Skip to content

What makes a teacher?

July 12, 2022

Several years ago a librarian colleague said, “I teach, but I don’t teach, you know?” in a conversation about using peer observation to reflect and improve upon our teaching. At the time, this statement did not make any sense to me. Even considering there might have been a little bit of defensiveness in response to the idea of peer observation, that statement confused me at face value. How can you teach but not teach?

It’s been years and I think I finally found the answer. Or at least a perspective on how some librarians feel about their identities as teachers. A couple of weeks ago, my summer reading group read the article “Am I a Teacher because I Teach?” In the literature review, Kirker cites a study of British librarians and how they viewed their roles as teachers. That study categorized the four identities as:

  • “teacher-librarians” (teachers who teach)
  • “learning support” (teachers who do not teach)
  • “librarians who teach” (non-teachers who teach) or
  • “trainers” (nonteachers who do not teach)

When I read this, I thought of my former colleague. Although I was a newish librarian at the time, I was very confident in my teacher-librarian identity. This was based on my coursework in graduate school, the enormous number of one-shots I did as an adjunct librarian at a community college, and the role I eventually held at that institution alongside my colleague. I have a new role where I actually don’t teach many one-shots and I still consider myself a teacher-librarian. Even though my former colleague had been in the profession much longer than I, they still did not identify as a teacher. They likely would use any of the categorizations above except for “teacher-librarian.”

One of the participant’s in Kirker’s study discusses how librarians are not teachers because students are not accountable to us in the same way as their professors. We do not give out grades, we don’t require excused absences, we do not develop the same connections with students as their semester-long professors, and, in the end, we are not experts in subject content. Besides the relationship-building aspect, much of this is true. But I don’t think this is how we should define our teaching identity.

I think the final section of Kirker’s article can help us consider our identity: “student learning is the core of teaching in the academy.” We may need more professional development and training in pedagogy or more support from our academic colleagues, like course instructors. However, if we are invested in student learning then we can consider ourselves teachers.

I’m interested in hearing from you about this topic. Do you consider yourself a teacher?

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: