From the writing teacher’s desk . . . Part 1.

*Part one in what should become an ongoing series discussing how my experiences as a writing instructor shape not just my teaching of information literacy, but also how I approach every aspect of my job.*

In my previous life, I taught composition to first-year college students. For three years I lived the unglamorous life of the adjunct instructor, teaching at times across three different colleges and universities. While it was stressful and maddening and at times disheartening, I am grateful now for the experiences I had, the lessons I learned, and the insight it has given me into the intersections of teaching writing and research. And it was the librarians who visited my classes in their one-shot sessions who inspired my transition from teaching faculty to librarian. In the liaison work I do now with teaching faculty and non-academic campus units, I try to always keep in mind what it was like on the other side of these partnerships, and what I wish I knew then.

First, it is not uncommon for teaching faculty or campus units (I am thinking in particular of Residence Life and other large campus constituencies that are not directly integrated into curriculum) to be completely unaware of what the library and librarians can offer. Despite our best efforts at marketing or promoting services, many of the groups we want to reach have so many other demands on their attention, that the library becomes something taken for granted. And I don’t think this is untrue of teaching faculty as well, especially those new to the job. When I first began teaching writing, my colleagues, full- and part-time alike, recommended having a librarian come to my class or taking my class to the library when it came time for research papers. In a few cases, the program required at least one library/librarian visit a semester. But few, if any, could fully articulate why this was important, or what I should expect to come from these sessions. All I knew was that librarians would come to my class and teach my students how to find articles in the databases. I would request sessions, and the librarians would come, and what they did was, for me and my students, completely removed from the context of the class. I did not know enough about information literacy myself to start a conversation about how to better embed the valuable concepts, ideas, and processes into my own curriculum.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school for my MLS that I began to unravel the interwoven nature of the writing and research processes and see how imperative it was for students to learn these two literacies side-by-side. After all, it is impossible to write without having something to say. And in order to have something to say, students have to do research. The biggest problem I see at the intersection of these two literacies is that students see research as a single step in the writing process that goes something like this: 1. Choose a topic. 2. Write a thesis statement. 3. Write an outline (maybe–far too few students use outlines). 4. Write a draft. 5. Find sources to support each paragraph. 6. Add quotes, paraphrases, summaries (when they know how to distinguish between the three and when to use each one). 7. Write a bibliography. 8. Revise (maybe–again, far too few students actually revise beyond correcting grammar and punctuation).

I did this myself as a student. I would spend hours, days, weeks, procrastinating on papers because I did not know what to write about, and thought I couldn’t do my research until I had at least a partial draft written. It never occurred to me, and I was never taught, that doing research could be part of the process of discovering what to write about. When I started doing higher level research for graduate school, this began to change, but my old habits persisted. When I started teaching, this mindset shifted more, but I had no idea how to guide my students along this path. And I had no idea that I should—or even that I could—ask librarians for help. I was desperately ignorant and believed that the only thing they would do was come to my class and show them how to point and click in a database. For three years, I grossly underserved my students, and under-recognized the valuable resource librarians were to the process of teaching and learning to write.

Now, I cannot claim that all writing faculty are as ignorant of this as I was. But I can say that in my TA days and in the pool of adjuncts I knew, I was not the only one. Adjuncts and part-time faculty tend to be, by nature of their part-time-ness, less supported by the universities and colleges they serve. I was never asked or required to participate in new faculty orientation. I was never given details of campus resources that might help me or my students. I was given a course number and name, a class time, sometimes a syllabus I had to teach from (with no context), sometimes only the catalog blurb from which to design a course, and a room assignment. Maybe an office in which to meet my students and hold office hours, but in one case I had to provide my own office furniture. And that includes lighting–one didn’t have any overhead lighting and was in a basement. Without dollar store lamps, I would have been conferencing in the dark. I shudder to admit this, but one school where I taught online courses, and I couldn’t have even told my students how to find the physical library in my first semester. I was never on campus to learn. So of course I couldn’t point them to the resources they may need. (Note: They were not distance students–most of them could easily access the main campus library.)

Is it any wonder these teachers are unaware of what the library and what librarians can offer them? I was hardly aware of anything that went on outside of my class times and office hours. I share these details because I think it is important for librarians to not assume that everyone has heard us, that everyone knows what we offer, and that without concerted effort, word will get around to faculty. I currently work with a revolving roster of TAs, and have to remind myself that I am not nagging, repeating, or annoying [everyone, at least]. For each full-time instructor I reach with my presentations, emails, and reminders who has heard it a million times, I am reaching 3-4 TAs or new faculty who haven’t. That’s worth it to me.

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