Tag Archives: budget crisis

Ms. Libeary

12 Feb

Ms. Libeary

I was called Ms. Libeary for the first time last year by a new kindergarten student who had a hard time remembering my name. I didn’t correct her — or the subsequent students who have called me that.  Up until last year, I was a devoted middle school librarian. I have been called many terms of not-so-much endearment, and Ms. Libeary was my all-time favorite.

I never thought I would leave my middle school. But be careful when you are making plans and all that. Two and a half years ago, it was announced that the only school I had ever worked in would close. It was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had worked there for six years, longer than I had ever worked anywhere. I worked there through my discovery of my husband’s heart problems, his consequential surgery, through my daughter’s beginning school, and my colleague and friend’s breast cancer crisis and subsequent survival.

I rode my bike to school sometimes it was so close to my home. My students passed me on the bus, hooting out the windows like I was riding an elephant to school. They were so accustomed to all of their teachers coming “out” to our rural school, I was one of the few teachers that lived and worked in our community.

So back to closing my school.  My “feel good” file full of letters of praise  from the former superintendent, thank you notes from students or the other anecdotal success stories were not requested when the people from human resources came to our school to spell out our options. The options were that we would get to interview with principals who had open positions. These principals had been instructed they were “not allowed” to hire outside of the “displaced teacher pool.”  We were teacher refugees without a home.

Another bright note was that we were invited to a teacher job  fair much like those 18-year-old recent high school graduates who traipse around an auditorium wearing new suits and with all of their piercings removed for the occasion. Opportunities abounded.

Okay, so I found my resume, updated it, pulled out the now 7-year-old portfolio and began adding newer, better photographs, lesson plans and student work I had saved (not knowing this would be the occasion it would resurface). I told myself (repeatedly), “ I can do this. I am not some bun-wearing, shushing, washed-up librarian. I am the queen of technology. I read all of the current literature for middle school students. I was teacher-of-the-year by God. I will have no problem at all finding a job.”

Fast forward six weeks. I have repeatedly called and e-mailed the principal of a prestigious magnet school. I have heard through the grapevine that their librarian is actually retired, and therefore her position is officially open. I have also heard through the same vine that the same principal told her not to worry. He’d make sure she got her job back. Well, guess what? I have two kids, a mortgage, and tenacity baby. I am she-who-will-not-be-ignored. Except I was ignored, repeatedly. Didn’t he know I graduated magna cum laude? That I got my master’s degree while raising two children in rural with a capital R Charleston county – and by the way, they are fantastic, bright kids. Pretty soon, the tenacity morphed into high level resentment; bordering on homicidal rage. If that expletive-deleted ever calls me back, he’ll get a piece of my mind.

In the meantime, a lovely new principal in a small, crumbling (literally) downtown Charleston school called me within five minutes of me e-mailing my resume. She asked me when I could meet her, and she sounded genuinely excited about talking to me. She likes me, she really likes me. I can finally show someone my perfected portfolio.

I went to work for that lovely lady. She was supportive and introduced me to the world of elementary school, where I could help students get excited about cool books. I could wear Dr. Seuss clothes. I could stand at my morning duty post and help the adorable 3-year-old in our youngest class get out of the car seat in the morning and hold him on my hip while I greeted the students. Okay, so I am now driving an hour each way to work. The bicycle chain is rusted, but I could get used to this.

That was before the guys with khakis and ladders appeared. They removed ceiling tiles and looked with flashlights at the brick pillars holding up our walls. They made drawings and took notes as they walked around our school. I heard the term, “seismic study”…hmmm, but it’s now February.  If there was a problem, surely we’d know by now. I mean I was in a school that closed for Pete’s sake. We knew about that by December.

April is a beautiful time of year to announce that your school is going to be closed and your students and faculty are going to be moved to an un-named (or unknown) location. Packing, weeding (librarian clean sweep), followed by some more packing. Oh, and some teaching, storytimes and research interspersed between the boxes.

And by the way, that grant you received (what a feather in your cap) to remodel your media center — what exactly are you going to do with that $5,000 you are responsible for spending to make this media center (in a “seismic school”) more inviting? Another bit of breaking news – the librarian at the school five minutes away from your  house is retiring, and the location your downtown school is going to is 20 miles farther away with worse traffic than the school back in your community.

So, I chose to work closer to home. I chose to work with the kids I see at the Dollar General – the only place within 20 miles to buy poster paper, cream of mushroom soup or trash bags. I chose to work with the younger brothers and sisters of those kids I sadly sent from sixth grade to a high school campus when they no longer had a middle school to spend their next two years.

So now I am back in my town. When my husband had knee surgery, I was able to run home at lunch for a few days and make him a sandwich. I see my students at the gas station and at the homecoming parade. I did teach their brothers and sisters. I know the phone numbers of their parents’ places of employment.

Budget crisis strikes again. Somehow the laws of math have once again been ignored, and we are shocked and surprised that our president’s grant is running out and we need 28 million dollars to keep that status quo in place.  So now, the proposed plan is that the elementary school and high school be “paired” sharing a principal, book-keeper, other staff and drum roll please, media specialist. Students in my community might go from having 3 distinct schools, libraries and librarians to having 1 1/2 (maybe).

As much as I hate it for my students, I also selfishly have to consider my situation. I am once again in the land of limbo. I was teacher of the month two months ago. Doesn’t that count for anything? I have reorganized all of the books so the students and teachers can find them and learn how a library is organized. My students have participated in the state book awards program for the first time. My teachers are using ebooks – and using them well.  My kids like going to the library and I have plans for more exciting opportunities for them to read, have authors visit, read more, learn more and live better lives.

As I type this, I have ice on my back from moving furniture out of my office/the 85 degree server room. There is a silver lining to my current professional crisis – I am having a new presentation system delivered Monday. Only $15,000 and we’ll make fantastic color posters and have letters cut with a new computerized diecut machine. It wasn’t “optional” to take the system that the district purchased for us. I am not sure who will be operating it next year though, since our new budget considers my position “optional.”

I am not sure what the future holds. Will I be a librarian or not? I tell all of my students it is the best job in the school. I get to work with all of the students, and the ones I work with the most are in two camps: the ones who love to read and talk about books and the ones who hate to read and need more time, attention and encouragement than most. Both groups visit each week with their classes. They can also come to the library in their free time; they shelve books, have conversations and come to lunchtime book groups. The overachieving, more academically-minded students can be in their mecca, the school library. They prefer a recess of browsing shelves to playing basketball. I really want to be there next year for those recess visitors and to help my second graders discover Junie B. Jones and the world of chapter books.

Ms. Libeary would really like to see that new crop of kindergarteners too.

Update: At the end of the year, I was offered a full-time contract which I happily signed. Other teachers had their positions cut due to our current budget crisis, and my principal announced he was going to another school. I’ll spend next year justifying my full-time position; the school district allocated for only half-time, so my current principal used other funds to make up the difference. My new principal might have a different perspective.  I’m working on being the Incredible, Indispensable Ms. Libeary!