Having taught high school humanities subjects, I have spent a great deal of time creating, adapting, and rethinking my personal teaching philosophy. My ideas regarding the ways in which learning occurs, the most effective ways to assist students with their learning, and the role I want to play as a teacher continues to evolve as I gain more experience, particularly as my role as a teacher has shifted from that of a teacher in a traditional high school classroom to that of an academic librarian. While I once mistakenly believed that students, even adolescent or adult students, come to lessons as blank slates upon which I, as their teacher, are meant to make a mark, I now understand that learning and teaching occur symbiotically, with both teacher and student often playing the other’s part. After all, teachers are not omniscient authorities, and I believe that my teaching is most effective, in any environment, not when I transmit information, but when I encourage excitement about learning and encountering new information.
I believe learning to be most effective when the learners take an active role in determining what and how they learn. Activating students’ existing knowledge and utilizing inquiry in education, particularly in libraries, allows students to consider their own perspectives, ask their own questions, and pursue their passions, all while gaining new insights. This type of learning can be overwhelming to students who are not accustomed to it, as it requires a certain amount of independence, freethinking, and critical thinking—skills which are not fostered in every learning environment, but are essential in higher education, and in libraries, in particular, where students’ success is dependant on their ability to learn independently and take responsibility for many aspects of their education without constant guidance. Students often come to libraries with a certain amount of anxiety or fear, as they may feel unprepared for their assignments or research. As a librarian, I hope that through techniques that include formative assessment and scaffolding—through which students learn information and practice skills in steps that increase in difficulty as they progress—I can help students feel more confident in their abilities as students and researchers.
In order for this type of learning to take place, it is essential that the environment be created with student participation and inquiry in mind. Researching, writing, and creating are processes that often require great deals of trial and error, mistakes, and risks. Even the most experienced students, teachers, and researchers cannot undertake the research process without experiencing difficulty at times. It is crucial that inexperienced students understand that they are not expected to enter a library with the answers already in mind. One of the most valuable pieces of advice that I received as a new teacher was the need to demonstrate for students what it means to be human—to show them what it is to make an error that requires a change in direction, to encounter a question to which I do not have the answer, and to embrace the opportunity to learn more. The learning environment I hope to create is one in which students feel safe making mistakes, taking risks, and asking as many questions as it takes to find the answer they are looking for.
In libraries, where there are fewer defined learning outcomes and rubrics than in regular classrooms, I believe that success can be measured by the amount of confidence students have in their skills as researchers after I have worked with them, and a reduction in the anxiety they may have previously experienced when working in libraries and other learning environments. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate as a teacher and as a librarian the opportunities that libraries afford students to question, think critically, learn, and create, encouraging them to continue developing these skills even after the completion of their formal education.