How School Librarians Can Survive the Fourth Quarter
Now is the time of year where I ask my colleagues how they are and they answer with exactly how many days are left in the school year.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Thirty-four more days.” Or, “Four more Mondays,” or “Hanging in there” or even, “I’m here again.”
Senioritis isn’t technically a real itis, but we’ve all been there. It’s the fourth quarter, the home stretch, the end of the school year is in sight. It’s a slog. While you can see the finish line, it still feels so far away and like an impossible goal. Maybe the only goal you can achieve is sending the students home alive at the end of every day. That is an admirable goal. This time of year it can feel like all you can do is hold on for dear life and ride out the year, white knuckling it. There’s good news for you white knucklers, the end is, in fact, nigh. And I have some strategies on how to make this final push more bearable.
MANAGE YOUR WORKLOAD
Boundaries are essential in service jobs like education and libraries. This time of year many people are scrambling to meet deadlines and tie up loose ends. That can bleed over into the library easily. People need help finishing out the year. We are a support and should help where we can, but beware overcommitting. You have end of year tasks, too. Your work is also important, even if it’s not as visible as other work in the building. Knowing your boundaries and saying no isn’t unsupportive, it’s smart. You know what you are capable of and what duties you already have. No is a complete sentence, and is not unkind.
Remember who the work you do is for. It’s understandable to get caught up in data collection and administrative tasks, making the work feel bleak and never-ending. Especially with all the end of year tasks that must be completed, the work just keeps coming. It’s easy to forget the reason why you do this work. Remember what is most important: students. If you do right by the kids, everything else will fall in place and get done in due time. Or not! That’s also fine. Because, surprise, surprise – the work for next school year will still be waiting for you.
Everyone is tired. Admin, staff, teachers, students. I know that our culture glorifies rising and grinding, instructional time must not be wasted, and showing your work is an important library tenant. However, if you’re tired, the kids are tired. It’s okay to take a break. Let students wander in the stacks a little, give them a little more reading time than you normally would, take everyone outside to soak up some sun.
Do the minimum. Barely meeting the requirements is still meeting the requirements. C’s still pass classes. Of course, I’m not advocating for this habitually, but if you have to do just enough to get by until the end of the school year, it’s enough. The amazing work you’ve done thus far will stand for itself. It’s preferable to phone it in to avoid burnout, than to get burnt out and become a human potato. Cut everyone a little slack. Add in some margin to your schedule.
New ideas. Creative juices flowing. Surround yourself with support. Foster curiosity.
A sure fire way to get a second wind of inspiration is by working with others. Come up with a cross-curricular project that will bring all subject areas to the library. Work with teachers and staff to implement a new program. Talk to teachers about their lessons and let them know how the library can support their ideas. This will help you and your colleagues to get the creative juices flowing.
Surround yourself with support. Reach out to other librarians in your district and pick their brains. Or reach out and offer ideas you’ve been working on. The last push of the year is a key time to lean on your supports. Asking for help is not a sign of incompetence, it’s working smarter.
TRY NEW THINGS
This is the time of year to be brave. It’s taking all your razzle dazzle ability to get any engagement at all, so why not try out that new program you’ve been thinking about all year? Now’s the time to introduce fun activities that don’t quite fit during other times of the year. Or did you come across an amazing poetry activity on the day after National Poetry Month? Who cares! Try it out. Poetry is all year long. Maybe your school year ends before June and you’re bummed to miss out on LGBTQ+ Pride Month? Sounds like the perfect opportunity to celebrate early.
Don’t wait to try something because it’s too close to the end of the year. Saving an activity or program for the fall won’t give you the chance for a test run now. Failing is a learning experience. Try out an idea that’s not fully formed and planned to the last tittle and jot. There’s no better way to see places of oversight than to implement the plan and find the holes in it. It’s a safe time to go ahead and give shiny new ideas a shot. Then you make notes to get it ready for next year, with more confidence that things will run smoothly.
Reflecting is an underrated professional practice. Hustle culture has us convinced that we have to keep pushing forward at all costs. But, librarian, look how far you’ve come and how much you’ve accomplished in these long months. Take some time to review your wins. Celebrate that grant you got or that display everyone loved. Then take notes on what should be repeated, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to be discarded.
Fellow educators, we are almost there. These last few weeks don’t have to be a waste with all the kids completely checked out. Also, it’s okay to rest and to let your students rest. Do the bare minimum and go to bed early. We are so close.