Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On teaching and Imposter Syndrome

I learned quite by accident that I'm a pretty good teacher. In my first job as a librarian, I was asked to help teach some 'Introduction to Web 2.0' classes. This was 2007, and acquiring new skills in cloud-based applications was all the rage. So the library decided to put on 23-thing style classes where staff throughout the organization could learn more about Web 2.0 applications. The classes themselves weren't very noteworthy and I'm not sure that any of the applications we taught in those classes are still used today.

But in those classes, I learned that I love to teach.

It might seem counterintuitive that someone who has chosen a life of behind-the-scenes service to love something that is so front line-centric. I am good at cataloging--my brain is built for the minutia of describing new materials and the problem solving that comes with legacy metadata. I am acutely aware of how my work is a public service, even if library users never see me.

I suppose that what draws me to cataloging is in some ways what also draws me to teaching. I enjoy the problem solving that comes with taking a concept or task and breaking it down into understandable, actionable parts. I like considering what the learning outcomes are for a given class and designing a lesson that works toward fulfilling those outcomes.

I have struggled along the way: with my presentation and public speaking skills, with balancing activities and lecture, with learning about pedagogy, with keeping up in changes in the information literacy landscape, and with asking more questions and being comfortable in the silence with students while they consider the answers.

But most of all, I've struggled with Imposter Syndrome. I worry that I don't belong in the classroom because I'm not a public services librarian. I worry that a student will ask me a question that I can't answer and that I'll be revealed as a fraud. Go back to technical services where you belong, I think sometimes.

I'm really fortunate that I have had instruction-focused colleagues who honor my interest in teaching and who help me to develop my teaching skills so that every class is a little better than the one before it. I can't see myself leaving technical services for an instruction-centered job, but I've never been excluded from helping out in the classroom. In fact, my colleagues have been unbelievably welcoming. Across the course of my career, nobody has ever made me feel like I don't belong for wanting to step into the classroom.

Last week, after three years away, I taught a library orientation to a group of Freshpeople. I was filled with that familiar nervousness and worries about being seen as a fraud. But I was also filled with that familiar rush of being with students, all of us learning new things.

Building the Unified Library Scene is going to require that people take risks and try new things. My risky thing is stepping out of the Cataloging Department and into the classroom. What's yours?

Stay positive,

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