In this early moment in the semester (Although I did just hear a faculty member in the business school reference midterms happening next week. Is that… a thing?), I want to take a moment to share some advice I’ve recently passed along to members of the Teaching Librarians Community here at Indiana University.
When a professor reaches out for instruction, treat this initial contact as a conversation opener, not a contract or requirement. You don’t have to say yes to the class as a whole or yes to agenda as they’ve proposed it. Instead, you can see this as an opportunity to engage in a conversation in order to arrive at a compromise that satisfies you both. Generally, conversations are much like a reference interview: What the person is asking about is often not what they need.
Additionally, you’re the expert in research. When we are too much in a service mindset, we can forget that we are experts in our own right. We try to do exactly as we are told and believe that this translates to respect from the faculty. It might, but often the service mentality means that our professional skills are lost in subservience. When you engage in a conversation with a professor, you’re asserting your expertise and competence.
As a professional, you do not need to ask permission to teach class the way you want or to add things you think are important. Personally, I do not send my lesson plans to professors for approval. I do confirm with them the generalities of what I plan to cover and I do ask if they observe things in their students that they feel I should be aware of. I ask for feedback after the session and I am open to constructive criticism. But I do not ask for approval before I teach. When I teach a class I feel good about (not the one I’ve been told to teach or received faculty approval for beforehand), I’m automatically a better teacher. This translates to a better classroom environment, better discussions, and more learning for students. Invariably, the class is better, and the professor is happier. I even have data to prove it. At my previous institution, I gathered data among ENG101 faculty over the course of 4 years. They were happy enough when I did what they told me to do, but they were thrilled when I did what I felt was necessary. In other words, they were happier when I didn’t do what they told me to do.
When we talk about the challenges of faculty/librarian relationships, one of the most often cited frustrations of librarians is that faculty don’t “respect” us. While professional excellence is not the whole answer to the respect question, we certainly can’t have respect without excellence. So as we get into the swing of the semester, I challenge you to trust your skills as a professional and assert yourself enough to show them off.