5 reasons you should teach FYS

first-year-seminar-310I have exactly two FYS classes left in the semester. It’s bittersweet to see the semester end. I have enjoyed this class so much this fall. They have been such a fun group of personalities and I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and the community they have built. On the other hand, can the semester be over already? I’ve struggled to find a groove. 2015 has been a banner year for me, but it has been incredibly challenging, and I won’t be sad to see the turning of the calendar.

I have grown hugely as a teacher with the help of FYS, and I’ve grown as a librarian serving a community, too. My FYS experiences have been a valuable education, second only to grad school in understanding how to best do my job. I would recommend this experience to anyone who works in instruction or public services in academia. Here are 5 ways that teaching FYS can change how you do your job:

  1. Develop relationships with the students. As a teacher, their teacher, you have a different relationship with students than as a workshop coordinator. Asking students to do difficult things requires trust, and trust takes time. This is part of why we struggle in one-shots to reach teach “threshold concepts.” Presenting difficult, wiggly, profound instructional moments requires that students trust you enough to follow you. As you begin to know students, their daily concerns and difficulties, you begin to understand how to best be of use to them in the library. This is what we mean when we say “point of need.” Identifying needs is the first step, and getting to the heart of the need requires trust.
  2. Relate to faculty in a different way. The faculty respect you more when you’ve been in the trenches and are more willing meet you halfway when you have experience in classrooms like theirs. Teaching in the classroom changes your perspective on what’s hard from both a student and faculty perspective. This is the basis of building those ever-important liaison relationships. FYS at my institution, and at many others I’m guessing, is a bit of a scapegoat for “things the students should know.” When students have difficulty with everything from Excel to how to register for classes to (yes) research FYS is usually identified as the place this thing should exist. When you know and understand the role of FYS in the curriculum, you are better positioned to provide workable solutions to pedagogical problems.
  3. Try new pedagogies. Unless you’re in a team-teaching situation, there are certain pedagogies that just don’t fit into traditional library instruction. Problem-based learning, service learning, and inquiry take time. In a classroom of your own devising, you can try and test these pedagogies and consider how they might complement or enhance library instruction. With that experience, you can consider how you might support or suggest changes to assignments or how you might approach library instruction differently in the future.
  4. Ask the questions you always wanted answers to. You have a captive audience. When students don’t seem to be meeting your expectations you have two options: 1. Get frustrated and blame yourself or others. 2. Ask them about it. For example, my students completed a 6-week problem based learning unit. I embedded library instruction into the unit with the intention that they would find some resources to support either their problem statement or their solutions. In practice, the students listed the articles on a works cited page but did not use them in their presentations. I wanted to know why this was, so I asked them to do a minute paper to answer the following two questions: Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentations and what can I do to help you do this better next time? I got some very interesting responses, which I will talk about more specifically another time.
  5. Understand the space between libraries and classrooms. If you’ve never had to find space in your syllabus for library instruction, you will never know how difficult it is to do it right. As a librarian, even I had trouble inserting library instruction meaningfully into my FYS class given the learning objectives of the class. Attending conference presentations on library instruction, the underlying message seems to be that if teaching is happening, we should have some hand in it – helping design assignments, providing resources, educating faculty, inserting ourselves irrevocably into the fabric of teaching. There is a space between libraries and classrooms. We should not fool ourselves that it does not exist or that we will ever completely eliminate the gap. The gap isn’t bad. It’s a feature of the landscape. When we see the landscape for what it is, we can appreciate it’s unique features and start devising plans for building bridges and structures to complement it.

I certainly can’t say that my FYS class is perfect, but I believe I’ve learned 80% of what I set out to learn from FYS and I have new perspectives from which to approach my job as librarian. Would you teach FYS? What’s holding you back?

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