At the interview for my current position at Loras College, one of the members of the search committee asked, “Which responsibilities for this position do you feel least prepared for?” I didn’t have to think a minute, because I had exactly zero experience teaching information literacy concepts to classrooms of undergraduates. Fortunately, teaching is not the primary responsibility associated with my position, or it’s likely that I wouldn’t have gotten the job. Even more fortunately, my fellow librarians at Loras have patiently helped me to ease into the process of teaching by involving me in curriculum design, modelling effective teaching in the classroom, and providing feedback about the classes that I have taught. Now that the semester is within a few short weeks of its conclusion, and I have a number of classes under my belt, I’d like to share a few of my observations as someone entirely new to teaching in a formal setting.
Let me start by discussing curriculum design. During the summer, I worked with my colleagues on revising our approach to the foundational information literacy courses that we teach. To orient ourselves to the problem of developing a curriculum that would be engaging and responsive to the needs of our students, we read and discussed Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators by Char Booth. If you are looking for a good text about learner-focused library instruction, this book would be well worth a read. As an outsider to IL instruction, I found the following highlights particularly useful:
- The instructional design process is recursive, driven by ongoing evaluation of classroom outcomes.
- Not everyone can teach effectively in exactly the same way. Developing an identity as a teacher is a huge part of reaching your audience.
- Whether designing instruction or teaching, it’s essential to keep the needs of your audience in mind. Ms. Booth refers to this as the “What’s in it for me?” principle.
Based on our discussions of the book and an analysis of our information literacy assessment from the previous year, we developed a program that we hoped would build upon the strengths identified in our IL assessment and shore up some of the areas that were not as strong. This was the hope, but of course, I didn’t want to be the one to dash our hopes right off the bat with a lackluster performance.
I was saved by the grace of my colleagues, who allowed me to audit several of the classes that they taught using our new curriculum before I had to teach my own. By closely observing how they interacted in the classroom, taking notes, and asking questions at the end of each class, I felt much better prepared to begin teaching. I know that many librarians have been introduced to classroom instruction via a “sink or swim” approach, learning on the fly how to manage a classroom and convey information literacy concepts, but I’m really glad that I was given a “life jacket” first.
When the time came for me to teach my first classes, my colleagues switched places with me, auditing my classes and giving me notes, feedback, and encouragement. During these initial classes, I learned to keep a close watch on the time and use a checklist to make sure that I was staying on schedule. I learned to modulate the volume and tone of my voice to hold the attention of the room. Most importantly, I learned when to stick to the script of the curriculum that we had designed and when to improvise and make changes.
At this point, it would be too much for me to say that I think that I’ve become a great teacher, but I do feel confident to lead a classroom, and I do genuinely enjoy the experience of teaching. Could I have developed this ease as an instructor without the same immersive and gradual approach to learning about instruction? Perhaps. However, I’m pretty sure that I arrived at my current place with greater efficiency because I didn’t have to invent myself as a teacher whole cloth. I hope this can be food for thought for those hiring new librarians who will be teaching. I’m curious about the experience of other information professionals out there. What education/training did you receive related to information literacy instruction? How did you feel the first time that you were in front of a classroom? Please feel free to post comments!