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Why did I leave the classroom? And why did I return?




At the eight year mark of my career, I joined the service side of my school by becoming a teacher-librarian. Where I worked, there was one teacher-librarian per high school and one library technician per high school. I’m starting to realize that it was a pretty unique set-up and I was really lucky. I went into the role eager and excited to be the center of my school and the hub from which all great learning took place. I thought that this would be the role that would allow me the greatest influence in my school; a place where I could have an impact on students and teachers. I saw the role as one of leadership.


I quickly found out that not everyone shared my views or enthusiasm for the position. Many classroom teachers looked down on me; they saw the position as one that allowed senior teachers to ease their way into retirement early. Why would a young teacher want this job? Unless, of course, the school administration was trying to hide a weak teacher away from the classroom. That seemed to be the only explanation to the other hard working members of the faculty.


It was an uphill battle to change the culture and mindset of the school and staff. A battle I almost bailed on after my first full year in the role. I was a good teacher and I didn’t like being sidelined and excluded.


But, I stuck to it. My vision was that I could be a good teacher for the whole school, not just for my 3 classes a day. I would model for other teachers how to effectively teach using inquiry models and get “boring” content to students in a way that everyone understood that it mattered. I wanted to be trusted as a partner of the classroom teacher and to be invaluable as a mentor.


My version of leadership was to be engaged in the trenches with my colleagues. I wanted to see what they were doing, be invited into their classrooms and to work with their students, and to support and advise them when they were struggling.


So I worked at it. I made myself valuable by offering to teach content that most classroom teachers weren’t well versed in, like online databases and citations. I taught lessons on academic honesty and the stages of research. I created handouts and marked bibliographies. And, I found myself engaging in professional conversations from a partner position rather than as a “higher up”.


From this position, I was able to teach skills to teachers. I was able to lead professional development for my school and district. I was able to pursue opportunities through the board for investment in my school, my space, and in the learning of those I worked with.


I became a teacher’s teacher. I am someone other teachers come to for advice. I am someone who can ask probing questions without it being dismissive or demeaning. I am someone that is recognized as working as hard as the classroom teacher; my work just looks a little different.


So why did I leave the role and return to the classroom? At my core, I’m a classroom teacher. My classroom of the library, serving the whole school, wasn’t meeting all of my needs as an educator after more than 10 years in the position. I also needed to prove to myself that I “still had it”. That I wasn’t supporting, coaching, and mentoring other teachers in ways that had become “out of touch”.


Probably of no surprise to anyone who knows me, my return to the classroom was pretty seamless. I am a teacher no matter the size of the room, number of students I’m working with, or the curriculum expectations at the time. Good teaching that is constantly reflecting leads to more good teaching.


I belong in schools and I can be a leader without a fancy title.




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