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.