In 2009, I decided that I wanted to become a school librarian. Media specialist. Teacher-librarian. Whatever you want to call it.
After 19 years of teaching English, I was tired of being the person others feel they must watch their grammar around. I was tired of the red pen jokes. I was (really, really) tired of reading essays no one wanted to write and no one wanted to read.
Instead, I decided I would leave the classroom to become what I’d long wanted to be: A school librarian. I wanted to be the person who worked with teachers and kids as a conduit to information literacy. I wanted to be the pusher who got teens hooked on my favorite drug: books.
Please note the date: 2009. Most of the rest of the country was already well aware of (and experiencing) the biggest economic crisis since the Depression, but it takes awhile for economic shifts to really hit schools. That spring, we were bracing for budget cuts. But honestly? Other than a lovely, brief little spell in the 90s, my whole career has been bracing for budget cuts. It felt like business as usual.
So, even though many of the districts in my area had already gotten rid of their librarians, I enrolled myself in a library-media certification program. “They can’t fire all the librarians,” I said. “They’ll have to have some, and why not me?”
Oh, but I didn’t stop there. Oh, no. I then left my very secure teaching job, where I was buried so far down the seniority ladder that I would never be laid off. I took an instructional coaching position in another district, never imagining that I would become the last one hired there for years. “I’ll gain skills to become the kind of librarian I want to be,” I said. “It’s worth the risk.” This was a year after my divorce, when I was struggling to make ends meet as a single mom.
Two years later, the spring budget season felt like a bloodbath. In two years our high school staff went from 90+ teachers to 60+. “Do you know there’s no one above you on the list?” my principal said. “Like, No. One. You can’t bump anyone.” (Bumping is when a person with more seniority and the right certification can bump another teacher out of their job.)
My position was reduced, but I was grateful to have one at all. Two years after that, I traded in some of my coaching for a half-time library gig, over-seeing all 10 of our district’s school libraries. I am the only certified teacher-librarian we have.
It was not the job I’d dreamed of. Almost no student contact time, and almost no time to work with teachers. Occasionally I do anyway, but it’s really not in my job description. And I haven’t had full-time employment for five years.
Now, however, three years later, some districts are bringing back positions that look a lot like the job I dreamed of. And I saw one and I applied for it. And I got it.
It was truly a dream position. A small (<800 students) magnet school. Grades 6-12. Diverse. High achievement, even with students who typically don’t achieve. A global lens that celebrates multiple cultures and perspectives. A chance to integrate the favorite parts of both my library and coaching roles into one, full-time position. When I walked through its doors, I could feel what a good fit it would be for me.
But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)
It was not where I’d like to live. The commute from where we live now would be horrible–more than an hour of mostly stop-and-go traffic, which is something I do not tolerate well. The community the school is in is just fine, but it’s not the kind of place I want to live and I could not afford the kind of home I’d like to live in. And I’d be living there mostly by myself, as Cane’s job is close to where we now live.
As Cane and I have gradually come to understand and accept that we likely aren’t going to be able to live together full-time again for a long time, we’ve been wrestling with what it means to be family, and what constitutes home. This job offer raised the questions to a fever-pitch.
In the end, I turned down my dream job.
It was hard!
Really, really hard. But here’s the thing:
It just wasn’t the right one, dreamy as it was. As I realized a few years back in the area of clothing, almost-right is still not-right. As I wrestled with this decision I could look back on my life and see all the compromises I’ve made on important things, taking the almost-right thing that was available because I feared that it was the best I could get.
I’m holding out for right. I want the right work AND I want good work/life balance. That means living close to work (and not spending hours a week in the car). I want an affordable home that I both love and can care for with the resources I have, in a community that is a good fit. I want a life close to the people I love.
The job offer was a huge gift, in that it helped us clarify some important questions. It’s helped us move out of the limbo we’ve been in since November, when Cane found an apartment we thought would be temporary, to live in part-time until the situation with his daughter stabilized. The challenges we’re living with are not temporary, and this opportunity helped both of us see and know what we each need to be OK going forward.
So, we are meeting with our realtor this morning, to talk about selling the house. We’ve been visiting open houses in other places we might want to live. I’ve applied for some other jobs. I’m holding out for the right thing, maybe for the first time. Despite the change and upheaval and all the things that have happened that I never wanted, things are good in a way they haven’t been for a long time.
We’re going to find a place where our eggs won’t roll away. That’s the dream, anyway.