Why I Like to Teach

It seems like I’ve not had time to write lately. Part of me wants to say it’s because I’ve got nothing to write about, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve been putting in 10-hour days lately, and still can’t manage to get all my work done. (Beware: LONG and rambling writing below focusing on teaching in the library.)

Case in point: This week, over the course of 5 days, I will teach 6 classes. Two each of Endnote, one on the history of race and foreign policy in the US, one on the history of women, society, and politics in the US, one introduction to women’s studies course, and one course on being a reference librarian. That last one? Friday afternoon, when I’m ready to drop dead of exhaustion. Should be interesting to hear what ends up coming out of my mouth in that group. I think they think I’m a little on the woo-woo side already. (They’re not totally wrong!)

Over the years, I’ve moved from being a very nervous teacher to a very confident (and sometimes over-confident) teacher (yikes!) I find that when I have a good solid format for my classes that they go better. Swarthmore hasn’t yet jumped onto the institutionalized information literacy bandwagon, and I’m not sure we ever will given campus culture. Many of my colleagues have been to the famed Immersion Institute (those of you who are academic librarian/ACRL-types probably know better than I what that’s all about.) I never went – was never asked to apply by my colleagues and director. Either that means they think I’m a hopeless case, or for whatever reason don’t think I need to go. I’m hoping it’s the latter.

At any rate, I was talking about how much more I enjoy teaching now than I did when I was an undergrad, grad student, and new librarian. During those first few years of having to do public speaking, I would get super-nervous before the class, plan everything down to the minute, and generally be my fretful Taurus self. As time went on, and especially when I began teaching in rooms equipped with computers for students, I found a real groove in teaching, and began to enjoy it a lot more.

Now, I treat teaching as a large reference transaction – they students all have different questions, but the tools they’re going to learn to use to answer those questions are generally the same. It can be really fun to tailor the tools to the assignments. Generally, I give some sort of overview, ask people to work along with me for a bit, and then turn them loose. I may do that several times in a class. It’s great – my personality style and teaching style allow me to be very comfortable in this environment.

For example, a typical Endnote session looks something like this:

  • Brief introduction of what it is and how an undergrad might use it.
  • Walking them through opening it up and saving their first Endnote library.
  • Demonstrating the manual entry of a reference.
  • Having them enter 3 different references (given to them on a slip of paper) that will invariably bring up questions demonstrating different functions of the program.
  • Demonstrating the use of a connection file to search our library catalog.
  • Having them connect, search, bring references in, and search again (which again prompts a question that demonstrates a point of the software.)
  • Talking about importing references from an external database.
  • In classes of 90 minutes, demonstrating importing from a relevant database.
  • In classes of 75 minutes, assuring them that if they can manually enter citations, they’re good to go, but if they want I can help them individually with importing from external databases.
  • Moving to Word – have them open a document and type in a paragraph of 3 sentences.
  • Walking through inserting references and formatting them.
  • Having them insert several references.
  • Demo the adding page numbers to references, have them try it.
  • Editing references.
  • Talk about unformatting and removing field codes.
  • Have them remove field codes and try to unformat. (Doesn’t work. Shouldn’t. Good.)
  • Demo creation of a traveling library.

It looks like a lot, but it flows really well. In the non-software courses, I tend to follow a similar path. Today’s intro to women’s studies class follows my typical introductory/first-year-seminar model.

  • Introduce self and give contact information, office hours, enthusiasm for helping them.
  • Ask for names and topics for their research projects.
  • Begin with brief discussion of how call numbers are created and that they’re not arbitrary, but have a method to the madness.
  • Move into a library catalog search – keyword, browse results, look at subject headings, and click.
  • Talk about heteronormativity, white-centricity, and male-as-natural in subject headings.
  • Have then search in catalog for about 10 minutes on their own while I walk around the room, talking to each student at a computer (note: most classes at Swarthmore have between 8 and 20 students in them, so a classroom with 12 computers is just right.)
  • Invariably answer questions that someone asks to whole room, after assuring the student that I was waiting for someone to ask that question.
  • Talk about how research is created – timeliness and specificity of information in books is different than in journal articles.
  • Demystify some library jargon (i.e. database, ILL, etc.)
  • Talk about the major databases for their subject area.
  • DO NOT DEMONSTRATE THEM but instead ask each row/group to get into one of them and search for their topic.
  • Move around the room, helping as they have questions, offer suggestions for ways of searching more effectively (synonyms, not using the word “women” in women’s studies databases, etc.)
  • Have them periodically get into new databases. This takes about 20 minutes to do effectively.
  • Talk about getting articles when they’re not fulltext online.
  • Ask for more questions. (Someone usually has one.)
  • Turn them loose.

Of course, this can all vary based on the group of students and the dynamics of the class and the temperature of the classroom (our lab gets unbearably hot during the spring). It is a sheer JOY to work with students who choose to come to Swarthmore. They are bright, motivated, and understand (sometimes a little over-enthusiastically) that their job is to learn. They ask the questions that I want them to ask, and then they ask the ones I don’t want them to ask. 😀 Usually I tend to fumble a bit when they do that, promise to follow up with them later, and then I actually DO follow up with them later. It makes an impression.

Talking in front of a group no longer phases me, unless it’s a group of my professional peers outside the Bryn Mawr/Haverford/Swarthmore setting. Fortunately, most of my public speaking happens on the fourth floor of the building I work in now, where I sometimes spend 10 hours a day.

3 thoughts to “Why I Like to Teach”

  1. Howdy — Here’s hoping you get email notification of comments! This was the entry I think you could convert to an article or three. You might sell one on teaching Endnote and another on feminist practices in teaching students to use library resources. and perhaps a third on teaching a non-intro class? Or cover all of it in one long piece. and I’d be happy to provide feedback, because I want to read it sooner than the publishing process might allow…:wink:

  2. Hi.

    I like this piece of yours. I think I might use it to help libriarns think about how to structure thier teaching sessions. Very useful.

    Also — I have to share this — I’m facinated by the blogging phenomenon. I came across your blog after spending way too much time perusing the blog of rory Litwin and seeing a link to “librarygrrrl”. No one in my library blogs but I have herad of some graduate studneets who keep thie online journals (i keep thinking that sure, those who dont have kids, cause it seems so time consuming).

    I’d like to use blogs in library work. Specifically one way is for keeping a log of reference questions and problems that only ohter librarians in my library could see. Do you know how best to set seomtign like this up? I actually played around with “blogspot” but couldn’t figure out how to make it private.

Comments are closed.