Being an educator has been an amazing and fulfilling career for Kathleen Smith, who currently works at Bearden Middle School in Knoxville teaching eighth grade English. But she’s known for a while there was going to be a next step in her career, and that was to become a school librarian.
“When I was first teaching, I had a colleague and good friend who was taking information science classes at UT in the evenings, and she told me about the program. She made her move into the library and we kept in touch and she told me, ‘You would love this!’” she recalled.
Almost 15 years later, Smith took the plunge and began pursuing her School Library Media Licensure at SIS and will finish the program this fall. On top of the excitement of nearing that finish line, Smith was also awarded the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) School Library Media Scholarship for 2020 during the association’s annual conference.
“I was absolutely thrilled and totally surprised because TASL only awards it to one or two people in the state, so I was not expecting great odds. There was an essay portion as part of the application, and as an English teacher I thought, I should do this,” Smith said with a laugh.
Not only was she excited to receive the scholarship, but she felt quite honored to be recognized alongside other TASL award winners whom she considers to be leaders in the field.
“It was very humbling, and it has also really encouraged me,” she said.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Washington & Lee University and a master’s degree in English education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, before she began her first teaching job at a high school in Blount County.
“It is a job that challenges me daily, but it’s also so rewarding. I get to interact with kids, I get to share my passion, and hopefully I impart a love of reading and writing,” she said.
After taking a break to start a family, Smith returned to the classroom in 2013, but she never forgot that seed planted so long ago about entering school librarianship. It’s been time consuming but gratifying to work full-time, take care of her family, and complete the program, but she is eager to transition to a school library.
“I can really be at the heart of things and maybe have a greater impact on my school community. I can help my colleagues, I can help my administration, and I can help every student – not just the 130 I see on any given day,” she said. “I’m thinking about supporting lifelong learning, whether it’s a sixth grader or a 60-year-old faculty member to whom I’m offering professional development. Yes, I’m providing library services, but I’m also creating opportunities to explore and inspire.”
She said her classes at SIS have allowed her to see teaching through the lens of a librarian and examine how schools work from a new perspective. It also really opened her eyes to the broad reach that a school librarian can have beyond helping students find and check out books.
“The program has excited me about all the possibilities that school librarianship holds,” she said.