Teaching and Learning

Today I taught my first class of the semester, 80 minutes on political rhetoric. The first day of class always wears me out because it’s me talking almost the whole time, which isn’t usually the case. Come November and research paper time I’ll really be worn out, and sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it every year. I guess I like teaching because it makes me feel slightly more a part of the intellectual community on campus and gives me an opportunity to develop relationships with students that I never could as a librarian. I also like discussing rhetoric and political philosophy with smart students, too. Oh, and I get extra pay. A semester’s teaching pay is a semester’s tuition for my daughter’s school. Every little bit helps.

I get something out of teaching personally and professionally, but I don’t often ponder what I get as a librarian out of teaching a regular seminar, or what other librarians might get out of teaching regular courses. That’s something I plan to do here more often as the semester progresses, but I have some preliminary thoughts.

First, I get a very different view of what the students are doing in their classes, or at least one of their classes. As a librarian, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the importance of the library. The library is important for freshman rhetoric, and we have an intensive research essay, but the library and research aren’t the center of the course. The intellectual engagement with the readings and the writing are the take up the bulk of the time. Writing with sources is an important part of the course, but for much of that writing the sources are provided by the instructor.

I remember this being true for me during most of college. I majored in English and Philosophy, and hardly ever went to the library, though I read constantly. In my humanistic education, learning to read difficult texts carefully and craft strong essays were more important than library research.

By the time the students are juniors and seniors, or especially graduate students, this obviously changes. Then they use and appreciate the importance of research collections, depending on their field. But in the humanities the library, except as a place to get the core texts they need, isn’t necessarily important to students until they’re advanced.

When it comes to the research essay, I also get an improved view of student work. When I teach a library instruction session, I rarely see the end result, but in my own seminar I get to see the students progress from vague research topic to working thesis to final draft. I see the results of the library instruction and the research consultation in a way I usually don’t. Did it work? Are the sources scholarly enough? Did they explore the research on this topic, or just take the first five articles that popped up on Proquest? Did they immerse themselves in a scholarly conversation, or just make a claim and then try to find a few sources that agree with them?

All the writing seminars here are assigned a librarian to work with. I’m my own librarian, and I work with the students on every part of the process, both the writing and the research. After several years of this, I’ve come to believe that it would be ideal if the instructor and the librarian were the same person. Never can I address research needs as effectively as when I’m also the one teaching the course. I know exactly what the students need and when. I know exactly what advice to give them. And I’m never in the position of having to say, “well, I might do it this way, but you should probably check with your instructor,” as I sometimes do when I’m just the consulting librarian. The research/writing process is seamless.

By teaching the whole course, I also get to show students that librarians know about things besides card catalogs and shushing. That in itself might be worth the effort.