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Librarian Interview Questions and Red Flags: Contract Hours

This first part of my School Librarian Job Interview: Questions and Red Flags series deals with contract days and work hours. It is based on my experience and the experiences of other librarians I know personally. Schools, districts, states, and countries will vary widely in their expectations of contract hours. Know your area. Reach out to other librarians on FaceBook or via school email to see what their requirements are.

Asking questions about your work hours expectations is an important part of your job interview process. If you want to wait until the second interview to ask these questions, that’s okay. But do not sign a contract if you are not 100% clear on the expectations of your work time.

WHAT TO ASK

  • What is my contracted start and end time each day?
  • Are my hours the same as the hours of comparable staff (such as teachers if you are paid as a teacher)? What additional hours might I be asked to work?
  • What kinds of things might cause me to work beyond my contract hours?
  • What are the weekend, night, or holiday requirements?
  • Where can I find the district and school calendar?

WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR

  • Your work hours and days should be clear and unambiguous.
  • The school and/or district calendar should be easy to access and print.
  • Your work hours and days should be mentioned in your contract. The hours may be specifically listed in the contract, or the contract may refer to an official district document or staff handbook. For example, the contract may say something like “Teachers and librarians work according to the contract hours listed in the district staff handbook and according to the school district calendar available on the district website.”
  • If the contract hours are listed in a separate document, you should have access to review this document.
  • What hours, if any, are you expected to work beyond what is stated in the contract?
  • Does the school expect the library to be open on Saturdays?
  • Are you expected to open the library during summer break? What about holiday breaks?
  • What PD opportunities does the district provide? Are they during contract hours? Who pays for non-district PD?
  • What extra hours should you expect to work before or after school? This includes your contract hours and also anything beyond your contract.

MY EXPERIENCE OF WHAT IS NORMAL IN TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Keep in mind that most teachers and librarians are salaried employees. There will be things you need to do outside your contract hours just to make sure the job is done.

But there is a difference between getting the job done and being taken advantage of. I can’t speak for all states or schools, but here is what was normal and consistent for me in all of my Texas schools, whether I was a teacher or a librarian…

  • My librarian contract day was about 8 hours and was the same as teacher contract hours. I frequently worked 30-60 minutes beyond my contract day and sometimes worked several hours beyond it, especially if I was staying for a school event in the evening. These additional hours were all voluntary on my part.
  • I was required to work a few nights for school-wide events for parents like Meet the Teacher Night and Literacy Night. This will vary by district. I worked no more than three nights for school-wide parent events in a school year.
  • Some schools require staff to work some nighttime or weekend student events. This might include carnivals, sporting events, school dances, school fundraisers, or planned field trips. In all four of my Texas schools, these events were voluntary, but that may not be the case everywhere. These events are fun and help you get to know your students. I encourage you to attend at least some of them if you are able. But choosing to go and being required to go are two different things.
  • There was no specific expectation to keep the library open beyond school hours. I opened 45 minutes before and 30 minutes after school. I chose these hours myself, but I also think it’s an expectation that may not be 100% clear in the interview. Extended library hours is an important topic for the interview–be sure to ask about what is expected.
  • I was not expected to be open in the summer at any Texas school, but I know this is a requirement in some schools.
  • One of my Texas school districts required librarians to work a 197-day contract. Teachers in the same district worked 187-days. All ten extra days were paid at our daily rate, which was the same daily rate as teachers for our step-pay scale. All my other Texas districts had librarians on the same 187-workday calendar as teachers.
  • Summer school librarians and teacher were paid for summer school on top of their normal pay. Summer school was 100% voluntary. I never once felt pressure to teach summer school or to open the library to summer school students.
  • For PD (professional development), the Texas State Board of Educator Certification requires school librarians to get at least 200 hours of PD every five years to maintain my school librarian certification. PD may or may not be provided by the school district. In some cases, I paid for the PD myself and attended on my own time. My districts did provide PD, but it wasn’t usually library-specific. This will vary greatly by district. It is not unusual for teachers and librarians to pay for their own PD and attend outside contract hours. I loved choosing my own PD–even if it meant I had to pay for it myself–but I know not everyone is in the position to pay for PD.

MY WORK HOURS IN TWO INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS IN CHINA

International schools are run very differently from one another. Some are great. Some are horrible. There is no way for me to compare the experience of every international school since I’ve only worked in two. Two international schools in the same city may be run very differently. This is my experience of contract hour expectations at my two schools in Suzhou (China) and Shanghai (China).

  • In both schools, I worked 9-10 hours a day, from Monday to Friday. I had a duty-free lunch for 30 minutes.
  • I was mostly off on weekends, but in China, they have these “exchange” days. For example, if there is a government holiday on Tuesday, we’ll be off on Tuesday. But we have to come in on Saturday or Sunday or both to “make up” for government holidays. This also applies on long holidays like Chinese New Year. We might have two or three weeks off, but we will work two Saturdays as exchange days. Students will also be in school those days. This is the case across China, so if you are going to China, you need to expect this.
  • There is a general feeling that the school “owns” you. It’s not really true, but when you are overseas, you may not have the labor unions and worker’s rights laws you have in your home country. What’s normal in your home country may not be normal in your host country. Schools may pressure teachers and staff to “volunteer” outside their contract even though the teachers and staff are not required–or in some cases, not legally allowed–to work extra hours. You have to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people. It sounds scary, but it’s more about getting used to working in an international school. With time, you learn and adapt.
  • In both my schools, I was expected to attend three specific school events outside my work days. In both schools, all three of these events were listed in my contract. The dates were not listed. There were many events outside these three–many, many events!–but these three were mandatory for all professional staff.
  • At both my schools, the library was expected to be open before and after school.
  • In both schools, the library closing time was beyond my official contract hours. This was a battle I fought every year I worked in China, and I know other librarians in China who have had the same battles. If I work for an international school again in the future, I will expect the school to include library opening hours expectations as part of my paid contract. If they want me in the library until 5:00, then put that in my contract. If my contract says my day ends at 4:30, do not then require me to keep the library open until 5:00 every day. It’s misleading, and I suspect schools may do this to get around Chinese labor laws. I have no idea, but it seems pretty common.

RED FLAGS

Before your interview, think about what your personal deal-breakers are. Do you have a child that you need to pick up by 5:00? Then your contract time will need to end with enough time for you to do that. Do you travel to Europe every summer? Better make sure you aren’t expected to open the library for summer school.

If you see red flags in your interview, ask questions that help you clearly understand what the expectations are. If you want to take the job but have reservations about the hours and workdays, see if you can negotiate these concerns before you sign the contract. If you do not ask questions or negotiate possible conflicts, you could be setting yourself up for problems later on.

To me, all of the following are major red flags. Some of these were less common in Texas public schools and much more common in international schools. They are red flags no matter where you are.

  • There is no mention of work hours or days anywhere in your contract. These MUST be there. The contract can refer to an employee handbook or other official district document (such as a school calendar) that you can review, but there should be some reference to official contract hours and days. Do not sign a contract if you do not know this information. Personally, I’d also want it written in my contract.
  • The school expects you to work additional hours or days beyond what is stated in your contract. This is a HUGE one, especially for international schools. You must clarify these so you don’t have any surprises. I encountered this in both my Chinese schools, and it was a point of contention between me and admin in both schools. It was never really enforced in either school; it was just this “pressure” from admin that if I didn’t stay open longer that I was somehow in trouble. At the first school, I went with it and didn’t make waves. It irritated me, but as my first experience at an international school, I didn’t really know what to do about it. At my second school, I stuck to my contract hours and sometimes got “spoken to” about it. Nothing was ever done beyond that, perhaps because they knew they could not legally force me to work outside the hours stated in my contract.
  • Vague expectations for opening the library on non-school days. If your school expects you to be open on Saturdays, holiday breaks, or summer break, you need to ask even more questions. What are you expected to do during that time? Are you providing lessons? Tutoring? Storytime? How will people get into the building? What security measures are in place to keep you and the children safe? Are parents dropping their kids off for some free babysitting on Saturday mornings? What should you do if young students show up without an adult? Are members of the general public allowed to come to the library? Can adults come without a child? Are older siblings not attending the school allowed? Younger siblings? What about homeschooled students? What happens if students have no ride home after the library closes? Will any administrators be at the school during this time? Are they available in case you have a problem? This can get out of hand quickly–make sure you fully-understand the rules and expectations.
  • You asked your questions but still do not know the answer. Ask your questions again. Be very clear and direct when you ask. Give the person time to answer, and allow for a long silence if necessary. If you feel the person is being dodgy, misleading, or dishonest…you are probably right. Consider yourself warned.
  • You feel afraid or ashamed to ask certain questions. If you feel that way in the interview, imagine how you will feel when you work there and need to come to admin about a problem.
  • You feel you need to get something in writing. Again, if you feel this way, you are probably right. To get it in writing, send an email. You can ask the question directly in the message, or you can say “This is my understanding of my work hours…is it correct?” Save the email and the response.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE BEING INTERVIEWED

Guys, I know that these questions may make it “look like” you are more concerned about hours worked than you are about the job itself. But hear me out on this one. You absolutely need to be clear on your hours and work days. If you expect one thing and your principal expects another, you are headed for problems.

Either you suck it up and feel resentful, or you deal with the stress of fighting against it. Either way, you are not happy.

Yes, you are being interviewed, but so is the school. They need you as much as you need them. No matter how much you want this job, you will not be happy there if your expectations of work time differ from your admin’s expectations. Get clarification on your work hours before you sign the contract.

LET’S HELP EACH OTHER! 

What is your work hours advice for librarian interviews? Have you turned down a job over the work hours? Have you felt your school or district took many liberties with your work hours expectations? What are the typical requirements in your state or country?

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