As with many of the people interviewed for the Love My Work series, Kate Justelius-Wright took an indirect route to get to her dream job. After a number of years working in publishing and book sales, the call to school librarianship became increasingly intense, until she found her break at a school on Sydney's north shore. I can’t think of anyone more suited to work with kids to explore books and reading. Kate is incredibly well read, with a wide ranging interests. She’s intelligent, respectful, thoughtful and gentle and like the truly good librarians, I expect she does have the gift of being able place the right book into any child’s hands. I talked with Kate earlier this week …
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What is your job exactly?
I’m a primary school teacher/librarian and I teach children information-finding skills. I also encourage them to read and to develop an appreciation of literature by introducing them to some great books.
What is it you love about your work?
I’ve always liked childrens' books and the school has a great library. I think I’ve developed a feel for what the kids respond to, and I like being able to put the right book into the right child’s hands. Also, I just really enjoy working with all the children and teachers at the school.
Given your love and knowledge of books, what do you think makes a book become a great read for a child?
It’s whatever book resonates with them at the particular place they are in their lives. You’ve probably experienced it yourself when you read a book that just ‘speaks’ to you, and often it’s because you can really relate to a character and what they’re going through. It’s the same with kids. And of course there are some books that just fire the imagination and spark a love of reading. It’s awesome when you can get a child hooked on a particular author or series.
Where did you work previously?
I did educational marketing for an Australian book publisher, and I worked in a children’s bookshop as well.
How did you get into your profession?
I trained as a teacher/librarian at uni, but when I finished I got distracted and instead of teaching, went on to do other things. Wanting to teach stayed with me, and after I had kids I became quite determined to get a teaching role. Initially I did casual work, which is the way many teachers tend to get a start now. You’ve got to do the hard yards and then if a school likes you, and they have a role available, they offer you a temporary contract, which usually runs for a year.
What was your first ever job?
During high school I did a stint of work experience at the local public library. As a result of that, they offered me paid, after school work, on the circulation desk.
Can you remember what you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?
The thing is … I never really knew. I wasn’t one of those kids with a burning desire to ‘be’ something. At some stage Mum suggested that as I liked books and reading I might think about doing teaching or becoming a librarian. That was essentially it, and I did a Bachelor of Education in Teacher Librarianship.
What are your career plans?
I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing right now, and if I could score a permanent job, that would be the best.
What workplace changes did you notice moving form corporate to public education?
Allen and Unwin was a fairly laid back corporate. I think there’s much more accountability in education, certainly far more accountability for what you do. There’s one thing I really miss about the office environment: it’s the ability to get up from your desk, go for a walk and having a chat with a colleague about non-work related stuff. You can’t walk out of a classroom to grab a coffee when you’ve got 30 kids in front of you.
What does your work-week look like?
Well I currently do 3 days a week working in the library, and if casual work comes up, I’ll also be working in the classroom. Hours are about 8-4 with 25 mins for lunch. The work part of the day is team teaching with the class teacher and assistance with borrowing books. There are lots of classes in and out of the library during the day and it can be quite busy. I work with 5yo’s one minute and 12yo’s next. Schools are fairly regimented because there’s a timetable - I live my work-life to a bell.
What do you wear to work?
Somewhere between smart casual and professional. Pants are good, but also skirts and dresses – basically, it’s ‘smart not sloppy’.
What’s your standout, proudest career moment?
Being offered my first temporary contract around 2 years ago. That's the time I thought ‘wow they think I’m good enough to do this’.
If you had the possibility to go back and change anything in your career, would you?
I don’t think so.
Is there anyone whose career you really admire?
I wouldn’t say there’s anyone specifically whose career I admire but there are teachers I work with whom I respect and admire enormously, because they’re amazing and inspiring teachers.
Do you have a mentor?
No, but again there’s a number of teachers I look up. They’re fair with students and colleagues, approachable and willing to share ideas, have wonderfully creative ideas in their teaching and very supportive to less experienced teachers like me.
How do you unwind?
With a good book and glass of wine (or two) and I enjoy sewing.
What would you like more of in your career right now?
I’d probably like to be able to make more of the decisions about the library: I’m still learning and expect to become more autonomous in the future.
And less of?
What do you think the biggest fail a person can have in managing their career?
Not working collaboratively – in teacher librarianship, you must be able to work effectively with lots of people. The librarian doesn’t belong to a grade, and must be seen to be part of the team. In the old days, librarians were more an ‘in your box’ type of role, now it’s all about team teaching and sharing ideas.
How would you describe yourself as a child?
Every single one of my school reports said ‘quiet and conscientious’
If you know me really well, you’d know …
I’m shy but have strong ideas and feel comfortable sharing them.
What kind of impact do you think you have on the people you work with?
My colleagues tell me that I’m calm and lovely with the students. I try to make the teachers’ jobs easier by providing resources and information that they need.
What are you like at work when you’re stressed?
I’m quiet and maybe a bit grumpy or abrupt.
What are you like to work with when you’re relaxed?
Happy, enthusiastic and energetic
What is important to you in terms of your career?
It’s important that I get to continue working at my current school and eventually I’d like to have more job security by gaining a permanent role. My enthusiasm for good books and encouraging children to read is hugely important to me - I’ve got ideas and plans to increase my effectiveness/influence on this next year. Also adapting to new technologies, we’ve lots of changes across the school this year, and it’s important to get to grips with them because ultimately it help the students.
Other than work, what do you love about your life right now?
I’ve got a very supportive husband - I couldn’t have made the change into education without him behind me. My kids are growing up way too fast, but I still love getting lots of cuddles from them. I also feel very blessed to be living where we do – we sit out on the verandah in the evenings, and people who live in the street say ‘hi’, or stop and chat on their way past. I like that sense of belonging
and finally, a quick pop quiz!
Favourite song or piece of music? Perfect Day by Lou Reed (we danced to it at our wedding)
Favourite book? The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (it had the most emotional impact, I sobbed when I read that and I hardly ever cry when I read)
Favourite theatre? Les Mis
Favourite piece of art? The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard I love how she’s lit in a shaft of sunlight on a swing, being admired by two men. It’s playful, I think of her as a saucy minx.
Favourite place? Balmoral Beach on a perfect summers day
If you enjoyed reading about Kate's career, here's the link for more interviews I've done with people who love their work.