Saturday, 16 May 2015

The importance of mentors

Being a teacher librarian is often very solitary. I interact with books and students and colleagues on a daily basis and life in the library is often very busy and loud. But as the only teacher librarian in the school, I very rarely get to see and talk shop with other teacher librarians. With the wonder of Twitter, I can connect with teacher librarians from around the globe but photos and 140 characters do not compare with sitting down and talking with another teacher librarian.

I have been very fortunate though to have had wonderful mentors throughout my career. In my first year as a teacher librarian, I shared the job with another TL. Although being a half time teacher librarian and a half time classroom teacher was a difficult job for a variety of reasons, having another teacher librarian to help me navigate my first year was invaluable. Carol retired after my first year, but her influence in shaping me into the teacher librarian I am today is profound. Carol taught me how to weed and weed well because no student should have to search a shelf for a good book, every book should be good. She also taught me to help others but to make sure not to be taken advantage of. In 10 months, she set strong foundations for me.

In my first year, Carol suggested that I go and job shadow the great Sharon Bede over at Mount Boucherie Secondary. At the time, I was very hesistant about the move to full time library because I knew I would miss the classroom a lot. For those of you that know Sharon, you will appreciate that after a half day of shadowing her, I decided I simply could not be a teacher librarian. Sharon was constantly on the move and seeming to be carrying on multiple conversations at the same time (I wasn't terribly sure which one I was a part of), her desk was a disaster of seemingly random piles of books and paper, and she was quoting recent articles in each of the conversations she was having. I was in awe and completely overwhelmed. I went back to my school and talked to the library assistant and admitted that I thought I might be in over my head if I went to full time. The library assistant also happened to work part time at Sharon's library and so she smiled at me and told me I would be just fine. For the last 8 years I have listened, watched and tried to learn as much as possible from Sharon because I consider her one of the greats in teacher librarianship. I know I will never achieve the level of teacher librarianship that Sharon has displayed for years, but every so often I glance over at my chaotic pile of papers and books on my desk or I catch myself carrying on multiple conversations at the same time and I smile and think of Sharon.

Over my years as a teacher librarian, I have also had the pleasure of talking to and learning from my good friend and amazing teacher librarian, Al Smith from Kelowna Secondary. Al has been a different type of mentor to me as I feel as if Al is my greatest champion. Al never hesitates to drop me a line and let me know that he thinks I'm doing a wonderful job, he'll pick up the phone to congratulate me, and he'll let other people know what I'm up to. Over the years, he has quietly nudged me to try new things and encouraged me along the way. I wouldn't be on Twitter if it weren't for Al. I wouldn't be blogging if it weren't for Al. I wouldn't have ventured into the world of 3D printing if it weren't for Al. Indeed, he has shown me over the years how to embrace technology, own it, and make it part of my repertoire. It is so easy in this job for me to begin to doubt myself, my library program and my vision. In my solitary world where administrators are constantly questioning the value of library programs, Al makes sure that I keep my confidence intact, stand my ground and fight for what I believe in. Al doesn't ever let me doubt myself. 

Next month marks the end of another school year. I must admit, I do like the end of the year and watching the grade 9s that we've nurtured for the last three years go off to the next step in their lives. This June is going to be bittersweet for me as both Sharon and Al are are retiring and I know what a huge loss this will be to the teacher librarians of the Okanagan and, more specifically, to me. There are many wonderful teacher librarians in the Okanagan but I think as September rolls around, I will be without a mentor for the first time in my career. Al keeps telling me that I have my own wings and so I guess I, like those grade 9s, will have to embrace the next step.

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