Written February 21st, 2013
For some people, teaching a room of strangers is not only easy–it’s enjoyable. These naturally talented people stand in front of a room and fill it with their energy, their irresistible charisma. And when the lesson is over, they pack up their things and leave, completely untraumatized.
I am not one of those people.
I love teaching and it does come naturally to me. But the kind of teaching I have done, until very recently, has been in one-on-one tutorial sessions or reference interviews, not in front of a large group. I love teaching in this environment–working together, the student and I can explore a new topic and learn more about the research process in a way that feels extremely valuable and rewarding. However, to be an reference and instruction librarian more than one-on-one instruction will be required, and because the job I want more than anything in the world is as a reference and instruction librarian, I realized early on in my graduate career that I really needed to get some real experience teaching to a group before I was ready to delve into that part of librarianship. To do that, I started planning a workshop for the Music and Performing Arts Library where I work as a graduate assistant that would help music students avoid plagiarism. There had been some difficulty with the subject at the School of Music in the recent past, with some graduate students still failing to understand when to cite sources and some international students of all levels (of which there are quite a few in this program) having difficulties understanding the American rules of citation. The workshop’s topic was one that would be useful to students and encouraged by music professors, so it seemed perfect for my first attempt at a workshop.
I spent months developing learning outcomes and a lesson plan for the workshop. I created a PowerPoint, a handout with take-away details and my contact information, and a worksheet to be completed in class. I also collaborated with the Writers Workshop program on campus (the writing tutor center for undergraduates and graduate students at UIUC) to strengthen the content of the workshop. I practiced the presentation over and over in front of friends and colleagues. I even found a hilarious video on plagiarism to break the ice with (http://youtu.be/Mwbw9KF-ACY – use closed captioning). Even after all of this preparation, however, I still wasn’t really ready to be standing in a room in front of 8 blank faces, waiting to hear something worthwhile.
The most valuable experiences are the ones that challenge you in a constructive way, and my first real instructional workshop was one of these valuable experiences. The workshop went well and at least one of the students approached me afterward with more questions, which I was delighted to answer. However, it wasn’t a perfect presentation. I learned that I need to work on my projection, gesture a little less frequently, and monitor that I’m not using vocabulary that’s too advanced for my audience. But most of all I learned that teaching a group of students isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It may not be a breeze for me, but I’m starting to understand that with practice, I will be able to do this kind of instruction on a regular basis, and may even come to prefer it to one-on-one instruction. It’s a different environment, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic. Baby step by baby step, I know I’ll be able to grow into the teacher that I want to be.