Last week during a school visit with one of my student interns, we talked about how her school librarian supervisor spent a goodly amount of her time managing and troubleshooting the school’s abundant technology. It was evident that the school librarian, who had come to the profession from a corporate library, had not expected to be the school’s technical support person as well. When she talked to the principal about how much time she was spending on technology maintenance, the principal told her something to the effect that: “It can’t be that big of a problem because you are handling it all so well!”
While my student intern is frustrated for her supervisor and with the principal’s assumption that the school librarian has more time than anyone else to do tech support, she seems unfazed and remarkably steadfast in her pursuit of licensure. She is not scared-away from the prospects of having to do tech support as a school librarian on top of so many other things she will be expected to do. But that’s not the point.
Am I satisfied that my student will be competent in the digital teaching and learning environment? Yes! Is it reassuring to know that my student will undoubtedly be a leader in a Future-Ready school? Of course. But that’s still not the point.
Having an ability to do tech support along with an inclination to use technology with instruction served me well as a school librarian. It gave me opportunities to get my foot in the collaboration door with my teachers. It reassured parents that their technology fund-raising initiatives were worth it when their children demonstrated learning through multimedia or video platforms. It made my principal look good because word got out about what we were doing at our school and others came to learn from us. My technology skills in those early years of computers and the Internet were evidence of my value as a school librarian in a tech support capacity but much more so in an instructional capacity as someone who could teach students and teachers to learn, to share, and to create through technology.
I had to wonder if the school librarian argued that her time would be better spent working with people, teaching students, rather than fixing technology? Did she talk about the number of classes she couldn’t schedule, or the number of students who couldn’t check out books, or the lessons she couldn’t co-teach or the grade-level meetings she couldn’t attend because she would, instead, be trying to fix some technology problem? Did she talk about the research findings that more library instruction correlates with higher student test scores?
If the principal doesn’t understand how much tech support takes away from our teaching, from our work with teachers and students, then it is no wonder s/he may think we are handling it all so well because s/he obviously doesn’t know the impact we can have on student achievement when we are allowed to teach. S/he sees what we do as tech support, but does s/he see the work we do with students and teachers? Does s/he see evidence of student achievement and learning in our lessons and instruction?
Over the years, as classroom teachers have become more adept at integrating technology, as money for tech support personnel has disappeared, and as principals have overlooked and under-valued school librarians as teachers, tech support has become our value-added. It is not what we do to help students learn and succeed that principals see as our value but rather what we do to keep the technology working–not what or how we teach and what students learn but rather how well we manage the technology.
We need our principals to know that we are teachers and to see that what we teach contributes to student learning and academic success. We need our principals to know the difference we make in student learning as often as they see the difference we make in technology support. We need our principals to see evidence of our impact on student learning as clearly and obviously as they see how well we handle technology. Until we demonstrate the difference we make working with students, until we produce evidence of student achievement through instructional interactions with us, we may be handling it all well as tech support but we are definitely not handling it all well as teachers. And that is the point.
Author: Anne Akers
Clinical assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of NC at Greensboro working with school library candidates. Former elementary, middle, and high school librarian in Virginia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.