All posts filed under “Librarianship Day-to-Day

Photo of empty school theater seats by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
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Shame is Not an Effective Teacher

Like everyone else who watched Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix, I’m obsessed with Samin Nosrat. She was recently interviewed by Sam Sanders on his podcast, It’s Been a Minute, and in it she talks about her first experience eating at a fine dining restaurant. Despite committing what she describes as fine dining newbie mistakes, she distinctly remembers the graciousness of the wait staff and floor manager, who treated her, a nineteen year old young woman who felt so very out of place, with respect and care. She notes how that care made an impact on her and changed the trajectory of her career. Nosrat states that the staff at the restaurant could have shamed her for making dining “mistakes,” but their decision to encourage her exploration of food was an important turning point for her. She makes a statement I’ve blatantly co-opted as the title of this post: “Shame is not an effective teacher,” but care is one.

I’ve written about care before, and it’s something I continue to think about and work towards incorporating in my own work. I like writing about care, but I’m not going to write about that now. Instead I’m going to focus on shame, and how easy it can be to practice (despite best intentions).

I’ve been in the midst of a teaching blitz, as I’m sure many instruction librarians and coordinators have been for the past two months. It’s been nothing but English composition class after Technical Communication class, and it was starting to feel monotonous. I like our curriculum. We’ve worked hard to incorporate different ways for students to learn from each other and share what they learn with the class. In one session, I asked students to volunteer questions they might have about their existing research topics. One student stated their topic and potential question. Great! Participation! Wanting to continue the discussion, I asked: “What kind of information might help you answer that question?” The student answered, “articles?” in a less certain voice. Thinking this was a great opportunity to talk about different kinds of articles, I asked, “What kind of articles?” The student looked down, discomfort clearly written on their face, paused, looked around, and said, “Um, I’m not sure. You’re kind of putting me on the spot here.”

Ugh.

I tried to save face: “It’s ok, we can come back to this and think about it again later.” Then I moved on. I felt badly. I want to encourage questioning and discussion in class, but I don’t want people to feel singled out or shamed or discouraged. Unfortunately that’s what happened. I took one student’s willingness to engage in answering a question and ran it into the ground, rather than encouraging the response they bravely, voluntarily gave.

As class progressed and students had individual time to work on their research projects, I went up to the student and apologized. They still looked a bit uncomfortable but said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s ok”–all while failing to make eye contact with me. I get it. I earned that reaction. I made them feel uncomfortable and they don’t owe it to me to make me feel better about it.

What’s the take away? Do I stop asking probing questions? Do I stop using discussion techniques in class? No. But I do need to be more aware of students’ reactions to my questions and be better about reading their body language, facial expressions, and other cues during class. I also need to think more about what I am hoping to gain from persisting in a particular line of questioning. Is this going to really contribute to what we are learning? Is there another way to get at this point? Is it time to switch focus? Can I build in more opportunities for students to facilitate discussion and ask me, and each other, these kinds of questions? Are there moments when I think I’m being interested that really come across as picky or judgey?

The last thing I intended to do was shame this student, but intent isn’t the same as perception. They felt singled out and put on the spot, and I own that. It impacted our interaction later in class and I wonder how much more helpful I could have been if I’d been more aware of how I was coming across to them. I don’t know what their previous experiences have been in that English class or in previous classes. I don’t know how other teachers have made them feel. I probably won’t ever know the full story of students in the short amount of time I see them for info lit classes, but that doesn’t absolve me from trying to set an inclusive, shame-free tone in class. I’m working on it and continuing to try and do better.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash [person pouring coffee into a mug with the word "ugh" written on it]
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Mid-Semester Slump

It’s that time of the semester again. You’ve taught your Nth English Composition library instruction session/info lit class/freshman seminar. Everyone is sick–including you. That 3rd cup of coffee doesn’t quite pack the same punch. All of the deadlines for all of the writing projects that you were so excited about are all looming in the semi-immediate horizon. You’ve hit the Mid-Semester Slump, and it sucks.

It happens every year, and almost always hits hardest in the fall. Yet every fall I’m surprised when it happens. I can’t quite figure out why my energy is so low and I can’t quite shake what should have been a 3-day cold 2 weeks later. All hopes of a regular exercise schedule feel like a pipe dream, but I was just able to accomplish that a few weeks earlier. What is it about the midterm that makes life and work so difficult and dreary? Is it the repetition? The stress? Something else?

I’m trying to make my way out of the slump with excessive amounts of coffee and croissants, but they just aren’t quite doing the trick. I’m starting to attribute these feelings to the garbage fire that is the news in this country coupled with being a latina in it. That said, my work is still my work and my family still needs my best self. So what are your suggestions for getting through this slog? What’s worked for you in previous semesters? How do you take care of yourself and revitalize your feelings when the semester starts to the feel like a drag?

 

Fall leaves Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash
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Rejection

A quick search for “rejection” on Unsplash.com yields a lot of images of sad, wistful white people. It wasn’t quite the vibe I was going for in this post, hence the photo of the fall leaves I wish I was seeing outside (alas, fall has not come to Houston).

Rejection is tricky. I sent out a lot of rejection emails last week. Joanna Gadsby and I are editing a book on the idea of service in libraries and its impact on the practice/theory of librarianship. We received so many wonderful proposals. SO MANY. We can’t publish them all, so we inevitably ended up with a pool of No’s. We tried to write a kind rejection email. Our decision didn’t really have a lot to do with the quality of the proposals so much as the scope, the number we received, and the kind of book we are trying to build. We know that many of the chapter proposals we said No to will likely find a published home in excellent journals or books. We just weren’t the right fit at the right time.

I know this, yet the same day that I sent out rejection emails, I received one, too. It was for a journal article I co-submitted that I was really excited about. To be honest, it kinda hurt. It was scholarship I stood behind and felt good writing. That said, I completely understand the tough decisions the editors had to make, having just made them myself. Their rejection email was so kind. And yet…YET…it still really stung.

Rejection is hard. Coping with rejection is harder. Getting that rejection email was a good reminder of that reality.  A week to process has taken away the sting, and I can write and discuss the experience without FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS. Rejection is a normal part of academia, and as long as it’s done in a considerate way, it’s probably healthy, and definitely a learning experience. I know that not all rejection is kind, and that sometimes it hits us at a time when we could really have used a win. I wish I had better advice than: sometimes rejection isn’t really about you. Sometimes it’s the greater publishing project, sometimes it’s the pool, sometimes it is about your writing or your research, but those things aren’t YOU. All of those things can change, and in a few weeks or months or years you’ll get a Yes instead of a No.

In the mean time, it’s ok to feel the feelings that rejection inspires. We all experience it and live through it. It might feel personal, but it’s really not. We just feel it–personally. I deal with rejection by

  1. Questioning all of my life choices.
  2. Buying a new dress or nail polish (depending on budget).
  3. Feeling generally ok about things and trying again.

It’s not everyone’s process, but it’s mine. How do you deal with rejection in academic librarianship?