ON LIBRARIES: Time to Go?

I have written about the difficult situations in which librarians find themselves and offered strategies and suggestions for dealing with them and improving conditions.  What I haven’t said is that sometimes nothing works. A recent post in the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group regarding teacher bullying made me realize there are times when a job becomes untenable. If that happens, it’s time to consider leaving.

I’ve had this experience and it’s not an easy one. In the district where I was working, I had an excellent relationship with my superintendent of schools but eventually found myself working for a new principal who was determined to keep my program from being too successful, believing that it took away from his own prestige. I managed the situation until my superintendent announced she was retiring in two years.  The handwriting was on the wall, and I wasn’t going to ignore it. I immediately began a job search. Once my superintendent was gone, the principal could act without restraint, and, given the nature of the district, I was fairly certain he would become superintendent a few years later.

Fortunately, I found a position in a short time and was extremely happy in my new school, where I stayed until my retirement. People asked if I was worried about losing my tenure, but I knew staying because of tenure was the wrong decision.  And my prediction about the principal proved true.  Four years after the superintendent retired, he took over the position.

Although the retelling makes the process sound simple, leaving a district is a big step and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As with anything that’s important, you need a plan.  You need to evaluate the conditions, and, if you decide to leave, ensure that the move improves your situation.

To help you evaluate, I recommend using a combination of the analysis tools SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) and SOAR (strengths/opportunities/aspirations/ results.  What are your strengths?  Don’t worry about your weaknesses.  What are your opportunities within your school?  How big are the threats to your program?  What are your aspirations and to what extent does the climate in your school impede them? What results do you hope to attain?

Be honest in your assessment. Eventually, you’ll have to ask yourself two final questions. Have you tried everything possible to change the situation?  Is it impacting your well-being?  If the answer to those questions is “yes,” it’s time to seek another position.

Jobs are not as plentiful as they were when I left a district, but they are available.  Let your school library contacts know that you are searching for a new position. Do not say anything in your school. Ask any vendors you deal with if they have heard of openings.  Check your school library association’s listserv for additional information. It may take a while to find a district that is looking for a librarian but don’t give up hope.  Keep planning for the move while focusing as much as possible on working with your students. If at all possible, don’t put in long days.  You need to limit the time you spend in an environment that is stressing you out.

Update your resume and make sure it doesn’t look dated. Create a portfolio describing the highlights of your program.  Include your Mission and Vision.  Put this on a thumb drive to bring to your interviews. Have enough copies to give to those doing the interview.

When you get a call for an interview, either take a personal day or schedule it for after school hours.  You don’t want to take a sick day for it. Do due diligence on the district in advance of the interview.  What can you learn about their priorities? The library program? The administrators?  What are the demographics of the school system?  You need to have as much knowledge as possible.

Check online for sample library interview questions to prepare you for what may be asked.  Make your own list of questions such as, What do they like best about the library program? (You will quickly find out what they know about the program.)  What don’t they like?  Why is the position open?  What is the library budget? And do ask to see the library.  If you don’t meet the librarian at the time, call and have a conversation with him/her.

At some point in the interview, you will be asked why you want to leave your current district. Do not make negative comments about it.  You never want to burn your bridges, and your response is a clue to the interviewers as to how you will speak of them. This is where knowing your goals for your program will come in handy. You can say you wanted more opportunities to… whatever would fit for the new district.

During the interview, listen carefully.  You want to leave your school, so you will automatically listen selectively for the reasons to think this would be a good situation.  Instead, listen for potential problems.  What would your schedule be like?  Are you teaching classes other than library?  Is the school fixated on traditional approaches or does it embrace a whole child approach?

Once you have signed a contract, and not before, inform your principal and send a letter of resignation to the Board.  It’s tempting to tell them just why you are leaving, but it’s better to keep it completely professional.  The administrators will know why, and again, you don’t want to burn bridges.  You never know if you will have to work with those administrators again, hopefully in a better situation.

When you are in your new job, don’t make negative comments about your old one.  Stick to the reasons you gave in your interview for why you wanted to leave. Talking badly about an old situation doesn’t help to build trust in your new one. Instead, speak about the opportunities you hope to have in this new position and with this new district.

Stay or go?  The decision is yours.

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ON LIBRARIES: Time To Move On

The question is a bit shocking. Although people in other professions do it all the time, librarians and teachers rarely consider changing jobs unless they aren’t rehired. It is probably related to tenure which makes us never think of the possibility.

There are three reasons to start thinking about finding a new job. The reasons range from the obvious to the surprising –at least for those of us in education.  (And even if you don’t fall into any of the three categories, it’s wise to be prepared.)

The most obvious reason is moving.  Your spouse got a transfer or for some other reason, you are going to be pulling up stakes and moving too far away to continue in your current job. Finding a new position can be challenging particularly if you are changing states. You need to research and network.

The research will tell you how complicated it will be to move your certification to your new location and how to go about it. You can also find out about which are the best school districts and salary scales. Networking involves connecting to the school library association. You can’t get on their listserv if you aren’t a member, so join quickly.  Introduce yourself there and on their Facebook page which they are most likely to have.  Ask about job openings. This is not a time to be shy.

The second reason is you dread going to work most days. Everyone has some bad days, but if you rarely have a good one, it is time to move on.  Maybe your workload keeps increasing.  No matter what you try, your administration only thinks of you when they have another job you can take on. Your teachers are so exhausted and demoralized they can’t possibly collaborate with you. The school culture, which I wrote about last week, also will inform this situation.

This is when you need to accept the truth that you are no longer doing well by your students or your teachers.  Your schedule keeps you from doing the things that were why you became a librarian. Your first step is to start checking your state association’s listserv.  If you see any vendors let them know you are looking.  January is a good time of year as districts will soon be getting ready to hire for the fall.

The final reason I’m going to offer is not obvious.  Most of us can see the proverbial handwriting on the wall but few act on it. These are the times you know things are almost undoubtedly going to go downhill, but you just stay put.  It’s like knowing a train wreck is coming and doing nothing about it.  Sometimes you need to trust yourself and take a big leap no matter how scary it seems.

I lived through this.  I had been in a district for twenty-two years. The last five or so I had a principal who was an egotistical bully and a liar. But I had great teachers and a strong program.  I also had a superintendent of schools who always knew what was happening everywhere in the district.  She was the one who had transferred me to the high school six years before this principal showed up because she liked what I was bringing to the educational community.

Then my superintendent announced she was retiring in two years.  I immediately called her and said I was job hunting.  She urged me to stay, but I could read that handwriting clearly.  The assistant superintendent would get her job and stay for three years to get a larger pension.  He was a nice guy but had nowhere near her strength or vision.

Once he was gone my principal would become the superintendent of schools and my life would be all about managing him and working to keep him from undermining my program. Dealing with him would drain so much of my energy, it would affect all aspects of my job.  And it would affect my home life likely leading me to come home so angry at his latest tactic I would rant and rave to my husband.  I knew he would just tell me to quit.

No sense in waiting for his advice.  I decided to act.  There was going to be a workshop on the automation system we used at one library in a great school district. I let the librarian who was hosting know I was job hunting, and she said she was retiring at the end of the school year. I made the necessary contact with the district’s H.R. department and had an interview scheduled for a few hours before the workshop.   By the end of the week, I had a job offer and a signed contract. When I told my superintendent, she asked me to give the principal a chance and to talk with him.

My meeting with him quickly proved me right.  He had no trouble or issues with my leaving. He told me he had done their Middle States Evaluation and talked about their great budget.  Since it would be a much longer drive to work, he suggested I try audiobooks.

I had a wonderful time in my new district and discovered how much I had learned over the years. When I would return for retirement parties at my old district, I found out I had correctly read the situation there.  Four years later, my former principal was the Superintendent of Schools.  And the teachers kept telling me how smart I was for getting out.

Yes, I lost my tenure.  But I knew that I wouldn’t want to work for any district that didn’t grant me tenure.  What I really gave up was my sick days, but only in the short run.  It was worth it.

Next week I will blog on how to get the job you want.