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A teaching librarian fails at summer vacation

It’s August and I’ve been reflecting on whether I’m making the most of the quiet summer months in our academic library. I’ll confess that I approach summer “break” with an aspirational attitude similar to the one that sparks New Year’s resolutions. And yet, come August, I annually feel panic about whether or not I’ve made the most of my summer. As the academic year ends, I begin to create my mental list of summer projects, things like catching up on reading, cleaning off my desk, planning for the coming year, and working on becoming a better teaching librarian, all before the new semester starts. In past summers, I’ve really emphasized that last one — become a better teaching librarian — leading to unnecessary pressure, and unexpected results.

In May 2017, for example, I attended LOEX for the first time. I returned to my library buzzing with new ideas to improve my practice. When summer rolled around, I decided to turn those ideas into a single project: developing a lesson plan around strategic searching, which I am frequently called on to teach. This lesson would be different from those lessons that I rush to put together during the semester. With this lesson, I would be more deliberate in my teaching. A pre-made lesson would also streamline my practice for a busy fall. Finally, with the extra time, I could focus on the areas where I had seen students struggle in the past year.

I optimistically estimated that the resulting lesson, a script for me and a two-page worksheet for the students, could be taught in 75 minutes. Ha! I never found out as I was too daunted to try it. Initially, I told myself that the lesson wasn’t a good fit for the particular classes I was teaching. Revisiting the lesson to write this post, I see now that it was much too complex and not at all appropriate for a one-shot. More likely these exercises would have taken at least two class sessions to do well. Having put in hours of work with little to show for it, my big summer project felt like a colossal failure.

There is a happy ending, though, as I’ve learned several valuable lessons from last summer’s experiences. First, summer is not the best time (for me, at least) to develop my teaching because I’m not actually working with students. My lesson plan was not coming from an authentic place; it was developed for imaginary, idealized students. However, revisiting the lesson, I now realize that I have incorporated some elements of it into the lessons that I developed during the academic year. The thinking was useful, even if I couldn’t use the original product. Finally, I’ve changed how I think about summer. This year, I have spent my time catching up on reading and doing some much-needed writing. I’ll save the actual lesson plans for the semester, when the ideas of the students are much closer.

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