“Yes, You Can!” Why I’m Not Special, But You Are

Bitmoji of Steve in a Rosie the Riveter pose against a yellow background. There's a speech bubble coming from his mouth, in a dark color with white lettering that reads: "You Can Do It!"

Semi-Charmed Kinda Life

I have truly lived a luck-filled life. The circumstances of my start in this world set me up with an ethnicity (caucasian), gender (male), and socioeconomic status (upper-middle class) that gave me a lot of benefits. Added to that, I was born into a family that valued education. Thanks to their support, I attended the college of my choice. My parents instilled in me a pretty decent work ethic. 

All of which means: I was born at least on third base. And thanks to my advantages, I’ve been able to move through the world with The Unearned Confidence of the White Male (TUCWM). I’m rarely put off by others or forced to re-examine my actions or expectations. 

Leaping Before I Look

In practice, this means that I usually dive into things head-first, and I don’t worry too much about how things will turn out. I realize this is an incredibly privileged perspective. It also means I am honestly perplexed when folks see me at conferences and get excited. To my mind, I don’t do anything special. But folks seem impressed by some of the stuff I do. 

For example, at TxLA24 I attended a session by the AMAZING school librarian Andrea Keller. She shared some of the many awesome things she does – I was furiously taking notes. When she saw me in the audience, she said, “Oh my gosh, I’m fangirling! You do such amazing things!” And I’m thinking, “Wait, don’t you see all the awesomeness you are cranking out? I don’t do ANY of this!”

Anything I Can Do…

I think one of the things that surprises people is that I do a lot of different things. Part of the reason I engage in such an eclectic grab-bag of experiences is because I don’t know a lot of stuff. That means, in part, that I don’t know what I shouldn’t be doing. Coupled with TUCWM, this is a recipe for wide-ranging activities.

During AASL 2023, I had a chance to chat with the incredible Lauren Mobley during her poster session. She mentioned, “I wasn’t sure I should apply to present, but then I thought, ‘If Steve can do it, I can do it!’” And I shouted, “Hell yes!” 

Reflecting on that recently made me wonder if I was long-overdue to share this message:

Anything I can do, you can do (and you can probably do it better)! 

The Man Behind the Curtain

Allow me to engage in a little “debunking” of some things about me some folks seem to think are kinda cool. 

Becoming Dr. T

To some folks, this seems really impressive. But really, I had a lot of circumstances working in my favor. I don’t have children. My district picked up a huge portion of the tab. The masters program I was in transferred over a chunk of credits, making the doctorate much more easily attainable. And at the time, my main “hobby” was being a student. My biggest obstacle was maintaining enough stick-to-it-tive-ness to make it through! Fortunately, I have a big streak of stubborn, and I had some great cheerleaders along the way. 

Becoming part of the executive board of my state organization

While attending my first NJASL conference while still a school library student, someone said, “You know, NJASL always needs new members to help run things.” Well, I liked what I saw NJASL doing, and got excited by the idea of helping them do what they do. Despite my misgivings, they welcomed me and gave me so many wonderful opportunities to get engaged and involved. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try that if someone hadn’t nudged me, but I’m so glad they did! 

Presenting at conferences 

I like to perform (despite being an introvert), so presenting has never been a heavy lift for me. Still, I never would have figured folks would actually care enough about what I had to say to invite me to share at their conferences. But as Len Bryant was just reminding me at TxLA24, “Your everyday might be revolutionary for someone else!” I’ve had friends suggest should I apply to present at TxLA and PSLA, and a friend submitted our PLN to present at AASL. If they hadn’t nudged me, I probably wouldn’t have applied. (So maybe consider this your nudge!)

Writing a book chapter

I recently completed a chapter on Technology Literacy in the Middle Grades for the upcoming book, “We Can Teach That!” After my friend and NJASL Past President Ewa Dziedzic-Elliott pitched the book idea and invited school librarians to contribute, I was skeptical that I had anything worthwhile to contribute. But as I considered my years of supporting students and staff with technology, I realized that I was just letting the negative self-talk take over. 

Writing for AASL

I’ve talked about this before so I won’t belabor the point. Just know – I don’t have any particular skills. I just put my thoughts down on the page. 

Starting a podcast

I was fortunate enough to get to host the second season of the (sadly, now defunct) “One Lesson at a Time” podcast. It was conceived of by Courtney Pentland and put out by School Library Connection. That was an amazing experience.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to started my own show, the SLLN (School Librarian Learning Network) Podcast. Each week I get talk to a school librarian who shares a favorite lesson or activity and a book suggestion. When thinking about starting my own podcast, I reached out to Amy Hermon, host of the School Librarians United podcast. She was incredibly generous with her time and advice. I’m so glad she’s part of my PLN!

A Recipe for TUCWM

Nothing I’ve done is crazy-difficult. It just takes time, belief in yourself, and a willingness to fall down a few times before you get the hang of things. Here are a couple of thoughts that seem to capture the essence of TUCWM: 

  • Don’t be afraid to try. Best case scenario, it works out. Worst case, you get a good story to laugh about later! 
  • Ask for advice and help. My PLN has helped me in so many ways. And it formed around me seeking assistance and joining conversations. School librarians are there to help, and are excited when they can offer assistance! If no one seems to have the answer you need, you have some damned fine research skills – put ‘em to use! 
  • It’s all within your abilities. Those folks you admire from a distance are just people, like you. 
  • Focus on what’s in front of you. Don’t worry too much about the end point until you’re nearly there, ‘cause the goal posts will probably move as you make your way toward your goal. As my dad reminded me repeatedly as I despaired about finishing my doctoral thesis, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That advice truly got me through. 
  • Give your friends a nudge. So many of my experiences came about because a PLN member, colleague, or friend said, “You can do that!” If you haven’t lately, remind a friend that they’re good at a thing, and that they should share what they know.
  • You don’t get experience until you do a bunch of stuff. I’m generally not worried about trying something new because I’ve tried lots of new things. It took a while to get here, but my willingness to dive into all sorts of things has given me a pretty diverse array of experiences. 
  • You have something unique to say! Back in my teendom, I attended a leadership camp. Their main message was, “Every one of us has a piece of good news inside them.” It sounds kind of new-agey or religious, but they were teaching us that everyone is special in some way. Although I wrestle with the idea that I am in any way special, I do believe that everyone has something to share with the world.  

So if you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “Wow! That Steve is really something!” allow me to assure you that I’m not any more something than you. 

You have things you are good at – don’t be bashful about sharing! After all, we’re #BetterTogether!


Author: Steve Tetreault

After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Professional Development

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4 replies

  1. Bravo, Steve! I love this overall message and your writing style is so easy to read. I appreciate these reminders, too. Thanks for being you!

  2. Steve, I was quite impressed by this piece of confession. There are definitely mindsets involved with both one’s upbringing and one’s station in society. You acknowldge that. Truth be told, I’m trying to be like you….my college experince (at Amherst College), both helped and hindered me. It trained me to see and question systems in a way I may not had before, thus realizing our insidious racism, sexism, and classism is in our society, and I also went through a phase of having an inferiority complex. But ultimately, Amherst and my parents (who truly valued education too) made me feel as if I could fly and do whatever I wanted to do despite being black, female and queer. We need to keep supporting each other based on our talents and character and not the color of our skin or ethniciy.

    Thank your Steve.

  3. Rachel – Thanks so much! I’m glad you found the piece engaging & useful!

  4. S – I really appreciate your thoughts, and I agree completely: We need to keep supporting each other! We are all humans; we owe it to each other to try and make things a bit better, in whatever way(s) we can. We learn more; then we know better; then we need to do better.

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