As I was working with one of my students this week trying to help her come up with a doable goal project to undertake this final semester of her program, I recognized that, as is typical, she had suggested many more grandiose ideas than she would ever be able to accomplish in the course of a year, much less a semester.
I love this pluck, this enthusiasm, this determination that comes from my students who are so eager to put the pedal to the metal. In the moment, they believe they can accomplish miracles, they can’t wait to try, and I absolutely love that! We desperately need this high-energy, positivity in our profession coming from our new initiates.
Over the course of our conversations, this student who had just recently started working as a new school librarian mentioned that she had gotten affirmation from a teacher about how she was already doing more than the previous librarian had done. She was obviously pleased with this compliment. Since I had worked with my student’s predecessor, however, this comment touched a nerve.
Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard a teacher quick to praise the new school librarian who is supposedly doing so much more than the former one, especially in the case of a younger person replacing an older person. I’ve heard a new librarian make derogatory comments about the colleague she replaced and how the faculty liked her so much better. I’ve heard these comments myself whenever I moved into a new position and, while I admit my ego was stroked, I always felt uncomfortable being compared to my predecessor, and I always wondered what that same person would say about me behind my back.
It is natural for us to crave approval and relish praise. It is affirming, especially for education professionals to whom compliments and praise are not common occurrences. For anyone new to the school library profession who is trying so hard to accomplish miracles, it is understandable that we thrive on hearing anything that might remotely recognize our efforts and motivate us on those overwhelming days when nothing seems to be going right.
When someone tells you that you are doing things so much better than the previous school librarian, however, you need to see it for what it is. Rather than a compliment to you it is actually a criticism of the other person made behind his or her back. A true compliment is never given at the expense of another person.
Because of our singular positions in schools we become easy targets for others who don’t understand our jobs, our work, and our value. While it’s nice to think our efforts have been recognized, that we are doing things better than they have ever been done before, without knowing what trails our predecessors blazed for us and what battles they fought, when we buy into these comments we become just as critical, judgmental, and demeaning of our profession on the whole as the person giving the fake complement. As one of my favorite characters explains, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee, 1960).
Lee, H. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jackmac34 (2016, Sept. 25). No name. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/walking-walker-hiking-trekking-1694137/
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.