I spent the weekend and the first part of this week at NYLA-SSL’s annual leadership institute. For the most part it was a fabulous whirlwind of networking, brainstorming and good energy.
But I also heard a lot of negativity – griping and sniping instead of engaging. I know that the people there these past few days are among the best in the field. They are the people who chose to take time (and in some cases money) away from their summer plans to attend an institute to hone their professional practice. I know that these people care deeply about children – far more than they care about standards or statistics. And I think that that is what’s at the heart of the negativity and cynicism I encountered this weekend.
That these dedicated, caring people have been driven to the point of bitterness is a testament to the grinding stress of top-down reform. People are sick of not being trusted to do their jobs, and they are tired of trying to help when their help is not yet perceived as needed. They are worn out from jumping through hoops that have little to do with the reason they entered the profession.
I am not above it – I’ve done more than my share of grumbling this year. But my takeaway from this weekend was to live in ideals. That’s not easy when your day to day is a treadmill of slights and failures. But spending time with the board and trying to think in terms of possibilities was really uplifting. I felt like I could rise above my “job” and still contribute to the profession. Talking to other librarians validated the small successes that I had this year, even if they were embedded within projects that ultimately failed.
So my message to myself and to others is to dig for the positive. It might be with the kid who can’t structure a sentence to save his life but who rewires computer parts to invent something new (true story). It might be with the class who takes off with a Web 2.0 product, stops following your directions and ends up discovering functions you didn’t even know it had (also true). It might be broadening your identity as a librarian beyond the walls of your school building, getting your head just high enough to see that good things are coming, even if you can’t yet imagine how you will present them to your kids.
It’s hard to carry idealism into the trenches, but the trenches suck. If you don’t get out and dream big and turn things over to find the positive, you will no doubt feel bitter and cynical. As I tell my students, anything worthwhile takes work, and it would do me some good to remember that that includes being happy in my job.