I hate my job, how do I grin & bear it?
April 26, 2021 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I might sound like a brat for saying this in the midst of a pandemic, but I hate my job (school library technician). I'll probably be working in it until I can find a new one and who knows when that will be? How do I grin & bear it?

When I think about it, I don't really hate the job itself. I hate the environment I work in. I'm a library technician and I have had *enough* of working in schools. I just... hate the school environment so much.

I know, I know, I'm a brat for whining about my job when I should be thankful that I have one in the middle of a pandemic.

There is something about working in a school environment that I have come to loathe. Maybe it's because I've seen "the other" side of life in public libraries (and I've had pretty good experiences working in them, fortunately). I came back to this position after taking a leave of absence from the school board to work at a public library for 1-year. It was a pretty great opportunity, all things considered.

I think what really bothers me about working in schools, is no matter how much administrators and teachers claim to "love books and reading!" and to "love libraries!!" It's really the most insignificant job at a school. It's the first one cut when there are budget cuts to be made (as I discovered). I also don't think that the people working in support staff positions are respected (just as human beings!!!) by many administrators and, unfortunately, a lot of teachers. I've seen educational assistants treated like shit, constantly. I've seen administrative assistants treated like shit. As a library technician, I've been treated like shit! I've heard countless stories of other library technicians being treated like shit at schools. There's an overarching attitude from the admins and teachers who treat support staff poorly that somehow... we're subhuman because we're not teachers. It's not just me projecting. I've talked to people who also feel the same way.

I think what is driving these feelings at the moment is that I've been placed at a new school (as of last week) and, ugh, they view me as an educational assistant. I'm just there to shelve books in the morning until they need me to supervise recess, then I check books out until it's time for me to supervise a student with special needs one-on-one until her educational assistant comes back from lunch. When I sit with that student I just think... "this is what I trained for?" I mean, if I wanted to be an Educational Assistant, I wouldn't have bothered becoming a library technician (then getting my MLIS). But the admins don't care. I'm just a babysitter who puts away books all mornings.

I know, I know, I should advocate for myself and the position... but I honestly just don't care anymore. If they think I'm stupid. Fine. I really don't know how to speak to admins or teachers about why a) library technicians are important and b) I'm an actual educated person with skills beyond shelving and babysitting students.

I just have to grin and bear until I can find a new job. On the bright side, I have an interview tomorrow. But who knows if I'll get it. How do you just... go in to work everyday knowing that you hate it? I enjoy interacting with the students, but that's about it. I'm really just "over it" when it comes to school libraries.
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I work in a university library. You're not alone. I identify with a lot of this. I'll be watching this thread for advice as well. Thank you for posting.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:39 PM on April 26, 2021

In my experience there's kind of a delicate balance. Because if you give too much of yourself to a job that's never going to appreciate you, then you burn out. But - if you want this job to have any bright spots you have to create them for yourself. And it stinks. I know.

When I was so sad and frightened at my library job that I was crying in my car every day, I kept on trying as hard as I could with every badly-attended storytime, and there were kids who cared that I did that. And I got out of that job quickly, and thank goodness, but I hung on until I managed to find something else.

When my coworkers at my next library job were talking behind my back about what an awful job I was doing and how badly-attended my programs were, I kept on trying hard with those programs and even when I got two or three people at an arts and crafts program sometimes I had a conversation with a ten-year-old that kind of made my day.

It is HARD to keep trying when you're demoralized. And it is perfectly understandable that you're demoralized. I would be too. And some days you don't have it in you to pretend that you care. But on days when you can find even a little extra in you... see if you can find even two or three minutes to start to talk with teachers. Ask them what they're doing with their classes. And maybe you'll see an opportunity to slide in with "Hey, we have some great bird books at the library. I'd love to pull some out for your students if you'd like to bring them in sometime." I'm an introvert, so, this is hard, but if you can make yourself do it even occasionally - it helps.
Come up with some ideas for initiatives and try to sell them to the administration (or to teachers). I think that you'll probably run into some brick walls. I believe you about what your school is like. But I don't think that you'll only run into brick walls. Read school librarian journals or magazines - I bet they have ideas of things that have worked and things that haven't worked.

Please don't misunderstand me, I don't want to tell you to cheer up and work harder! And I don't want to tell you that you can turn this around if only you try hard enough. But - I've worked with a lot of people who've given up on their jobs 100%. I've been that person sometimes. And what it means is that you get stuck in a vicious cycle where you don't care, so you don't do anything that would make your job worth caring about, so you care even less. And if you can do even a little to swim against that current, you can maybe keep from being completely drowned by it.

But - like I said, it's HARD to balance that against the risk of giving too much of yourself to a job that's never going to like you back.
posted by Jeanne at 6:10 PM on April 26, 2021 [19 favorites]

I'm in a very, very different field, but I am somewhat in the same position, in that I am very much done with my current job - and part of it is related to that "I support the people making money, not directly an income source" that has seen my team reduced from 6 people to 1.5 people over the past 18 months. People can say they love my team and our work all they want, but, well, the evidence as to how valued we really are is there. But, changing jobs is hard enough due to personal "circumstances" (health problems), and in a pandemic doubly so.

What keeps me going? Honestly, abject fear of having nowhere to live. But one thing that helped me is at least putting some clock on it - the whole "this is for now, not forever" thing. Hopefully at some point, there will not be a pandemic, at which point the "circumstances" become surmountable again.

What I sort of mean by that, is focus on what you're tangibly getting out of it - that it's helping you get through one of the greatest crisises of the last 50+ years - and maybe that helps you get through another day?

(oblig kimmy schmit: you can get through anything for 10 seconds - so just do that, and then once you've done it, start another ten seconds! It's actually terrible advice, but yet I find some comfort there anyhow)
posted by jaymzjulian at 7:04 PM on April 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I appreciate that being a babysitter is not what you trained for, but am taking at face value your question “how do I deal with the job I have.”

You might try viewing your time with the special education student as an opportunity to see their humanity instead of being insulted that you are being forced to spend time with them.
posted by slmorri at 8:16 PM on April 26, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: slmorri Yes, that is a good point. However, I am not trained as an educational assistant. I have little to no experience working with special needs students. I have never been taught strategies regarding how to work with special needs students one on one or in group settings. When I told the principal this, she just laughed and said "none of the educational assistants here have training!" I'm not insulted to be working with that student, but I am honestly lacking the skill-set to do it and do do it well. My lack of training makes me feel very uncomfortable and I am afraid of doing the wrong thing, constantly.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:50 PM on April 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm going to zero in on the "grin and bear it" aspect of the question. Maybe try watching the movie Goodburger. It's a buddy comedy about guys working in a burger joint. One (Dexter) is very cynical about his job, the other (Ed) is very sincere. Make an exercise for whenever something obnoxious happens of thinking through how Dexter would react and how Ed would react.

You may also consider greeting students who come into the library with "Welcome to The Library, home of library books. Would you like a book?".
posted by ewok_academy at 8:53 PM on April 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here's what I do:
(a) Remind myself that I would be homeless and/or possibly dead without this job (see below).
(b) HEALTH INSURANCE, HEALTH INSURANCE, HEALTH INSURANCE (or whatever benefits you get, if any, obviously disregard if you get nothing).
(c) Remind myself that this is a stable job IN A PANDEMIC, and in my case let me get shots months faster than everyone else, so it was worth it for that alone.
(d) Remind myself that if I was doing something I loved, I would have long since been laid off from it due to pandemic because people always need helpers and assistants, but artists are expendable.
(e) Remind myself that running your own business sucks and I can't do math and my heart sinks to the floor at the idea of actually doing that.
(f) I don't put in extra, but then again this isn't an overtime working job. Get your breaks in. Try to leave the building if you can during them. Try to stop thinking about the job once you leave.

Basically, I'm here for the macro (overall benefits and stability) rather than the micro of what I actually have to deal with all day.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:46 PM on April 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

I know school-library folks in my local school system and from what they say I can't recommend it. They are fleeing to other libraries or whatever else they can find. One literally got voted off the school as the least-necessary-to-be-funded position. So I'm not sugar-coating your situation.

I think it's this weird two-fold thing: 1) decide what not to give a shit about, 2) decide what to give a shit about under the circumstances.

If you need this job to survive, then by force of capitalism you give a shit about it. Otherwise maybe you don't?

These special ed kids jumped out to me as something you could maybe decide to give your shits about. If nobody else is trained then you're as good as anybody else. "Special Ed" is a grim meathook behaviorist hellscape so I bet you'll be better than most.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:46 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Parallel life?
Writing may help pass the time. The library is warm and dry with pencils and paper. Start easy with a haiku a day. As a depressed teen, I started to write out poetry which I liked. 50 years later, I occasionally bring down the jotter which recorded thousands of words of Other Men's Flowers. I used that project to improve my hand-writing.
https://adoptaninmate.org/ you can write on company time and it will cost a stamp a week.
Learn a minority European language.
Adopt Ian Dury as your la la la can't hear you defense:
"A bit of grin and bear it
A bit of come and share it
You're welcome we can spare it
. . . yellow socks"
It's worked for me.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:47 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Somewhere, I learned about this idea called "pairing", where you pair a disagreeable task with something you like to do, and only allow yourself to do the fun thing while doing the yucky thing. Apropos of nothing and no one in particular, an example might be only allowing yourself to read trashy romance novels while also riding your exercise bike.

So, building on BobTheScientist's ideas for a parallel life, can you find ways to incorporate fun things into your day?

1. Wear tiny earbuds and listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks while you shelve.
2. Record your thoughts on the novel/poem/journal article you're working on while you shelve.
3. Learn ASL and surprise the students with special needs. (Obviously depends on the students.)
4. Gamify your day. A point for every book you shelve, two points if you already shelved that book once today, 10 points for every condescending insult. Earn so many points in a week, and you can take yourself to a spa or a movie or buy a latte or something.
5. I would find great delight in immature, passive-aggressive behavior like shelving books so the first letters of the titles spelled a curse word, but ymmv.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:38 AM on April 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is this job something you can do within the allotted hours, and then wash your hands of it? Does it allow you a few free moments during the day? Then use that time for something compelling enough that it will drive your current job out of your head when you're not working, and brighten your day when you are. I like BobTheScientist's idea of writing. Create a project-- write fiction or memoir. Do Jami Attenberg's #1000WordsofSummer. (Twitter hashtag; I think it starts at the end of May this year.) Or paint, or anything else that makes you happy.

My feeling is, if you are in a job that's become negative, you can drive yourself nuts trying to think more positively. It just becomes another sort of pressure. Move your focus to something else. When things get bad during the day, you can look forward to your creative time that night, or you can still be high on creative time earlier that morning.

For what it's worth, I feel you on the sense of being marginalized in a school. I've been on both sides of this, being a teacher and also a bookseller trying to sell shit to teachers. There is nothing quite like the sense that being a teacher is the summit of human endeavor and that if you're not doing that, you are a lesser form of life. You can try to see the upside of it or, like I said, you can focus on other things while you are there. And try to get out of there if it doesn't improve.
posted by BibiRose at 5:57 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been a school librarian (but high school in a private school) as well as academic and now special.

My MLIS program actually had a fair bit of material about how to advocate for ourselves as librarians that I've found helpful over the years. Any chance that there's some of that you can draw on?

I also think a lot about how library work is often a very liminal space: in a school, you're not a teacher (and you have a different relationship with the kids as a result), but you're also a specialist in something. Trying to position yourself similar to others in that position can help (are there things like reading specialists, or people who lead specific programs who aren't the classic classroom teacher? They can be a resource for some of the advocacy stuff, and how it plays in your specific school.)

And also, if you've only been at the school for a week, they have no idea what you can do (that takes some time to demonstrate) and maybe the previous people in that position have been fine with shelving and doing the rote work, and didn't want to do anything else. (Do you know anything about your predecessors in the position? Did they have a MLIS? It's possible the admins aren't really aware of the difference.)

One of the advocacy tips we learned was that once we had a sense of the job and the priorities of where we were, to arrange time to talk to whoever we reported to, and lay out a "Ok, I'm up to speed on these tasks, but I've got some other ideas for how we could improve services and resources." This works a lot better if, say, you can go "I've heard from a bunch of people that it would be great to improve skills in evaluating information from online. I'e done some research, I'd like to try creating this thing and see how it works." (Where the 'thing' is something that's a manageable size project, speaks to actual needs of the students, and has some research backing about why it's worth doing.) This may be more than you want to deal with if you're trying to get out anyway, but it has a fairly good track record.

I found in the school that the more I could play up the "This is something good for kids that teachers aren't experts in providing", the better for me and the kids. The joy of that liminal space (and often of reporting to someone that isn't a librarian...) is that you can sometimes make some space for projects. Can you get half an hour a day from your shelving and other tasks to highlight books or other materials? Do a daily trivia question for students that highlights different fun stuff?

And of course, the other part is that since we're in a pandemic, a lot of the things many librarians most love about the work (interacting with people in the library) is a lot harder. It can be really hard to tease out the "This is a lousy situation right now" or "This is a school whose approach doesn't work for me" from "I hate this job in all its forms."
posted by jenettsilver at 7:09 AM on April 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

I endured much of what you described in my 30 years at a public high school library. As someone mentioned above, I was able to "leave the job at the job" at the end of my day and go do other stuff I was interested in, which included computer networking and infrastructure, writing and photography. I created a partnership with a person working at a local bookstore who was able to arrange author visits to our school and that was probably my biggest splashy success. However, I got the most satisfaction when I was able to help students find books for assignments and they'd tell me, "I really liked that book and I don't even like to read!" Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 7:52 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I notice in this and your last question about work that you spend a lot of time beating yourself up for not liking this job. I think that's actually making this all worse for you. Like, you hate your job. That's ok! You're allowed. Just because a lot of people don't have jobs, and just because everyone is supposed to love schools, doesn't mean you're under some obligation to be happy there. I think you'll have an easier time dealing with this if you look at your dislike for this job as the morally neutral fact that it is.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:53 AM on April 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

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