Through the window on the other side of the library, I could see into the fifth grade Social Studies classroom, where the lacrosse coach, Dennis, who’d been hired the same week I had, was readying his classroom. His degree was in Phys-Ed, but the school was on a mission to create teacher-coaches that year, a two-birds-with-one-salary kind of deal. I had been promised an eventual shot at being promoted from the library to the classroom, and mistakenly thought that this fifth grade Social Studies position that opened up mid-year would be it. But, I figured, rubbing my belly as the baby kicked, that it wasn’t my time. But still, I longed for a ticket to my teaching career train, and even more importantly, out of the library.
Helen came out of her office then, sidling up to me quietly in her navy blue Talbots suit and matching Naturalizer flats at the circulation desk. She looked at Dennis, pinning up a map of pre-World-War-I geography on the bulletin board of his new classroom and figured that the two of us were of one mind on the lacrosse coach. She also had territorial feelings about the classroom, though hers were based on the fact that it had once been a small-group-study room in the library.
“Can you believe they gave him that job?” she asked, her voice heavy with disgust.
“No,” I said sheepishly, feeling a little guilty about my desire to run from her as fast as I could.
Helen, who did nothing but surf the Internet from the confines of her office all day. Helen, who worried that the school didn’t appreciate her because it had cut the library from seven MLS-degreed librarians when she started ten years ago to just her today…left with me, an ambitious future-teacher, a so-called assistant, in her mind, not really even a librarian. And what if they decided to let me go? Or worse, what if they did actually move me to teaching? Where would she be then? They might decide to cut back further and leave her with no assistant. Not only would she have to do all the work herself, but she also might then be support staff to me as a teacher. Helen, who made sure to make it seem like she couldn’t do it all alone, by making certain that I did all the work. Helen, who made my life hell.
“I mean, you could do that job.” She said it in a way that wasn’t like she thought I was perfect for the job, in fact her condescending inflection of the word “you” made it sound as if the job was so remedial that even a pleb like me could perform the tasks required.
I scoffed, “Ya,” since after all, I had a degree in history and was just a student-teaching semester away from getting a teaching certificate in the field. A student-teaching semester I had foregone by reluctantly taking this job after the principal himself had promised me not only a student teaching semester here, but the possibility of a future teaching career at the school.
“But you don’t want that job,” she said dismissively, looking down and the roundness of my belly. “You want a nothing job like you have now.”
“Excuse me?” My back was UP. Did she want to go to the mattresses? First of all, how the hell would she know what I wanted? That she would even presume to know was offensive, but that she thought my job was nothing? My job, which was the job of checking in and out the books, re-shelving them, cataloging new books that came in, dealing with the students’ needs and helping them find the materials they needed for their research projects, or the right work of fiction they might enjoy reading? That was a nothing job compared to sitting in a little glass cubicle watching me do all those things over the top of her computer monitor? Who did she think she was?
She must have sensed, despite her complete lack of usual perception, that I was a bit miffed by her statement, because she tried to explain it to me. “You know, with the baby coming,” she said and then repeated, “you’ll want a nothing job like this in the Fall.”
And then she turned and went back into her office. And I sat there like a cartoon character, a little wisp of smoke over my head.