Teaching for the first time

Computer screen showing presentation title page. Desk space covered with instruction notes.

I had the honor to provide some basic source-seeking instruction for a class two weeks ago. After consulting with our first-year experience librarian, Alaina Bull, I prepared some materials and went to class.

It was a writing class in which the students had chosen topics and begun their initial search for information in order to create annotated bibliographies. My job was to help them learn to find appropriate databases and apply searching strategies to optimize their exposure to relevant literature.

These are things that I do on a regular basis at the Research Help desk in SNO: patrons ask for help finding source material and I help them approach library resources to explore what’s being said and accomplished by experts in their discipline. I enjoy these desk sessions because I can journey one-on-one with the student to discover new things. My strategies don’t always pan out the way I expect but even then I think it’s valuable for patrons to see that there is not always an easy answer when sleuthing for research.

Preparing for a class, however, was daunting because of the number of students I was going to help. I don’t fear speaking in front of groups (in fact, I enjoy it!) but I fear not being prepared enough to teach multiple people at once. In a research session with an individual, I can essentially “interview” them about their assignment, expectations, progress, and obstacles. But, in a group, I have to quickly establish some level of rapport with the students to get them to interact with me, and I need to be aware of the body language of the many individuals in the group to get a sense of how I should redirect my instruction. I feel that I am an expert in my field, but I feel like I can never be prepared to quickly assess all the moving parts of a classroom in order to deliver effective instruction.

But you know what? I was dead wrong in this case. In this, my first instructional session, the classroom was full of students interested in what I had to offer and they were willing to engage. I delivered the setup material, partnered with the instructor in explaining some details, and, after allowing the students some time to work on their individual projects, I returned to demonstrate some additional techniques that enhanced the strategies they were successfully using.

I’ve since prepared and delivered a session for another group and I’m eager to plan more. It seems impossible that it took me a full year to muster up the courage to do these! I’m privileged to work in an organization that both encourages me to try new things and support me as I do so.

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