Welcome to fall semester

This past week was the first week of fall semester classes at my university. This is the first time in a while that I’ve taught only one regular section of our 2 credit hour information literacy course. Last semester I only taught one section, but it was an honors section, so I spent a lot of time trying new things that I had been afraid would be too challenging in a regular section. Of course, I’m not just going back to the old stand-by that I used before – this semester I’m experimenting with how much of the stuff that worked well last spring will also work in a regular section.

I’m also doing something I’ve never done: mentor teaching. A member of our circulation staff who has a MLIS degree asked over the summer about getting some teaching experience. So I offered to work with her in sort of a student/mentor teacher kind of arrangement – having her more involved than I ever was as a Teaching Assistant, but not as equal as I picture co-teaching being. So I planned the syllabus and class schedule myself, but then met with her to go over it and talk about why I am planning things this way. I am taking the lead for the first month and a half or so, with her attending classes and helping with class activities. We plan to meet every week to talk about how that week went, the plan for the next week, pedagogical considerations that go into my plan for each lesson, grading, etc… And we’ll be transitioning to having her plan and teach some of the lessons later in the semester. I wouldn’t call that fully co-teaching, since she will still be working within the framework I planned for the course as a whole, but she will have a lot more leeway than it seems a lot of librarians get when relying on the one-shot model. I’ll refer to her as ST, for Student Teacher, here.

I find this exciting as well as terrifying. I’m really excited to be working with her to help her learn something she wants to learn. I’m excited that my department is supportive of having faculty work with staff to help them develop professionally. But I bet anyone who ever experiences impostor syndrome can imagine why this arrangement is terrifying! I know it will be good for my development, too, since it will force me to articulate the pedagogical reasons I do the things I do in my class more clearly… And force me to be better about planning ahead, instead of having a vague idea of my topic for the day and throwing the lesson together an hour before class! (Not that I’d admit to ever having done quite that, but if we’re meeting on Thurs to talk about the plan for next week, it won’t work for me to wait until Sunday afternoon to plan Monday’s lesson!)

So I met with ST during the week before classes started to go over the macro-plan for the semester and talk about my approach to teaching, using feminist & other critical pedagogies, focusing more on concepts than skills – so more in line with the Framework than the Standards. It was a great conversation, and I felt like we were in good shape for the semester.

And then, on the first day, I went over the syllabus, and realized a few logistical things I didn’t even think to discuss the week before! I reused and just updated a syllabus from a previous semester – so I didn’t even think about adding ST to the syllabus. Aside from providing her contact info, would she hold office hours? If so, where? So lesson #1 for me for the semester was to pay more attention to these sorts of logistics, since I felt like a total ass for leaving her off the syllabus! On the bright side, after class we went back to my office suite to talk to my department head and get ST set up with an office to use for office hours.

That glitch aside, day 1 was fine. I have tried in the past to do some sort of interesting activity on the first day, to set the tone for the semester. There are definitely arguments in favor of that, and if my class were half the size it is, I’d have had us go around the room to introduce ourselves at least. But there are also arguments in favor of taking that time to go over the major expectations and projects for the class, so that people know what they are getting in to. So I spent the first 30-40 minutes going over the syllabus and major assignments, then had them do a short writing exercise, responding to some intro questions: Where are you from?, Why did you sign up for this class?, What do expect to cover in this class?, Is there anything you would like me to know about your life outside of class, that might affect your work in class?, & What do you enjoy learning about? (doesn’t have to be related to school).

Day 2 was more fun. I started class by showing a video that asks Why is my curriculum white? After that, I had them do a think-pair-share focused on the question of why I chose to show that video during the first week of a class about information literacy and research. And I was very excited that they pretty much all seemed to be engaged, and several people volunteered answers during the share part… It doesn’t matter how regularly it happens, I still get excited every time! After that, I set them loose on the computers to search to see if they could find demographic information about both the student population and the faculty at our university. After walking around and seeing that several of them had found that data on the same couple of sites, I asked for a volunteer to come up and show what they found on the classroom computer – and someone volunteered right away, which is always awesome! We evaluated those sites a bit, and I showed them where our university publishes up to date data on that stuff, tucked away in a hard to find corner of our website. In case you wondered, as of the 2014-15 academic year, our students are 54.4% white, 35.3% African American, and 4.2% Hispanic, while our faculty are 81.6% white, 7.6% Asian, 7.1% African American, and 2.2% Hispanic. We ran out of time before I could ask them what they think of that disparity in relation to the video we opened class with.

I’ll admit that I was scared going into that lesson. Aside from all of the other reasons I chose to include it, I scheduled it for the second day of class because we were still in the open add/drop period. I was afraid that there would be students who would object to talking about race and critiquing the college curriculum that way. But almost all of them were actively engaged in the class, and none of them have dropped so far! Having only a 50 minute class period, I didn’t get into a heavy discussion about race (beyond the discussion in the video, which offers a pretty substantial critique). But I did overhear one student comment to the person sitting next to them that they were surprised by the stats about the student population, that they thought it was opposite (so would have guessed 55-60% African American, 30-something % white). So hopefully that will combine with the emphasis on critical thinking and questioning of ideologies I have planned for next week to lead that student to question why that was such a surprise. It may not, but I can hope!