Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Summer Reflections: Thinking about teachers as a public librarian

Karen as a Freshman

Before I can tell you about the best teacher I ever had, I have to tell you about the worst. I started a new school in a new state in the 9th grade, my first year of high school. My English teacher that year had just returned from teaching English in Japan. She really loved Japan. I know this because that year she taught us so very much about the Japanese culture, but so very little about English. So when I started English in the 10th grade, I was lost. Utterly and tragically lost. I couldn’t diagram a sentence. I couldn’t label the parts of speech. I could not fix your clause or identify your dangling participle. So 10th grade was also a nightmare, but it wasn’t that teacher’s fault.

Karen as a Senior

But in the 11th grade, the curtain of fog lifted thanks to one Mrs. Harris. I loved her. She taught me all of the things I was supposed to learn in 9th and 10th grade. But most importantly, she made me read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. That book changed my life. That year changed me. Seeing myself turn around and be successful at a subject that I had struggled with helped me gain confidence not only in myself, but in my future, which begins to really loom heavily over you in the 11th grade.

Sometimes all it takes is one teacher.

When I first started working as a librarian, I was invited by a teacher to visit her classroom and do booktalks. I booktalked to her students once a month every year for 6 years. Here’s what I learned about being a teacher in that time:

1. It is Exhausting

Standing in front of a classroom and doing the same lesson for 6 to 8 periods in a row is exhausting. It’s physically exhausting. It’s emotionally exhausting. It just drains you. Without fail I would announce to my husband that I was going on that morning to do booktalks and we both knew it meant I was coming home at the end of the day to take a nap. Teachers have to be constantly “on” in ways that many people don’t in their jobs because you can step into the bathroom when you need to, or get a quick drink. Standing in front of a classroom is kind of like being on stage for multiple shows in one day.

2. It is More Than Just Teaching 

Teachers enter the building before they will even teach a moment in their class and do things like facilitate drop off, pass out breakfast, monitor recess and lunch, and more. Every day when I run the drop off and pick-up gauntlet at my Tween’s school I am always impressed to see a teacher standing in the rain with cars moving on both sides of her while she holds a slow/stop sign to help make sure students get inside the building safely during this heavy traffic period. They signed up to teach a subject in a classroom and end up doing so much more, including being mentors, guidance counselors, safety officers, peace keepers and more. And then after they have spent the day navigating through the issues of students, they have to navigate through the professional and administrative portions of their jobs.

3. It is Valued

It was clear each and every time how much these students appreciated their teacher. She worked hard to teach them. They learned things. They participated. And when I came, they also valued that as well. I was impressed each and every time to see these teens in the classroom environment and honored to get to know them and get to share this time with them. When you show genuine interest and respect to teens, they often return the sentiment in kind.

4. It is Constantly Changing

What we know about development, the human brain, about science and history . . . these things are always changing. And as our knowledge of the world we live in changes so to must teachers. Teachers are required more so than many other professions to continually participate in continuing education and professional development. And because we are so invested in our children, there are incredible outside demands made on teachers, often by individuals who have no real practical or theoretical knowledge of education or what happens in the classroom. Today more than ever teachers are trying to be heard over a variety of outside influences, many of whom have more of a financial interest in education than any real concern about the individual needs and personalities of the kids and teens actually sitting in a classroom.

5. It is Important 

Teachers have important jobs and they go through specific education and training to become accredited to teach. Teachers learn about development, learning styles, building curriculum and more. Plus, they have to learn the content matter of the grade level or subject areas that they are teaching. We all have moments in our lives where we teach – we teach our children to tie their shoes or we teach a patron to set up an e-mail account – but that does not in any way encompass all that it means to be a licensed teacher in today’s school setting. Being a good teacher is a not only a skill, but I believe it is a gift and a calling. 

I remember playing school as a little kid and wanting to be a teacher when I grew up. The truth is, I believe I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing as a YA librarian, and it lets me do a lot of the things I wanted to do when I dreamed of being a teacher, mainly helping teens.
As a mom, I have had my issues with my kid’s teachers: I have questioned assignments, I have been disappointed in the way that individual issues have been handled, and I am deeply dissatisfied with the amount of time spent showing movies at my child’s school. But I have also had many moments as a librarian where I have been inside the schools on the other side, and that is a unique and challenging experience. I am thankful every time a teacher invites me into their classroom because I know that their time is precious, as are their students.


  1. Thank you for posting this lovely homage to teachers. In this day and time when no one says anything good and testing is ALL, it is refreshing to hear that a teacher invited you in — amazing that she valued your contribution enough to have you return again and again — and even more encouraging that you saw her side of the work. It is a hard job – teaching – and it deserves the best people we have to offer our children. Thank you for your part in it all.

  2. A couple weeks ago, I went to an elementary school and did 6 back-to-back 40 minute presentations about summer reading, the library, and fun books to read. I was so exhausted at the end of the day and then the school librarian said, “I do this every day.” I would have a meltdown. That little taste of school life was enough for me, but I'm so very grateful for all the wonderful teachers and school librarians in my communities.

  3. As a former high school teacher turned YA librarian, I agree with all those things. What many outside of education don't understand is how hard you actually work: Grading papers is the least of your concerns sometimes. Unfortunately, I had a series of bad principals and I live in Wisconsin…when Act 10 here and Common Core both came on line at about the right time, I saw that doing my best was never going to be good enough for my kids. I still needed to work and I still believed passionately the literacy is the way out of the cycle of poverty and violence. Teachers can't do it alone–I only saw my kids for 45 minutes a day. Parents, neighborhoods and society as a whole have to step up and help out. Librarians and libraries are part of that–all kids need a safe place with an adult who isn't their parent or teacher. If I can make that place the library, I'm doing my job correctly. Thanks for recognizing all the hard work teachers put into their jobs.

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