This post was originally written in January for my learning journal as part of the Foundations of Teaching & Learning course I am taking at work.
It’s always funny to me when I look back on where I’ve been and what I’ve done in terms of teaching and instruction since I never wanted to be a teacher.
As a young person, adults were always telling how smart I was and how I should be a teacher, but in my opinion 9and I’m sure many agree), being smart is not one of the top characteristics of a good teacher. In fact, sometimes being smart is a hindrance. Throughout my own education up until about second year of university, I found few courses challenging (excluding gym and art – I was horrible at those in high School). Since I did not have difficulties with much content, it was hard for me to explain to others how to understand the material when they asked.
Despite my disinterest in becoming a teacher, by third year of university I knew “teacher” was at the top of the list for possible professions of someone pursuing a double major in French and Classical Civilization. In order to get an idea of what it was about, I signed up for a volunteer internship program through the university. During this program I was able to work with a few teachers at both elementary and high school levels providing one-to-one tutoring, group tutoring, and general classroom assistance to students in English and French.
After my undergrad, I continued on in a Bachelor of Education program. The coursework was interesting, but after the first 3-week practicum session I knew teaching wasn’t for me. There’s nothing worse with a teacher who is supposed to be mentoring you who does not really help at all (but will gladly share with the janitor that she got a “bad one”).
One would think given this bad experience I’d stay away from teaching and instruction, but the following academic year I ended up in a polyvalente in a small town in Québec working as an English Language Assistant. The three days I spent learning about the types of work I would be doing was almost as insightful as the two months I had in the B.Ed program!
In this teaching situation I worked with students at all levels, secondary 1 through 5 (i.e. grades 7-11) on their English Language skills using a variety of activities, from having them write puppet plays, to listening to English Canadian music or watching films or just playing a game of musical vocabulary (like musical chairs). I also for one semester, taught a conversational English class for adult learners which gave me my first experience teaching that type of student.
By the time I was in graduate school, I didn’t so much think “I hate teaching” as, “I like doing instruction” but in my head I still separated instruction and teaching. I did take one grad course on instructional strategies for information professionals which included theories of pedagogy and also had the assignment where we had to video-tape ourselves teaching the class. I actually enjoyed preparing for that assignment and liked the opportunity to critique myself. Later on in my studies I was a TA for a class and got even more practice instructing lab sessions on research skills.
As a librarian, my first teaching experiences were typical one-shot deals. Professors would bring their students to a library lab and I’d have an hour, maybe two, to show them everything they need to know. I once used the verb “teach” in front of one professor and she quickly shot me down and said I did not teach but only provided instruction.
Librarians are generally discontent with the one-shot model. It’s just not the most effective way to teach (yes teach, not instruct) students research skills and information literacy competencies. So they’ve been working on different ways of tackling that from creating full courses on research to integrating it into the course curriculum.
For three semesters I taught a research course at a university. It was aimed primarily at students who were “at risk” (i.e. on probation for having a low GPA). It was an 8-week course that was a co-requisite for a regular semester course on general study skills (note-taking, time management, writing skills, etc.). It really was terrific having my own classes with my own students. It was nice to be able to follow a group of students over a period of time instead of maybe seeing them once. I enjoyed *teaching*! Working with such a course also gave me the opportunity to do some curriculum development which was challenging. The course I taught was revised each semester since the librarians involved were still trying to get things right – the right topics in the right order with the right activities.
So, while I was slow to learn how to teach well, and I still have a long, long way to go, I know that the way I think about instruction and teaching has changed and that I feel much more comfortable sharing knowledge with students. If only I knew back in teacher’s college, what I know now 😉