Exit Ramps

One Tuesday in the spring of 2019, my husband Ed came home and told me he was going to lose his job. The company he worked for had lost its biggest contract.

Wednesday, he came home in a unexpectedly good mood. It had been announced that the employees would have two more months of work, and then the other company—the one that had yanked the contract—would pay them six months’ salary as a bonus for working through the transition. He’d known his company had issues even before they lost the account, and now he was being offered an off-ramp paved with cash.

Thursday, Ed came home furious. He was not going to be laid off after all. He was one of three people his company planned keep. After the transition, he’d be transferred to a different account.

“Is that so terrible?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said. “I won’t get the bonus.”

Within a few days, he had decided that even without the bonus, he didn’t want to stay with his current employer. An employee from the other company, the one that was ending the contract, suggested that he apply for a job with them.

The job would require him to relocate. He asked me what I thought. I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of uprooting our lives, but I told him that it wouldn’t hurt to see what they had to say.

They offered him the job. He was, as he would say later, dazzled by the offer. Moreover, he thought he would like the work.

At that point in time, I was well aware that school librarians were becoming rarer and rarer around the country. My state legislature had only narrowly defeated a bill to reduce certified and support staff in school libraries the previous year.

Why, exactly, it didn’t occur to be concerned about conditions in the state we would move to, I am not sure. I suppose I was dazzled by the offer too. Maybe I figured that if I couldn’t get a job in a secondary setting, I would be able to get one elsewhere.

Once we decided he would take the offer, I started looking for work. There were two multi-district teacher job fairs in the area coming up, both on the same day, and we hastily made plans so that I could attend both of them.

I was early to the first one, but I didn’t beat the crowds. I had to present my out-of-state teaching license at the door to be admitted. The HR rep checked me in, found my name tag, and handed me a map. One table on the map had been circled. She pointed to it.

“That’s the school with the media specialist vacancy.”

“The school?” I repeated. I tried to keep the horror off my face.

The rep had already moved on to the next candidate.

I found the table. A chalkboard listed the available positions. There were a few besides the media specialist, which I took as a good sign. The administrators were doing on-the-spot interviews.

I joined the line and used my phone to research the school and its priorities as I waited. I realized I had much on my resume they would like, and I began to relax a little.

The candidate in front of me turned around. “You here for the media specialist?”

I nodded.

“We all are.”

I looked to the the three younger teachers in front of her. They nodded. I looked at the teacher being interviewed. I heard her say something about an increase in circulation numbers. Crud.

While I had been on my phone, three more young candidates had fallen in line behind me. They all indicated that they were interested in the media specialist position.

I thought about bolting. The candidate immediately in front of me eventually did. I stuck it out and eventually had my turn. I talked about SIOP and the Coretta Scott King award books and collaboration and relationships. Apart from a persistent tremble in my hands, it went pretty well, but I knew competition was fierce.

At the next fair, there were zero media specialist positions. One recruiter explained to me that there was only one media specialist position in her entire district. That person worked in the central office and planned lessons for ESPs to conduct in the schools’ libraries. She suggested I consider a private school.

There was a position open at private, I mean, independent school. I was hesitant. I was working at a Title I school with many EL students, and I liked it there. I was aware that my school was unique in that it was the only Title l school in an otherwise wealthy county, one that funded its schools well. My students had many challenges, but we could often help them meet those challenges.

About a dozen years prior, I had worked one year at a Title l elementary school in a different state, in a district that seemed to support its libraries primarily through the PTA. I went to a meeting on the other side of town and was amazed to see five volunteers shelving books and helping with checkout, lots of new books on display, and beautiful furniture. I sat in the car and cried for 20 minutes before I went home.

I have written about that year previously, and I know I am incapable of summing it up nearly, so I’m not going try. You’ll just have to believe me that I worked incredibly hard and didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. At the high school I worked hard, but not to the point of exhaustion, and I did not have the same crushing despair.

I applied for the private school job. I had two phone interviews, and then I flew down for a campus visit. I had two more interviews and lunch and a tour. The campus was like a small college. I was glad I had worn flats.

In the afternoon, I was dropped off at a lab for a drug test. I had said I could find my way back to my hotel. I was desperate to get out of interview mode. I just wanted to sit in the waiting room and read a book on my phone. After my hair sample was taken, I requested a Lyft. The call came while I was still in the car.

It was a good offer. I took it. I had some reservations, but it was late June, and I wanted a job. It wasn’t a great fit. I worked well with a number of faculty members and started a formal volunteer program which the students enjoyed. A few international students told me I taught in a way that worked well for them. Mostly, it was the existing library culture that I banged my head against repeatedly.

I had never reported to another librarian in a K-12 setting. I don’t think I will again. It wasn’t a shock when my position was eliminated in June of 2020—in some ways it was almost a Get Out of Jail Free card. I hadn’t been fired, and I hadn’t flaked out by quitting after a year. It was coronavirus.

There were few openings that late in the school year. I took a part time job at a technical/community college in July. It’s good experience, and I know I’m lucky that my husband makes enough that my not having a full time job isn’t a crisis. I just don’t know where I go next.

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