What am I?

By Irene Kistler, Northeast ISD, San Antonio

Last year, I had the honor of being named one of six finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year. It was an amazing ride, and I loved representing Texas school librarians in the Teacher of the Year program. It was validating to be recognized by other teachers, beginning with my campus and then beyond.
On both a personal and professional level, I am solid in my understanding of who I am – I am a teacher. I am teaching every day in my classroom. My classroom just happens to be the library, much like a science teacher’s classroom setting is a lab or a drama teacher’s classroom is a black box theater. The location does not define the role, I do. I am a teacher. My class list? Every single student in the building. Every. One. 
But a funny thing happened on the way to Austin…educators had an identity crisis on my behalf. There is a cognitive dissonance running amok, both within the field of school librarianship and among the educator communities we serve. And interestingly enough, many of the conversations were sparked by my e-mail signature. Who knew people really paid attention to an e-mail signature? I can verify for the world that they very much do. 
The Teacher of the Year program advocates for educators everywhere. One way they promote the program is to kindly ask the participants to indicate their participation via an e-mail signature. Here is my current signature:
Irene Kistler
2015 Finalist, TX Teacher of the Year
School Librarian
Alamo Heights High School
iLearning Commons

In the signature, it indicates both the Teacher of the Year role and the school librarian role, which to me are one and the same. But during e-mail correspondence with school librarians, I would occasionally be queried about the Teacher of the Year add-on. Colleagues were always very positive, but definitely were experiencing a conflicted understanding. Here are some of the questions I fielded via e-mail or in person, all because of the signature:
·         So are you in a classroom, and then you do the school library job on your conference time? (no)
·         Where are you during the day? (school library)
·         How did your teachers find out you were a teacher? (I told them.) 
           Admittedly, I entered the field of school librarianship late in my career. It was actually my 20th year with students. I first served 19 years as a 3rd, 4th and 5th grade elementary teacher. Upon fielding these and other questions, I realized that I had been incredibly lucky to work with school librarians who clearly defined themselves as teachers. They planned lessons, collaborated with other teachers and implemented both direct and indirect instruction with students. My school librarians loved the books on the shelves, and definitely engaged in Reader’s Advisory for students and staff, but they were also so much more…they were teachers. 
Walking into my own school library for the first time, I carried the echoes of Kim Green, my school librarian when I worked at Northern Hills Elementary in San Antonio. She referred to the library as her classroom and herself as a teacher, so that’s what I did. It didn’t occur to me, until I experienced the Teacher of the Year journey, that school librarians could sometimes hesitate to name their role, but it’s important that we do. Naming ourselves as teachers, and our space as a classroom, protects our profession. We matter. You matter. 
As the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act makes its way into law, with effective school library programs included for the very first time, let’s spread the news. Let the 2015-2016 school year be the year we state boldly that we are teachers. And if you’re not certain what to say, say what Kim said: “I am a teacher and the library is my classroom.” It worked for me. 


  1. Dear Irene:

    Congratulations on your recognition as a 2015 Finalist, Texas Teacher of the Year! You and certainly your beliefs as a teacher and as a school librarian represent all of us who choose NOT to leave our profession as teacher, but instead choose to become a teacher to an entire campus by serving as a school librarian. Like you, the Library is my classroom. I am glad to know you represented the teacher-librarians of Texas so well! Congratulations, again, on a great personal and professional accomplishment!
    Mary Long, M.L.S., Ed.D.

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  3. When people ask me what I do for a living I always reply I am a teacher. Then they ask what I teach and I explain I am a librarian and I teach all students and many subjects. I too was a Teacher of the Year finalist in Arkansas and I appreciated the fact that as a librarian my teaching was recognized. I love your statement: The library is my classroom. I will have to borrow that in the future.

  4. Congratulations Irene!! It certainly makes a HUGE difference when a teacher librarian is a finalist for something as prestigious as this. I agree, we do matter and what you've accomplished can make a difference in perception!

  5. Well said. Irene. (Or rather, well written.)

  6. Congratulations on your selection as a finalist for TX Teacher of the Year. In sure it is an honor that is richly deserved. Thought you might be interested to know that not all states allow librarians to be considered for this honor.

    1. My first year as a librarian in a middle school they would not allow me to vote for Teacher of the Year because they told me a librarian is not a teacher! The next two years I was nominated for Teacher of the Year, so perceptions and actions can be changed!

  7. I have always found it rather insulting that according to Missouri's DESE, "regular" classroom teachers are REQUIRED to have a certain amount of planning time in their schedules, but for counselors and librarians, there is zero time required for planning. Our own state department doesn't consider us teachers.