March 29, 2009 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Is my job destroying my mind?

A year and a half ago, I took a librarian job in a special education school for kids with LDs, conduct disorders, and drug problems.
I am constantly on edge that one of the students will do something violent. This spring I have been bullied by two notorious bullies (girls) in the student body. One of them physically threatened me. Very few student read non-class books. Nobody returns their books. I can't say anything more specific about the school, for fear of penalties, but I desperately need advice.

I do not belong in this place, yet I have the guilt feeling that I could somehow transform myself into Jaime Escalante if I really tried. I am not teaching classes and am thus a superfluous person and expect to be thrown overboard any day, even though no administrator has said anything of this sort to me. My contract at the school is coming up for renewal, and maybe it would be a mercy if they don't renew it just because of the budget.

I started library school last semester, taking three courses, and got fine grades. Now I am taking only two courses, but I am getting hammered in one of them. It is a highly conceptual and analytical cataloging course, and there is often only one right way to do things: it is library science with the emphasis on "Science."

I feel stupid, a feeling that I have been unaccustomed to since eighth grade math, a philosophy course or a chemistry course (distribution requirement in college). I am a humanities person. In fact, I have a Ph.D. in history. I want to work in an academic library, but I'm afraid that if I don't get an "A" in cataloging, I won't be able to do this. I am getting B's on assignments and these are the worst grades I have got in a long time (high school, college, graduate school). I'm afraid that the 700-level courses I start on next year will be too hard.

(Another reason that I feel stupid is that last year I published an academic book -- the remnant of my History degree work -- that has sunk like a stone. I feel that I've wasted five years' work.)

I am having trouble noticing and recalling the significant details in the detail-heavy cataloging course. I have all the symptoms of ADHD and it is because my day job is a war zone. My guilt and anxiety are also contributing. I am no longer interested in ideas and unable to focus on them. I feel that the job is literally destroying my brain.

Should I quit my job? I have living arrangements and a year's savings to finish my education with. However, I am not sure of finding another job at the present time. I would be lucky to find a much lower paying job or unpaid internship in an academic library. I don't want to have to explain to future employers that I quit my job just because of "stress."

Should I keep the job but see a therapist? I already am on an antidepressant and I don't want more meds. I realize that I am in need of positive self-talk (since I have unrealistically high expectations of myself).
posted by bad grammar to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A.) These kids have already had a life time of people giving up on them. If you quit, they aren't even going to notice.

B.) You shouldn't quit the job unless you have another one lined up UNLESS your feelings of your safety being threatened are legitimate and not just imaginary.

C.) Yes, you should see a therapist, even if you quit the job. If you think you have ADHD the therapist can determine this and help treat it, so that the next time you're in a high-pressure work environment you'll be better prepared to deal with the stress and distractions.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2009

I think you should quit and focus full-time on school. Better yet, quit and find something, anything in an academic library, even if it's unpaid volunteer work, but you'd be better finding a formal internship (even if it's unpaid) working for a librarian and doing something that approximates what librarians do.

This job sounds really stressful, and I can't imagine any librarian/potential employer finding fault with leaving a job after a year and a half to focus on school. This also sounds like a good time to (emotionally) leave behind history and commit yourself fully to your new path.

In regards to cataloging: cataloging is hard. I (ahem) finished at the top of my class at my (ahem) very highly-ranked LS program (sorry for the tackiness) and found cataloging pretty difficult. I never understood anything until after the assignment was turned in. It's just a class you have to focus on some more--and do some practice activities outside of class. Also, sit next to the future catalogers who do get it. I got a great grade in cataloging after being confused for the first third of the semester.

If you can make it through your dissertation, you can definitely get through cataloging.

No one will look at your grades when it comes to hiring time. I've served on search committees, and been offered a few jobs myself, and can assure you that no one even looks at your transcript until after you've been hired. Then they just need it as proof of your degree. Grades, and where you went to school, aren't nearly as important as your work experience and your collegiality.

[Finally, a job search tip: librarians don't always love PhDs who couldn't find a faculty job and then turn to librarianship as Plan B. Librarianship was a career change for many of us, but go out of your way to pretend that it isn't. If a quick google search tells the committee you are more committed to history than librarianship, then they will be less interested in hiring you.]
posted by bluedaisy at 9:35 AM on March 29, 2009

Leave the damn job. If the 40-watt bulb brats don't kill you, the euphemisms ("learning disabilities;" "conduct disorders") surely will.
In my experience, the desirability of a profession is in inverse proportion to its adherence to euphemisms.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:37 AM on March 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Check your memail.
posted by chiababe at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2009

Sounds like it's wearing you down and tearing you to shreds, one Dewey decimal at a time. Please consider finding an alternative place of employment that enhances your health, not destroying it. Go where your heart is, the money will follow.
posted by watercarrier at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2009

I don't want to have to explain to future employers that I quit my job just because of "stress."

I wouldn't worry about this. If it comes up, the bottom line is that you're leaving so you can focus more on your studies, right? That sounds like a prudent, responsible choice to me.
posted by gimli at 10:05 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have the guilt feeling that I could somehow transform myself into Jaime Escalante if I really tried

No, I really don't think you could, and it's not fair to expect that of yourself. You are not teaching classes, for one thing, and Escalante was dealing with poor kids --- not kids with LD, conduct problems, and drug problems.

And I doubt Escalante dreaded violence every day on his way to work.
posted by jayder at 10:06 AM on March 29, 2009

I'm sorry.
In this economy, I wouldn't quit unless I had another, better job lined up- savings in times like these are a blessing.
You could start keeping a journal or, better yet, start a Librarian Rant blog to blow off steam and get moral support.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:23 AM on March 29, 2009

>I do not belong in this place, yet I have the guilt feeling that I could somehow transform myself into Jaime Escalante if I really tried.

Oh my goodness, do I ever know how that feels. I stayed way too long in an impossible job for similar reasons. Hell, it took Jaime Escalante years to become Jaime Escalante. It's not for everyone. You can do a great deal of good work just by being an ally to the Jaime Escalantes of this world. Also, seconding everything jayder says above.

About your library career, surely your library school has a career counselor who can help you package yourself for other library jobs. I've served on search committees in an academic library, and it sounds to me like you've got some very interesting experience built up. Not getting an A in cataloging would not have any impact on your chances at my place of work, and I doubt it would in general.

As for quitting your job, if you feel unsafe there and cannot get the administration/higher-ups to take steps to ensure a safer working environment for you, that might be a good reason to quit.
posted by runtina at 10:27 AM on March 29, 2009

This will sound a trifle off the wall, but have you considered taking self-defense classes?

Find a martial art which is practical, by which I mean that it emphasizes street fighting, handling "situations," shows you how to deal with multiple opponents, people with knives or makeshift clubs. The training should involve actual sparring and lots of repeated exercises (block-kick-punch, block-kick-punch, etc), and nice katas which you must memorize.

The exercise will make you feel better, the training will help you relax and zone out a bit, you will gain self-confidence, and, finally, should something actually happen, you'll be able to deal with it.

Once you have the fear dealt with, you can more rationally examine your career options.
posted by adipocere at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I worked in a library in a similar school. I quit (really, I left on maternity leave for two years and never came back ...) in part because I realised the systemic problems with the institution had to be solved by the administration who were quite happy seeing me burn myself out on putting out little fires everyday. Focus on your school work and getting a part-time job in the field you want.
posted by saucysault at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2009

Have you considered supplementing your library classes with education administration or teaching?
posted by parmanparman at 12:56 PM on March 29, 2009

No one cares what grade you get in cataloguing. Heck, my place of work not only didn't ask for my transcripts, they didn't even ask for verification that I finished library school! Don't sweat it. Cataloguing is really hard to grasp, as you are highly unlikely to ever actually use the knowledge. With your qualifications, there's no way anyone would stick you with cataloguing. In my library, cataloguing is done by technicians not (more expensive) librarians.

B is a perfectly respectable grade. You will graduate with a B in cataloguing.

I think cataloguing is interesting from a conceptual perspective; the idea of trying to catagorize all human knowledge is an old one. When I took cataloguing I immediately thought of the history of botany and gardens. The idea that you could plant a garden and invoke all creation, all ideas, and all human qualities: very medieval. I had a cataloguing prof who was really into these kinds of ideas, so I had a blast in cataloguing. But I was lucky.

Your job sounds really tough.

Just get through library school, and start applying to academic libraries. No matter how you do in cataloguing, you will still be a great candidate. Just try to pass.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:54 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone.
I feel that I'm trying to take one week at a time. So that I don't feel trapped, I have decided to start networking for an academic job / internship (the latter being more flexible), but I would also like at least to finish out the year (through July) at the SE school. Worrying about whether they will renew my contract for next year has brought this on: I worry, "Do I want them to give me the boot?"

But it's also true that a very tight money situation and the need to find a new job with career growth potential would add new stresses of their own. I've been there before, looking for history professor positions.

I should learn to meditate or something. The people who seem happy teaching at that school are much more type "B."
posted by bad grammar at 6:20 PM on March 29, 2009

Echoing what Hildegarde says - I teach a practical course related to my profession. I have a few students who are appalled to receive anything lower than a distinction, because that's what they were previously accustomed to receive for their academic work. I reassure them by saying that if they are receiving passing grades, then they are submitting passable work, in the true sense of the word (i.e. if they continue on the path they are on, they will be able to work successfully in the profession). I also tell them that I am prepared to fail students who do not meet this standard, and have done so in the past (this is true).

So don't stress about a B. If you need to concentrate on school, though, and can afford to do so for a while, I wouldn't beat yourself up for quitting this job for which you don't seem suited.
posted by altolinguistic at 4:37 AM on March 30, 2009

At my library school they marked extremely strictly to a curve. All marks hovered around 80%. It was next to impossible to get As. Yes, it pissed people off. I don't know the rationale, but believe me the marks don't matter. As long as your not getting marks that tell you you are missing the point of the assignment, you are fine.

Of course you should quit your job. If you have enough money. Start school full time. The sooner you graduate, the sooner you can earn a real wage, in a job that doesn't make you fear for your safety. Honestly, even working at Starbucks would be better than your current situation. You are not learning anything new after being there for a year.

Don't feel bad about how hard this decision is. I also find it really hard to quit things, even though I know it is the right thing to do. Just remember, you deserve better than to be in a situation that makes you miserable. You are smart and capable and can survive without this job.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:33 AM on March 30, 2009

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