striving to be a better teacher, ending up a better person

One of my summer goals is to examine my information literacy instruction. In preparation, I’m starting some reading (what librarian wouldn’t?). While I feel comfortable with my current classroom techniques, I have never set aside time to reflect on my teaching. I’ve started reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators.

In her introduction, Booth outlines four elements of information literacy:

~ reflective practice: more than just assessment; revising your skill set as you teach and learn from that teaching

~ educational theory: learning theory, instructional theory, and curriculum theory

~ teaching technologies: getting comfortable teaching with technologies in the classroom, online, and blended

~ instructional design: integrating reflection, theory, and technology into teaching (xvii)

She also suggests the USER method to help prepare, instruct, and evaluate:

~ understand: identify problem, analyze scenario

~ structure: create targets, involve & extend

~ engage: develop materials, deliver instruction

~ reflect: assess impact, revise & reuse (xviii)

While I don’t feel knowledgable about educational theory, information literacy and the USER method seem very much like what I already do in the classroom.

So why do I feel like it isn’t enough?

A few pages later, in chapter 1, Booth lists some challenges to library instruction including “teaching librarians tend to have more limited interactions with learners, meaning that it can be difficult to see immediate or long-term evidence of our interventions” and “materials and lessons are often repeated, which can generate a sense of redundancy or malaise.” (5)

I can see these challenges keeping me from enthusiastically examining my instruction while simultaneously feel I need to improve my classroom skill set.

I also find a personal dilemma in one of the first exercises of the book. Booth asks the reader to list three strong instructors or presenters and identify three characteristics that made them personally effective.

I’ve been staring into the distance at a total loss. The teachers and presenters that immediately come to mind are very much unlike me personally – loud, animated, energetic. If I were to be even one of these three characteristics I’d frighten people who know me well. So how did my ideal teacher become someone who is not my ideal self?

Yet, when asked about the characteristics of my worst teachers, as Booth does, I’d list the same three. But there is a key difference between the two and that is where I need to focus: authenticity.

A common characteristic among successful teachers is authenticity. (9) Booth refers to authenticity through the image of the soapbox and “the infectious interest you can create by communicating with conviction.” (10)

I think students notice my “intensity of expression” when I’m working with them and become absorbed in the content. (10) But it isn’t central to my teaching and perhaps reworking this for full impact could improve my instruction. She says “half of your soapbox consists of sharing your expertise, but the other half consists of sharing your self.” (11) I have probably held back a little bit of both – expertise and self – in my teaching because I’ve strived to maintain authority without becoming authoritative.

Booth has elected to be more informal and more personal because it works for her and she acknowledges “sacrificing a modicum of my ‘authority’ in order to create a more accessible tone is a risk.” (11)

I’m willing to risk authority to be authentic. It will make me a better teacher, and a better person too.