to "scare" the books as we approach, singing a Hokey Pokey song to use our shelf markers correctly, and then to talk honestly with fourth and fifth graders about fake reading, and how to choose books that change or challenge your perspectives.
It's true that every role change in education has brought a period of discomfort and uncertainty with it. It's hard to be an immediate rock star unless you happen to follow someone who was not well-respected. There is so much to learn about the school culture, individual people, and how to manage all the tasks efficiently, and there are mistakes you have to make on that path of newness. However, I am so incredibly lucky, because I can see where I'm heading, and I love it. Even as I stumble, or ask the same question the third time, I love it. Even though I get to read a lot less than I want to, because to keep this job, I need to take four more classes which claim most of my weekends and evenings, I love it. I happen to be super fortunate in that I have a school team that is incredibly supportive, a district library team that is unmatched in awesomeness, and teaching colleagues I respect and can learn from. I basically got to work in library heaven for my first library job. So, to new librarians out there, I will say, it's different from the classroom, and it won't be easy, but you'll love it.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!