When I decided to get my MLIS, I knew that there would be some aspect of teaching involved in becoming a librarian and, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t too excited about that prospect. Fast forward almost a year later and, after completing my first year of my degree program and accepting a teaching fellowship, my position on teaching has changed completely. I realized, after much reflection, that the aspects of librarianship which drew me to pursue the profession were the human ones. I like helping people and working with folks one-on-one. But, regardless of the scale of the interaction, I’ve come to the conclusion that helping people develop the skills to find the information they need is still teaching and I’ve come to embrace it.
However, teaching an actual class is something that was out of my comfort zone for a very long time, so in accepting the fellowship, I knew I would be pushing myself a bit. Getting up in front of a classroom full of students, who may or may not want to actually be there, and talking about library resources and research skills was something that felt very intimidating to me. At the beginning of the spring semester, my fellowship cohort spent a lot of time observing other library instructors to help us prepare for the sessions that we would eventually teach. Lo and behold, thanks to the societal disruption that is the pandemic, the sessions that we now teach look very different from the ones we observed in the spring.
Something interesting that I’ve noticed since beginning to teach for the first time, and solely online for that matter, is that, while I definitely get nervous before each session, for me it feels less intimidating to teach virtually. I think that teaching via Zoom has its challenges in terms of adjusting lesson plans and being able to see to whom you are teaching, but there is a security blanket-like quality to it. That is, for me, an intimidating aspect of teaching in person is physically standing at the front of a room and having all eyes on you, feeling like you are under scrutiny and everyone will notice if you stumble over your words or make a mistake. I’ve found that teaching one-shot instruction sessions online has actually been a little easier to adjust to than, I think, teaching in person would have been because I don’t have to worry as much about the things that made me nervous about teaching in person. I feel confident in my ability to talk about library resources and help my students develop good information literacy skills, but I was more nervous about the performative aspects of teaching.
But, teaching from the comfort of my own home has eliminated any nervousness I had about teaching in a potentially unfamiliar classroom environment and, because very few people like to keep their cameras on while I’m teaching (no judgement–I keep my camera off while attending big meetings too), it almost feels like I’m teaching to no one. There are obviously downsides to that: it sucks when students aren’t engaging or it feels like you are pointlessly relaying information to people who may not even be there. But, being able to see very few of the eyes that may actually be on me as I teach makes the public speaking aspect of teaching a bit more bearable.
Regardless of my nerves about the physical aspects teaching for the first time, the mistakes that I’ve made (and will continue to make) as I adjust to teaching, and the newness of filling the role of teacher, my first few weeks of teaching have been so incredibly rewarding. For example, I have my students fill out an anonymous survey before we begin the session which asks them about how they are feeling about their research projects and what they are hoping to learn in that day’s session; and it’s wonderful when I recognize that I will directly address students’ questions in the session. So far, almost all of the students with whom I’ve worked have been engaged and active in the sessions, whether or not their camera is actually on, and I’ve even had one or two reach out to me individually for some specific research help.
I’ve always known that being a librarian and working with people would allow me to make a difference, and that is one of the reasons I’m getting my MLIS. Through teaching, I’ve really been able to see the fruits of my labor and understand the impact that librarians can have on our patrons’ lives. So, this is a reminder that, despite the strange times that we may be in and how we may have had to adjust our workflow, we are still making a difference and we are still helping people.
Jane Behre is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, she is the coordinator for the First Year Book Program and a Research & Teaching Fellow. Her academic and professional interests include information literacy instruction and health literacy.