The good, the bad, and the mispelling: a reflection on a week of teaching

This past week, I taught eight instruction sessions and assisted in two more. In the grand scheme of things, this was the most I had taught in a week, but I know I’m not winning any award for most one-shot sessions in a week (see Zoe’s post on LibParlor to learn more).

In this week of lesson prepping, class demonstrations, and instructor negotiation, I began to see the growth I’ve had as a teacher in the last year. Last October, I was just easing into teaching one-shot instruction classes. I had so many pre-searched examples to use with a class, elaborate handouts, and more often than not, a PowerPoint. This year, I like to run with class topics as search examples, shortened my handouts (and sometimes don’t give them out at all), and no longer use any sort of PowerPoint to get my ideas across to a class. I’ve been more adventurous with classroom activities and have settled into an Admission-department-inspired-spiel about the foundational databases we teach. It seems more natural now, an extension of myself.

I also see where Immersion has impacted how I think about myself in front of a class. I feel Kolb’s learning cycle is constantly running through my head; I visualize a Ferris wheel and the way it continues to spin, gravity bringing the baskets down before the machine brings the baskets back up. This frames how I set up classes and the space I try to give students to go through this process. I hear Brookfield in my head, asking me to question the assumptions I make about students, how they learn, and how they view me as their instructor. I continue to challenge myself in those sessions and ask what I can do differently next time. And we can see all of this from my three Friday class sessions… 

So it’s Friday and as I rolled into the classroom, 10 minutes before we were supposed to start, I felt good. The class slowly appeared, many had gotten lost (typical opening conversation in the library). We started, behind schedule, but I felt okay.

However, this class didn’t want to talk. Maybe it was because it was Friday, at 12:20. Or maybe it was something else, I’ll never know. As I eased the class along, waiting in long silences for someone to speak up, I reminded myself that I got whatever environment the instructor had set up. There was only so much I could do to help engage the class. On top of that, in doing a sample search, I spelled millennials wrong and felt like an idiot. We reached our fifty minutes and the class raced out of the room. The professor promised me that their next class (who I was teaching for) would be more talkative.

At 2:30, on a Friday, the next class also seemed less than interested in being in the library. We made our way through the same lesson plan and I felt flat. As we moved into a source evaluation activity at the end of class, the shortened link, if typed incorrectly, takes you to directions to get around in London (http://bit.ly/eng015). The professor, recognizing the moment of confusion (and verbally articulated it), used the opportunity to give announcements, completely taking the class away from me. With not much time left, I improvised with the activity while the class packed up and sat in anticipation of leaving.

Now it was 3:20 on a Friday and I felt defeated. I had one class left and I was supposed to use the same lesson plan I had used for the first two. I ran through new options as I walked across the library to a different classroom. The class was filtering in and the professor was in the back, ready to go. As the professor and I chatted, I told them I had taught this lesson two times already and I think I was going to switch it up. Their eyes got wide, looking at me, that wasn’t part of the plan! I reassured the professor it was going to work, that I was going to switch the order of the lesson plan around a bit, but the same objectives would be covered. They nodded, perhaps a bit skeptic.

The class started and I took a deep breath, the type of breath I take before giving a big speech or presentation. This was going to be okay. I smiled at the class and for the first time that day, I started things off with asking, “How is everyone today?”

That phrase felt like a game changer. The class smiled and I continued. “Now I know it’s 3:35 on a Friday afternoon and the weekend is so close. So, I hope in the next fifty minutes, we’ll have some fun, learn about our library resources, and find you a few sources for your productive counterargument paper.” The class nodded in agreement and I knew this was going to work.

We dove into source evaluation (http://bit.ly/ENG015), and no class members ended up at the London map. They provided incredible insight on the sources and their reasoning about the information’s credibility. They were able to articulate how they would use the information for a paper (even how they would use a Vanity Fair article on fracking). I had a student from each group come up to the podium and run the controls on viewing the article. That has recently become one of my favorite ways to increase involvement and distance myself from talking the entire class session.

 Your Reference Wingwoman

Your Reference Wingwoman

As we got to the final part of class, I released them into the world of our discovery system, LionSearch and had a few students ask questions. The class filed out, taking one of my superhero business cards as they left. The day of teaching was over.


All of this storytelling is to say, I have a few takeaways from this week

  1. I can trust my gut when teaching. I have the skills and tools to make changes on the fly.
  2. Even though time is short in these one-shot sessions, it shouldn’t stop me from checking in with students at the beginning of class. I know that I care about the students I work with, but it is my obligation to show them that I care. This can be as simple as asking how they are.
  3. I’ve got room to grow, I always do.
  4. I need to take all these thoughts, experiences, and reflections and use them to revise my teaching philosophy. This revision has been on my to-do list since Immersion and it’s high time to get it done. I need to capture this part of my teaching journey. 

I get to teach next week and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got some new lesson plans up my sleeve and after this week, feel good about putting those into the teaching rotation. I can only imagine where my teaching will go in the next year, but I’m excited to reflect again in October 2018.