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Teaching poorly

My last two classes of this term were… challenging, and I did a pretty poor job of rising to the challenges. One of them was just a case of me not having my head on very straight, talking more than I intended, and forgetting to mention things I’d meant to emphasize. What’s more, it’s the first time I’ve had a group of students just flatly refused to participate, no matter how much prodding they got from me and their professor, in a group activity that I’ve had several classes do before with good success. But in the end the students all left class with at least one scholarly article and at least one newspaper article for their papers, and most of them hadn’t done the kinds of things we were doing in class before, so it wasn’t useless, but it certainly wasn’t great.

The other class was very different. The professor couldn’t be there and had left me a long list of potentially useful things her students would need to know, but when I got there and asked them where they were with their paper topics, the conversation turned into a long brainstorming session where they helped each other come up with the required material culture artifacts that they’d need to incorporate into their papers. Only one of them needed the kinds of primary sources we have in the library, as it turns out. We did talk a bit about other primary and secondary sources that might be useful to them, and we did talk about how the strategies for finding out about and laying hands on primary sources is often fundamentally different from the strategies for secondary sources, but for the most part it was just the 13 of us thinking about how to illustrate their arguments with things like ear buds, album covers, magazines, and cigarette packs. And then I got up and showed them 10 minutes worth of “And here’s OAIster and the American Periodicals Series and ProQuest Historical Newspapers… just in case you ever need them.” I think they absolutely needed that time to think through their sources, but I also think that there’s very little that I could contribute to that experience.

In the first class, the overarching message was “there’s lots of stuff available,” which is ok, but maybe not the single most helpful message for first year students. In the second class the overarching message was “the library doesn’t have the sources you need” which felt odder. Both are often true, but neither are my favorite messages to convey.

Published inTeaching and Learning


  1. Kristofer Scheid Kristofer Scheid

    Did you get to have a post-class discussion with the professor for the first class? I would be interested to hear what the faculty member though of it and what he will think of the end product.

    Even working with graduates, who you would think would be a bit more motivated, I get the occasional class with the blank stares and few if any questions.

  2. That professor actually wrote a very kind and enthusiastic email about the class. This was very nice of him, but I’m still left thinking that the class could have been so much better than it was. I’m not sure that I made a very good case for the library being about anything more than Academic Search Premier and ProQuest Newsstand Complete, and I guess it’s always my goal to go beyond mechanics, to spark imaginations about what is possible with good research habits.

    But your point is well taken. The class may have been just fine, even if I wanted it to have been different.

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