25 April 2012

A Reflection on Leaving the Classroom

I recently taught my last class at Champlain College.  As of June 1st, I will be assuming the role of Associate University Librarian at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Exciting, for sure.  But that's not what this post is about.  This is a post about leaving the classroom.

I have always enjoyed teaching.  I am one of those people that has a particular gift for standing up in front of students and giving it my all.  And it usually works.  That is not to say that I have not worked on my teaching or tried to develop my craft.  As Ken Bain or Parker Palmer would swear, even the best teachers have to work on teaching.  I believe that quite deeply.  I think that is an area where librarianship, LIS education, and even our professional associations have fallen short.  But again, that's not what this post is about.

My last session at Champlain was very difficult.  It was a nightmare class, actually.  Students who were texting.  Students who refuse, and articulate their refusal, to participate.  Students who put their heads down on the desk.  It was a really hard way to go out of the classroom, especially because I have really developed as a teacher at Champlain, because I love our students, and because the class before this nightmarish one was so successful.  But, as I think more about it, it might have been the best class to go out on.  It was one of those sessions where I am reminded that I don't know what students are bringing into the classroom.  Parker Palmer talks about this extensively: we have no idea what is going on in our students' lives when they walk in.  That is particularly true as librarians who are trying to engage in an instant environment.  We don't know the students we teach, especially if you are not teaching a stand alone course.

I am also reminded that the impact of my session is not the session itself.  This is why asking students to assess a session at the time of the session cannot be the only measure of success.  I didn't actually realize this until two students from the class made follow up appointments with me for help.  They didn't say a word during class but they were listening.

Which brings me to what this post is really about: teaching is hard.  It is hard work to stand up in front of a bunch of students and a professor and show your stuff.  It is hard to prepare for it, to open yourself up to it, to reflect on it, to grow from it.  During LILAC, Megan Oakleaf said that if you walk out of the classroom exhausted, you are doing something wrong.  That is only true if your exhaustion is a result of doing everything for your students.  But, being an authentic, open teacher who welcomes questions, models inquiry, and is passionate about student learning is exhausting.

On second thought, perhaps that class was a great way to end my time in the classroom here.  For now.

3 comments:

david silver said...

that's a really nice post about teaching BUT OMG WHAT GREAT NEWS about your new job!

i grew up in san luis obispo, my father was a professor of physics at cal poly and my mom helped start a group called mothers for peace that fought long and hard against the licensing of diablo canyon nuclear plant. SLO is a beautiful small city set in a gorgeous area of california. you're gonna love it.

congratulations. and yes, i think that's a fine way to end this chapter of your teaching career.

alan said...

Much luck for the future Sarah. You know I agree with every single word of this post.

As horrible as they can sometimes be; I think the sessions that don't go the way we hoped are they ones that give us the best launching pad for improvement. (Just making that connection is the hard part).

Congrats again on the new job!

Alan

amd said...

ha! I just came here to say "San Luis Obispo is great - they make David Silvers there!" But I see David himself beat me to it.

I had some trouble with that quote from Megan as well. For me, teaching-related exhaustion isn't always (or even usually) related to negatives - it has to do with other things -- lots of other things.

Welcome to the west coast!