October 12 – Reflections on Teaching

Two days ago I saw a student taking notes at the end of class and my heart soared when I noticed that she gave the lesson a perfect score.  I laughed when I realized that she had just dated her notes.

I think this moment reveals how eager I am to perform well.  I’m interested in recognition from professors, students, and my colleagues that I have succeeded in communicating the lesson and have been engaging, created safe space, developed relationships.  It’s a lot to expect from an hour and fifteen minutes and, yet, I do continually.

I write learning outcomes before every class.  They never include the following, the implicit outcomes I hope for my students:

Students will be feel safe talking to the librarian.

Students will feel safe asking questions.

Students will be able to articulate their experience in the class.

Students will consider the library a place to experiment, think critically and creatively, and grow.

Today I read a librarian conversation on Twitter where librarians discuss the fact that we are rarely lauded for our teaching capabilities, and I wonder what exactly that means in the context of my classroom endeavors.  I am one of those who did not study instruction in school, but immediately sought out resources and advice upon receiving a job in higher education.  I haven’t been a librarian for long, but my teaching hasn’t stagnated once.  I am reading, processing, and changing my lessons to include activities, opportunities for guided exploration, and conversations.  These changes in the lessons require changes in myself and it is a struggle to remain confident in my instruction when my classroom persona is evolving.  Not that I perform a lot differently in class then I do during the day, but it is challenging to show my character in front of 22 individuals with whom I often don’t have any additional context.

I know from experience that teaching becomes easier with time as relationships are developed between professor and students.  In an attempt to establish relationships quickly I have begun personally introducing myself as students enter the classroom, shaking hands and asking names.  I’ve been able to start a few conversations this way and can occasionally use an individual’s name to call on them in class.  The primary form of library instruction, the one-shot, doesn’t allow time for relationships to be established and context to be created and so the content of instruction has a harder time being embedded in memory.  This is a great argument for why the one-shot should petrify and join the lecture in the cemetery of pedagogical practices behind the library under the tall oak trees.

I think that the theory of threshold concepts upon which the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education has been written increases the anxiety I feel for my instruction sessions.  Thresholds are barriers that, once crossed, are permanent.  Thus, every instruction session feels like an opportunity to lead students to the threshold and beckon them to cross.  I can’t help but feel a sort of desperation – these lessons are so valuable to life and are given a few short minutes for students to “get it.”  Do you get it?  Do you get it?

I suppose these reflections are leading up to my ultimate pondering – am I a bad teacher?  The kind that librarians are talking about when they discuss how I’ve managed to graduate without a course on instruction?  I don’t want to pursue that line of thought.  Instead, I just want to encourage assessment, peer review, and personal reflection among my peers.  What do you think makes a good teacher and how do you measure against your own unspoken learning outcomes?


Author: Jess Denke

Assessment and Outreach Librarian at Muhlenberg College

2 thoughts on “October 12 – Reflections on Teaching”

  1. A foundational step in being a good instructor is caring about your students, sometimes in spite of the students own attitudes. Genuine caring comes through to the students. If their hearts open a bit, their heads become more receptive, too. As the old saw goes, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I know you care, so you’re well on your way.

    The toughest thing for me to work through as a part-time instructor is questioning my worthiness to have been put into a superior position relative to the students, who are in my case adult students with unique sets of experiences and skills that I don’t have. I try to remember that I have something worthwhile to share with others (as do the students) and hopefully I have developed some ability to organize the learning experience that most students probably do not have. And every group needs and organizer and leader, so why not me?

    Keep doing your thing! Trust that you’re having an impact even if you usually can’t see it.


    1. Thanks for commenting Eric – I agree, caring for your students is key! I am also given the opportunity and responsibility to lead conversations and I work hard to allow students to share what they know during information literacy conversations because students often have pretty great ideas based on their experiences. However, I’m sure they don’t often talk about IL on their own time so they need some direction. Having someone organize and lead conversation is crucial for a good educational experience!


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