Thursday, February 02, 2006

on teaching

Tonight, for the first time in months, I got to teach a class. At first I was dreading it, because it was a last-minute surprise, the instructor wasn’t going to be there, and I only had the sketchiest of ideas about the assignment the students needed to work on. It took probably thirty seconds from the time the class began for me to get really into it. It was an English comp class, and the students were paired up to write pro/con position papers on a topic of their choice. Setting aside the fact that I think pro/con papers do a disservice to first-year college students by promoting the idea that there are always two, and exactly two sides to every issue, I so love this kind of workshop. It’s fun to introduce the topics collection to students. The resources are easy to use and packed with good information. Even the students who struggle with research can find some measure of success pretty quickly.

I think success is the hook we need to “sell” the library to students. No amount of technology, coffee carts, game nights, or fancy buildings can do that if students don’t believe they can understand the library. That’s why I try to start a class with something kind of simple but cool and move to the hands-on activities as fast as I can. The coolest part of my job is seeing students do the research and start to figure out that they actually can handle it.

It doesn’t hurt that tonight’s class was filled with students ready to learn, too. They were more than ready to learn; they were hungry. Once they got talking about their topics, I could see the studied nonchalance melt away and be replaced with enthusiasm and genuine excitement about giving their own opinions. I guess that’s the benefit of position papers. How often do we ask undergrads what they think? I feel like we stress scholarly, scholarly, scholarly all the time, but we forget to tell students that they’re scholars too. The best librarians I know have all talked about what students can bring to an instruction session or reference interaction. I’ve certainly relied on a student’s expertise in subjects I’m not super confident with as I help him or her negotiate sources. It’s usually more fun when I don’t know as much about the topic or subject as a student and it really shows him or her that, as a librarian, I might be and expert on information, but they can be the subject expert.

I guess I’m a big nerd and get overly excited about this stuff, but teaching just gets me all riled up. It’s always such a high. The best complement I’ve ever received from students is that they were able to do something on their own that they first learned from me. I can’t take credit for their success, but it is really satisfying to realize that I helped somebody become more confident in his or her own abilities. That’s the coolest feeling.

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