“You don’t get a do-over,” my husband said to me, after I reenacted a particularly painful class I’d bungled my way through a few years ago. “I might have a crappy day in my Calc III class, but then I get to come back and say, ‘that last class was rough; let’s try this again.'”
It was the perfect summary of a library one-shot. There is so much pressure on usto do well in these classes. Some of it is self-imposed, especially for those of us who skew hard in the Type A direction (I want all the “great job” stickers, thank you very much). But a big piece of our emotional turmoil around these workshops and one-shots comes is a result of the precarity of teaching opportunities in academic librarianship. Some academic librarians might work for years to be “invited” to teach a class by a faculty colleague, slowly building the case for the importance of information literacy and their own teaching ability. Others might get a teaching opportunity right away, but are keenly aware that these teaching partnerships aren’t required, and are always at the discretion of the instructor of record. A professor might one day decide they no longer need to schedule a library class, which is totally their prerogative, but it often leaves a teaching librarian wondering why.
Was that last class not helpful?
Was it that activity I tried that turned out to be a dud?
Was I not good enough?
It’s the classic teaching librarian anxiety spiral. A class might not go well, an activity or discussion might fall flat, and suddenly we find ourselves lost in the weeds of self-doubt. We worry that we embarrassed ourselves in front of a colleague and students. We think we won’t get another opportunity to try this again. We fear that one less-than-stellar class will reflect poorly on the library instruction program overall. We feel dissatisfied, maybe ashamed, and definitely down on ourselves.
Worry. Sadness. Anxiety. Rinse. Repeat.
I’ve felt this, and as I think about my colleagues in my own library and all of my teaching librarian friends elsewhere, I want to scream: Don’t be so hard on yourself! (That “yourself” includes me too). We all have bad days and classes. Sometimes the class isn’t vibing. Sometimes it’s just a crappy activity. Sometimes our teaching just isn’t the best. It happens. It happens to the professor in that class, too; we just aren’t there to see it.
How do we stop this post-class anxiety spiral?
I taught a class recently where I decided to try a new discussion activity. It tanked. It wasn’t appropriate for students’ experience and knowledge, and I didn’t do a great job facilitating. I could feel the anxiety start building in the pit of my stomach. I was afraid I’d lost them. I quickly moved on to the next section of the class, which included a group activity. During that time I took a minute or two to jot down a few notes about the failed discussion. I noted what didn’t work, how it could be modified in the future or replaced with something completely different. I was really surprised by how much better that on-the-spot reflection helped me. I was able to quickly but effectively process my feelings, focus on the class rather than on myself, and even note possibilities for future classes. I was then able to jump back into the group activity and the rest of the class with renewed energy and excitement. I didn’t let a bad 10 minutes ruin the rest of the 70 minutes I had left with the students, and I was so thankful. The students were amazing, and the rest of the class was interesting and thoughtful thanks to their awesome engagement.
That small exercise is something I’ll definitely end up doing again, as it’s likely that I’ll have less-than-stellar moments in future classes. I want to think of other ways to stop the post-class blues and share those colleagues. What are some of the ways you deal with/process/move-on from classes that just don’t go well?