Last year at this time I was busily preparing for pupils to return to school, and I was working round the clock as it was the first time I had done the “back to school” thing. This year, life is quite different. It’s me who will be returning to school in September, and my last day of teaching (for now) was today.
Over the summer I have been volunteering as an EFL teacher for refugees through the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. It has been a good experience, and I hope that my students have managed to learn as much from me as I did from them.
I will post more reflections on my experiences when I get the chance, but I wanted to take the opportunity to mention how classroom teaching experience is helping me to develop as a librarian. Working as teacher (albeit unqualified) in Syria and now the US has given me an entirely different perspective on education, and it is an experience that I wish I had before working as a school librarian. Although I am certain that I am making novice errors that a qualified, experienced teacher would not be making, I am glad that I have been able to get more direct teaching experience. If anything, I have developed greater empathy for my teaching colleagues and believe I will be able to collaborate with them more in the future.
I now have a much greater understanding of pedagogy, lesson planning, assessment, differentiated instruction, project based learning, and, of course, discipline. Most importantly, I have learned how to be flexible and how to adapt lessons if something goes wrong. This was something I struggled with when I first started working as a school librarian as I did not have any practical experience of teaching and had very little scheduled time with pupils. I concentrated so much on planning “perfect” lessons that I forgot to account for the pupils and how they actually learn and respond to teaching!
School librarians in the United Kingdom are in a particularly awkward position as they are not clerical staff, yet most do not have any formal teaching qualifications or training prior to working in schools. Most endeavour to integrate their library programmes into the curriculum, but struggle in the beginning as they do not have the requisite knowledge or skills to do so effectively. Therefore, I would recommend that education librarians in the UK at all levels try to get teaching experience of some kind early on in their careers. If you’re still in library school, speak to your professors about arranging a practicum or internship. For those currently working and with little free time, perhaps you could volunteer for a local tutoring scheme. Or, speak to your line manager about arranging a colleague mentoring scheme that will allow you to develop your teaching skills. If we librarians want to be taken seriously as educators, we all need to start making serious efforts to improve our understanding of learning and teaching.