Librarians are in a unique position to connect with students, get to know them in ways their teachers – and parents – might not, and impact that lives, maybe more often than we know. Many of you have received thank you cards from students. They are spontaneous and always bring that leap of joy in your heart. But for every card you receive, there are hundreds of others who just haven’t sent a note and who will remember you forever.
Students don’t always show themselves to their teachers. A large percentage want to make a positive impression because they are seeking a grade. The ones who act up are making a different statement. Although there are many teachers who have always been good at making connections and who recognize the pain that underlies their “problem” kids, you have an “in” they don’t have – You don’t give grades.
Because the school library is not connected to the pressure of grades, students may feel safe letting you know who they are. When this happens, you get to see them. More than a classroom teacher, you have opportunities to work one-on-one with kids. During these interactions, they may take the chance to reveal themselves – their pain, their hopes and dreams, their fears. It happens because you have made the library a safe, welcoming space.
You also connect with them throughout their time in a school building, watching them grow and change. You see them maturing, learning, succeeding, and failing. This gives you a different perspective from the teachers who may only interact with them for a year or two at most. It’s something you may take for granted, but it gives you an incredible opportunity to make a lasting impact.
Having been a librarian for many decades, I have had many examples of how I touched and changed a life. From an honor society student who named me as the teacher who made the greatest difference in her time at high school to a young woman who stopped me on the street in New York (I live in New Jersey) to tell me that serving on “library council” was the first place she felt safe in a racially homogenous school.
What are the things you do that change lives? Betty Ray has identified 6 Traits of Life-Saving Teachers. Unsurprisingly, you do many of them.
Life- Changing Teachers Help Their Students Feel Safe – Accounts by authors and others talk of how the library was their sanctuary. They remember their librarian and how they made them feel safe and valued. Their time in the library helped them find their voice and become stronger. It is a life-long influence.
Life- Changing Teachers Possess a Contagious Passion – Passion is contagious. People catch the fervor and either embrace it or enjoy being around it (or both). You have a passion for books and what they bring to lives as well as the importance of research, communication of ideas, literacy, knowledge and so much more. You also are passionate about being a librarian, choosing it as a career. Over the years, I have been thrilled to learn of former students who have become librarians.
Life- Changing Teachers Model Patience – There are days when patience is in short supply, but this is about your overall attitude. Choosing patience can be a gift to yourself and everyone around you. You don’t tell—you guide, you encourage, and you cheerlead. Students are less afraid to make a mistake with you, unlike how they may feel with their teachers.
Life- Changing Teachers Know When to be Tough – You are not a pushover. You have high standards and expect students to work toward achieving them. Looking back at the teachers you remember, it wasn’t the ones who let you get away with anything and made things easy. Attaining a goal brings a sense of pride and makes memories. Guiding a student to a new level of success is an achievement for your both.
Life- Changing Teachers Believe in Their Students (and Help Them Believe in Themselves) – This is why life-changing teachers can be tough. Students are very good at seeing their own faults, just as we do ourselves. It’s important that they learn to put these in perspective and even discover how they can become strengths. Librarians also have an opportunity to see skills that classroom teachers may not. Reflect these back to your students whenever possible.
Life- Changing Teachers Love Their Students – You can’t fake this. Students know when you care about them as people. I once had a co-librarian who didn’t like kids. It’s no surprise that they didn’t like her either. Emotions are tied to learning. Positive ones foster it. Negative ones take away from it. Where the library is a safe, welcoming environment, it is also a discovery zone, a place where students create, believe in themselves, and grow.
You are a life-changer. How many of these traits do you exhibit every day? Take the time to change your own life by acknowledging your impact. You make the future a better place.