15 September 2010

Overprepared? Maybe.

As is the case for many of us, it's instruction season at the college library. For us at Champlain, that means crunch time for the Teaching Librarians. As I have mentioned in the past, Champlain's instruction program is an embedded, incremental program. What does that mean? It means that we are embedded in the Core curriculum. It means that we are seeing students in a coordinated progression every semester for the three years. This allows us to create an equally coordinated, progressive, incremental curriculum. We don't have to worry about covering everything in one shot. Rather, we can spread out what we want students to know and what the skills we want them to learn over their college career.

We're pretty lucky.

But, there are some drawbacks in paradise. One of them is that teaching is extremely coordinated. Every teaching librarian is teaching the same content, at the same time, using the same pedagogy. I am always concerned about balancing this need for consistency in the teaching with academic freedom. The last thing I want is to cramp any teacher's style. Which is why I really have to think carefully about what it means to be a teacher. Hence my post last week at ACRLog. As I said there, there are many ways to prepare yourself to teach. But can we be overprepared? Can we beat a lesson to death before we even walk into the classroom?

Here's where I am coming from. I help all the Teaching Librarians prepare for our sessions. Now, we design, create, and tweak these lessons as a team. So we all have a say every step of the way in what we want to do and how we want to do it. But, we are all very different teachers and very different people who prepare to walk into the classroom in very different ways. Some of us are more nervous than others. Some of us are more comfortable with the possibility of failure or with student apathy than others. And sometimes, I struggle with the needs, concerns, and fears of my fellow librarians, as incredible as they are, and balancing my own way of teaching. I like to keep a level of spontaneity and experimentation in my teaching. More, perhaps, than they do. But in working hard as the head of this group and as the Assistant Director and the one responsible for information literacy at the College....well, I have had to give up what works for me a bit. I have had to overprepare. I have had to anticipate many possible outcomes, problems, difficulties, and responses to our lessons. I have started to question whether the level of creativity and innovation we bring to our design is truly sustainable.

To be honest, that doesn't feel good. It's really hard for me to deal with. To surrender to.

Yet, at the same time, I find an incredible amount of reward in seeing my colleagues level of comfort increase. Today, one of my colleagues said that they feel ready, prepared. And another chimed in as we rehearsed our session that it was "pretty amazing". I beamed.

One thing I am learning is how true it is that we prepare for teaching in different ways. And what is overprepared to one person is just right for another. And not enough still for someone else. The Goldilock's syndrome. The real challenge I face, personally, is not how to maintain my enthusiasm in the classroom. That's what students just do to me. But how to support my team, as a group and as individuals. How to listen to their needs and offer them the right opportunities as well as when to push the responsibility onto them for their own classroom experience.

It's really hard. And I hope that I am doing a good job of it. I wonder how others handle these situations. How you balance these seemingly competing needs. How you grow and sustain. I wonder.

1 comment:

Maura Smale said...

Great post, Sarah -- I often feel the same way. Of course I don't have any answers, but I am definitely in the same boat. It's getting easier the longer I've been in my position, and I'm hoping things will keep moving in that direction.