Reflections on the Challenges of my Dream Job

Saturday, April 13 2019, 9:10PM

It's funny how life can throw us a curve ball and we think that it's the end, but then we discover that something even better is waiting for us. When I left school and decided to become a teacher, I thought my whole life would be spent in the classroom, teaching classes and helping students to achieve their goals. When I started at my first school, it was a REALLY tough place to work. Students were unruly, they lived in a low SES area, many were living in broken homes and every day was a new battle to reclaim territory I had only just won the day before. Staff were divided about the best way forward. I hated it. But I made myself a deal: do it for 3 years and if you still hate it, get out and do something else. I persevered. And by the end of 3 years I loved my job. I loved my job for 8 years.

Until March 3rd, 2013. 

That's the day my world was shattered. My dreams lay in tattered ruins around my unresponsive body and newly muddled brain.

In the weeks and months that followed all I focused on was getting the old me back. Trying to find ways to make up for the deficits. Trying to force useless parts of my brain and body to do what they used to do.

11 months later I was back at my job. But it wasn't the same. I struggled to get through each day. Sometimes I struggled to get through an hour, half an hour, a minute. The big crash came after 2 years and someone I believed to be my greatest ally ended up being the one who fed me to the wolves. I put a lot on the line for this person, and the sense of complete betrayal was overwhelming. It was time to re-evaluate what was really important and work out if being the old me was what was really best.

In the end I decided that trying to be who I used to be was not worth the energy. It was time to reinvent myself. To embrace the broken pieces and make a new whole. So I decided to dust off one of my childhood dreams and retrain as a teacher librarian. 

This past term I was given a remarkable opportunity to work as a teacher librarian in a fabulous school. As with any school, this one has it's challenges. But it has great leadership and a dedicated team of teachers and support staff who have a vision and dream and the where-with-all to make it happen.

I've spent a lot of time this term observing what was happening and formulating plans to address some of the issues and improve the library for the benefit of all members of the community. Much of the time I have felt like I was fighting a losing battle, that what I was doing was going unnoticed and wasn't making a difference. We've had physical and verbal fights among the students, arguments and rude students, half-dead mice, really dead frogs, live lizards and baby chicks, so much cleaning, uphill battles over what is best for the students. Days where I walked out wondering what I ever thought I was doing working in a library. 

But the next day I was back at the grindstone, glutton for punishment. 

This past week I was preparing documents and handing over the reigns of the library to the two ladies who would be continuing my role for the next 6 months while I'm off having a baby. I was understandably stressed, worried about how the library was going to go, worried that I hadn't done enough. That I hadn't made any difference. When it came to handover, both ladies remarked how much I had actually done, how different the library was. How much life I had instilled in the space. Despite the challenges of students and staff with a different idea of what the library was for, I had taken huge leaps forward to transform the culture and environment of the library. 

And it made me stop and realise that my being there had made a huge difference. That the little things I had done had made a difference, even if it was only for one student. I was providing a safe place. I was providing an escape, be it physical or intellectual or emotional.

It reminded me of a story a former principal told us about a small girl walking on a beach one day. A huge tide had washed hundreds of starfish onto the beach and the hot sun was baking them. As the girl walked on the beach she was picking up the starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. An old man watched the girl and thought to himself "She'll never be able to throw all those starfish back into the ocean. Why is she even trying? What difference can she possibly make?" He approached the girl and said "Why are you trying to throw the starfish back? There are hundreds of them - you can't possible save them all. What difference will it make?" The girl picked up another starfish and threw it back into the waves. She turned to the old man and said "I made a difference to that one."

Every job has it's challenges. It's what we do to face those challenges that defines how good we are at the job. Just being there every day and opening the library made a difference to someone. Ensuring that there were books on the shelves and paper in the printer, that students were greeted with a friendly "good morning!", that students were directed to the IT desk, or helped to read their timetable, or got a note to say why they were late. Finding a book, showing students how to play "boxes" or getting the chess set out. Putting out a new box of tissues or providing "encourage-mints" (my large jar of minties). Little things that made a difference.

So yes, it's been a challenging term. But it's been a wonderful term too. I've found my dream job and found that it's exactly where I'm supposed to be. It took a stroke to show me that life can be reinvented and that I can reinvent myself and be a worthwhile person again. I haven't been successful with everything, but I don't have to be.

I just have to keep trying.

You don't have to live forever. You just have to live.