Some thoughts on teaching

In my recent application to the ACRL Immersion Program, I was asked to describe my “approach to teaching, what and who has influenced [my] teaching, and [my] teaching aspirations/goals,” along with why I decided to apply for Immersion. Here’s what I had to say.

My teaching approach is grounded in universal design for learning: instruction should be designed to meet the needs of all learners. When originally used in reference to architecture, “universal design” meant designing spaces that could be used by people of all abilities. When applied to learning, universal design “is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn” (CAST, About UDL). Instead of categorizing students and dictating instructional approaches according to their labels, UDL “can be accomplished by providing multiple means of representation, action, expression, and engagement” (Mates, 3).

In thinking about how I have developed as a teacher, two primary influences stand out: my first teaching mentor and my work in the information and referral community.

The director of Sewanee’s teacher education, Dr. Mae Wallace, is an anthropologist, and her research focuses on how culture affects learning and human development. One of the first courses I took with Mae was ED 204: Anthropology of Education, in which we discussed how culture shapes teaching and learning and conducted ethnographic research on culture and education.

Information and referral is described as “the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together” (AIRS, What is I&R?). I began working in the field as an AmeriCorps member, answering calls to a parent helpline operated by a child abuse prevention agency. I continued my involvement with the helpline as an employee of the agency, then went on to do similar work at a domestic violence shelter and as an employee of an agency serving older adults and people with physical disabilities. Immediately prior to pursuing my MLIS, I coordinated a statewide hotline for people with disabilities and their families.

What do these experiences have to do with teaching? A basic tenet of I&R holds that the human experience is a broad one. People and their needs are diverse, and their beliefs and actions are grounded in their own culture and experience. I&R specialists assess their users’ needs without judgment, not in order to “fix” their problems but to help them make informed decisions. Similarly, the anthropology of education acknowledges students’ diversity- culture, language, ethnicity, etc.- and the diversity of their learning needs. Effective teachers understand instruction should be designed to meet the needs of diverse learners. Effective teachers don’t “fix” problems, either; they help students develop the information skills they need to ask the right questions and make decisions of their own.

I decided to apply for Immersion in order to become a more effective teacher and help other librarians to do so.

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