A teacher-librarian colleague recently said, on a listserv, “I think we need to be a bit more open with what’s happening in our schools in relation to the library. As we are all aware, we’re pretty isolated because we have no-one else in a similar position at the school.”
While I agree wholeheartedly that teacher-librians do need to be prepared for those feelings of isolation when things get grim, there are certainly already many effective avenues we can go to for support: professional associations (ASLA NSW and ALIA); “Scan” articles left in key locations around the school; other professional literature; ringing the School Libraries and Information Literacy unit (NSW DET); networking with local TLs and valued, like-minded staff members; and input (and a sympathetic ear) from the Teacher’s Federation contact person. Etc.
When I was doing my teacher-librarian retraining in 1990 at University of Technology Sydney (UTS, Kuring-gai), there was a lot of emphasis on TLs being proactive (thanks Ross J Todd, Barbara Poston-Anderson, Jill Buckley, Michelle Ellis and Joyce Kirk).
I often read horror stories on the teacher-librarian listservs – about TLs not being appreciated – but I can honestly say that, of the eight or nine long-term Principals I’ve had over my teaching career, they’ve either already been staunch or open-minded supporters of the school library (and the teacher-librarian), or else I’ve helped to educate them into being supportive. I once proved to myself – in a large school – that the effective way to the Principal’s ear was through the executive staff – one by one… until they were all on-side. My side. My proactive message, proudly modelled for all to see in collaboratively planned and negotiated lessons every week, eventually won through – because it wasn’t ever only me repeating the mantra of what was to be the TL’s desired contribution. (And I shocked even myself, turning a “non negotiable timetable set in stone with no team teaching” into a fully cooperative timetable after only one full year at the school).
And if I’ve somehow led a charmed life and simply fluked it into good schools with good Principals my whole career, I apologise. I reckon I’ve made plenty of lemonade out of my piles of lemons over the years.
Since when have Principals been the enemy? (So much for the old stereotype of the Principal married to a teacher-librarian.) I think that it’s great that Principals swap notes about what their TLs do. Because surely no one is going to be convinced to downgrade their TL’s contribution – on the whim of another Principal’s misguided opinion – if the whole staff at a school hold that TL and their work in high regard. Surely, even the most stubborn, unconvinced staff can be won over, person by person, if you have to.
The poster also mentioned TLs being used as “dogsbodies”. A few times, as TL, I’ve been delegated a job that might be considered a dogsbody’s job. Current case in point: distributing The School Magazine to teachers every month, which no one else wanted to do any more. I made it my special duty last year (and this year): mentioning exciting ways to use it in staff meetings, finding the links to class programs, printing out free online guidebooks, and (even) making teachers feel a bit guilty for not using the resource wisely.
Custodian of the school web site? Suddenly the school library became the hub where all material for the web site is generated and maintained, and integrated into collaborative planned and/or taught lessons in the library.
I know of other TLs who have inherited Stewart House Rep, SRC Coordinator, School Yearbook Editor, School Historical Artefacts Cupboard Custodian, Chess Club, or Choir – and each can become either an intrinsic joy of the job, or an unwanted albatross, depending on the way you look at that glass: half full, or half empty.