Reflections on my teaching research writing course.
The lamp in my hotel room is duct-taped to the nightstand. My window reveals a sparsely filled parking lot, I hurry in and out of the building so that the truckers down the hall can’t catch my room number. Live for five days on peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, metallic tap water and oranges. Reese’s Pieces from the vending machine. I feel homeless. Rootless. A transient pulled from her bed by the impending flood. I am a nomad wandering from bed to coffee to class. Repeat.
-August 19, 2010
What I have described here is a brief reflection on my first week-long, 3-credit summer workshop at West Chester University, where I am working on my MA in English through the creative writing program. As of today, I am 18 credits in. In order to earn these latest three credits, I gave up a week of work, my apartment, garden, kittens, friends, significant other, mail. I returned poorer, overripe tomatoes littering the yard, my boyfriend had jetted off to Florida, and I had to sort through a weeks-worth of church fliers, pizza coupons, and rip-off-scratch-off-car-dealership bullshit to find one treasured postcard from a friend. Damn you, Lancaster.
The workshop was called “Re-Learning Teaching Research Writing” and it was about how restrictive, meaningless, and intellectually stifling traditional research papers have become. I went into the class somewhat leery of my inexperience as a teacher (my “teaching moments” typically occur in library instruction sessions and in one-on-one research consultations with students) but realized that after being in school for 18 years now, I have certainly encountered these unappealing research assignments myself. Our two main texts were Bruce Ballenger’s “Beyond Note Cards: Rethinking the Freshman Research Paper” and Davis & Shadle’s “Building a Mystery: Alternative Research Writing and the Academic Act of Seeking.” In a nutshell, we have become so concerned with structure and formalities that we’re making student hate research writing, an activity that can not only be creative and fun, but helps writers negotiate authority, develop their own identity, and create new knowledge.
I have to say, I was very pleased with the classroom dynamic in this workshop. The majority of my classmates were practicing English teachers at the elementary, middle, or high school level and boy, to educators like to discuss! I think I adequately held my own in our conversations, and was able to shed some light on things from a librarian perspective. It also got me to thinking about many of the assignments I see when doing instruction for classes at Millersville… many of them seem to represent the traditional research assignment, overly concerned with conventions and number of sources. I am hoping to put some of what I learned into practice when negotiating sessions with faculty members as well as the general outlook I take when discussing research with students.
Another thing that struck me was the frequency that libraries and librarians came up in our conversations. Many of my classmates talked about how ill-equipped their school libraries are – many relied heavily on the PaLA POWER Library resources that have experienced drastic cuts. Others talked about how their schools do not have enough technology in the library for student use and their experiences with the digital divide. At least one school had fired their librarian due to budget issues and a number of other teachers told me about school librarians who made me want to apologize for my profession (librarians who were downright mean, unwilling to play nice with the teachers, etc). Many of these discussions were in the context of how access (or lack thereof) to librarians, resources and technology impacts the kinds of assignments that teachers can give their students, in turn impacting how well students can truly get to the heart of creative, fact-based writing.
Overall, while living in a hotel by myself for five days wasn’t much fun, I truly enjoyed this class. Particularly on Friday, when one of the teachers turned to me and said “Boy, I wish you could come be the librarian at my school!” ::Score:: Library scenester, challenging librarian stereotypes one day at a time…
What do you think about all of this, readers? Are there any school librarians out there who have had similar conversations? Have you ever taken a week-long intensive course? Did you love it? Hate it? Feel free to share your thoughts.