Setting the Stage: Where Teaching Meets Acting
Being a teaching librarian comes with its unique set of challenges. We are constantly up against the challenge of being akin to a perpetual substitute teacher; no matter how integrated our library teaching curriculums might be at our institutions, we typically see students in a “one-shot” format. We don’t have the benefit of building relationships with students in the same way full-time teachers and faculty are able to do over the course of a semester. Because of this, we are asked to construct—from scratch!—a captivating classroom atmosphere that’s ripe for learning every time we assume the role of teaching librarian.
On top of that, most of us haven’t been trained as teachers or educators while pursuing or working in librarianship. But even in the teaching world, the performance aspect of teaching is often neglected during the education and training process. The parallels between teaching and acting are the reasons why one of the best things I’ve done for my teaching has been taking an acting class. It’s true! I had an epiphany when I realized that teaching was just performing in front of a student audience. What began as an uncertain adventure into an unknown discipline became a learning experience that completely transformed how I think about myself as a teaching librarian.
One of the key aspects of this transformation was GOTE, an acronym and acting theory developed by Robert Cohen, author of Acting One, one of the most popular textbooks for beginning acting classes. The GOTE system offers actors a framework for gaining an awareness of their characters by going beyond a basic understanding and developing a deeper knowledge around the motivations that determine the character’s actions. Finding a character’s GOTE by thinking about its different facets can help an actor to better personify the character they are portraying; the same can be said for helping us as teaching librarians better understanding our roles in the classroom.
Hip hop has become a part of the academy – Bun B is a frequent guest lecturer at Rice University, Questlove teaches at NYU, and, it turns out that there are more than a few hip hop heads in this library game. After going back and forth for the last couple months about how the lib game reminds us of the rap game, Kevin invited me into this space to share some of my thoughts on what lessons a librarian can learn from hip hop, and how this education might fill in some gaps in the current LIS curriculum.
I will be teaching two sections of a math course entitled Functions and Calculus at a community college this summer. While not new to the classroom, my experience with teaching at the college level is limited to several semesters as the instructor of record while in graduate school in Virginia, and I have never taught at a community college. In preparation for the course, it occurred to me that this experience would provide me with an opportunity to implement a particular policy that I have not yet had the chance to try, because in the past I have had to deal with coordinating lesson plans, policies, grading schemes, and syllabi with other instructors. For this course, I have free reign to construct and conduct the course in any way that suits me (within reason), and thus it provides the perfect opportunity to test out an idea related to encouraging student responsibility and autonomy.
My plan is to have the students grade their own homework and to report those grades to me. After each class, I will post the homework problems, and in a separate file, the worked out solutions. The students are to do the homework without looking at the solutions, and then use the solutions to grade their own work. They will then report how well they did and I will enter the reported grades in the gradebook. Students will be able to ask questions about the homework at the beginning of each class, so that I can give them feedback on problems they found challenging
Of course, it is a violation of the honor code to cheat on the homework, and the course contract and syllabus will say as much. On the first day of class, I will explain the homework policy, and then ask each student, one by one, to make eye contact with me and tell me that they will not cheat on the homework. This will serve as a verbal contract between student and teacher. In the rest of this post I will attempt to discuss the thinking behind this experiment before too many eyebrows are raised.