School Librarian Dispositions: Serving Two Masters

One of the assignments that sometimes gives my preservice school library students angst requires them to self-assess their dispositions for teaching.   Our teacher education program requires all licensure candidates to have satisfactory assessments (preferably three) of their teaching dispositions for program approval.    When I inherited my job, the dispositions that were being used for our program were the same ones being used in the teacher education program to assess preservice teachers.

Because we are teacher librarians, it seemed appropriate at the time to continue to use the same dispositions that were being used for teacher candidates because it reinforced the concept that school librarians were also teacher librarians and because I could not find any other specific, confirmed dispositions for school librarians to use instead.  Eventually, it began to bother me that our candidates were being assessed with dispositions for teaching while not truly being recognized as teachers within the education field and at the same time not being assessed for dispositions appropriate for school librarians.

I decided to try and make the disposition assessment work better for my students.    So many of my students were employed provisionally as school librarians before they earned their license that when they completed their practica their site supervisors who assessed them were also their  administrators.  It occurred to me that an administrator might actually learn more about his/her school librarian by evaluating him/her with criteria specific to the behaviors appropriate for a school librarian.

The dispositions specific to our teacher education program included the following nine behaviors:  reflective learner; ethical; inclusive and affirming of diversity; personal and professional conduct; engaged and committed to teaching as a profession; self-efficacious; receptive to feedback; responsible; and collaborative.  When I researched dispositions within our profession, I found many interesting articles but nothing definitive and no direction from our professional organizations.  Rather than try to reinvent the wheel and come up with other dispositions more closely aligned to our work, I decided instead to emphasize the teaching role of the school librarian.  I added the word librarian to all criteria.  Where the assessment said the teacher candidate consistently reflects on personal attitudes, I amended it to read:  the teacher librarian candidate consistently reflects on personal attitudes.

This change in wording helped but I had a disquieting sense that the dispositions were still not adequately assessing behaviors necessary for school librarians nor were they useful in helping an administrator understand those behaviors.  Then, one of my student’s insightful comments as she was doing her self-assessment, brought the issue into focus.  She wrote, ““Being a school librarian is being a member of one profession (librarianship) embedded within another (education).  The [teaching] dispositions … are valued by school professionals, whereas those relating more to the field of librarianship, not so much….  At times this can make the teacher librarian seem like an outsider, not ‘one of us.’”

As school librarians we are at odds within the education profession at both the school level and the licensure program level.  Our principals, school boards, and state departments of education do not understand our roles as teachers or as librarians.  Our licensure program requirements and expectations within our universities do not fit nicely and neatly within the same parameters as those for preservice teachers.  We are clearly different and “outside” the teaching norm.  As my student suggested, we have the unenviable job of trying to serve two masters.  We are teachers.  We are school librarians.

While the appropriate dispositions that teachers are expected to have such as a reflective learner or being engaged and committed to teaching as a profession are general, common sense behaviors that we would hope any teacher (and teacher librarian) would exhibit, they do not acknowledge for us the extraordinary dispositions a school librarian should also have that are in addition to effective teaching behaviors and that do essentially set us apart from teachers.

It is crucial that school library candidates understand there are appropriate behaviors /dispositions required for our profession both for teaching and for school librarianship.  It is perhaps even more important that these dual disposition assessments work to inform school leaders and education decisionmakers about how school librarians are both teachers and teacher librarians.  We understand that we serve two masters; we need our administrators, our school leaders, and our schools of education to understand and appreciate that as well.

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.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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