Anecdotes are a great way to help us unpack the personal pedagogies with which we work.
Here’s my anecdote:
It’s six weeks ago at 9:15am and five people are sitting in a library computer lab. We’re reading a journal article and it’s quiet. Everyone is reading and sipping from their water bottles or takeaway coffee cups (I know, I know – we’re not supposed to have coffee in the lab but I’ve bent the rule for the circumstances).
As well as the article, each of us has a page of literature evaluation criteria. We are reading an article on the history of sustainability and evaluating it according to the criteria. Four of us have clean, fresh articles and one of us has notes scrawled over her copy. The person with the not-so-fresh copy is me.
I am the teacher (and the students’ liaison librarian). The other four are first year undergraduate Urban and Regional Planning students.
In front of me sits Kathleen, a quietly confident school leaver. Nearby sits Margaret who is about twenty years older, vivacious and at the beginning of a journey to a new career. Behind Margaret is Eric. Eric is young and gives nothing away. He was late to the session today, but much later yesterday (so I’m counting my blessings there). Behind Kathleen is Ethel. Ethel is about the same age as Margaret and she is quietly and actively engaged in the session.
I don’t wonder, even once, about how Margaret and Ethel are going. I do wonder about Eric. He is typing on the computer and I wonder whether he is on his Facebook page. But, something inside tells me not to stroll by him and I think, “He might be typing up his evaluation notes … at least he’s not texting on his phone … we’re sharing our evaluations with each other in a few minutes, he knows that”.
Then I look at Kathleen and I am taken back thirty years. I see myself standing among the book shelves in Main Library at the University of Queensland. It’s quite dark and every book I pick up discusses things that happened before I was alive or when I was a child. I can’t quite connect with what’s in these books and I’m feeling that I’m not quite learning what I should. I come back to the present, look at Kathleen, and wonder if she feels like I did thirty years ago. I think, “I doubt it. She’s confident and a thinker”.
Eric is no longer typing, and it’s time to share our evaluations.
And, here’s what I think the anecdote reveals about my personal pedagogy:
- Connecting with the students as people and learners is important to me – it’s about empathy. After Kathleen shared her evaluation, we explored it a little further as a group and I shared my memory. My sharing led her to reveal that she was also feeling this way which reassured her and created interest from the other students – we began communicating even more as five people rather than four students and one teacher
- Which leads me to something else that I think is important – that I learn much from the students with whom I work and I really value that as a teacher, a librarian and a person. As a librarian it’s critical as it helps me learn basic things about the disciplines that I support and so improves my liaison work as a whole. It also influences how I work with clients in reference interviews
- I thought that I had overcome an insecurity that used to pop up in my teaching sometimes but it’s still there & can rear its head under the right circumstances. I really care about the learning opportunities that I create for students and I care deeply about their learning, but that can lead me to focus on me rather than the students. That showed up in my worries about Eric – was he on Facebook instead of doing the work? I really, really thought that he would be on Facebook but it turned out that he was typing up his evaluation; and a very unique and though-provoking evaluation it was. I was worried that he wasn’t engaged with the learning activity that I created???? That shouldn’t be!!!!
- Which leads me to another issue. I grew up learning to value independence, and the level of connectedness that comes with constant accessing of phones and Facebook is something that I struggle to deal with sometimes. I don’t understand what it feels like to need to connected like that and so I have to be very conscious of challenging my instincts as I don’t have that empathy to help guide my responses to such dependent behaviour.