Public. Academic. School. Special. All librarians are teachers.
Do you think of yourself as a teacher or a librarian? Or do you see yourself as a librarian who also teaches? What do your non-librarian colleagues think? How do they perceive your role as a teacher vs. your role as a librarian?
Self-identifying as a teacher is an important part of taking on the teaching role.The concept of teacher identity is derived from work by Lave and Wenger on identity in learning. They have suggested that identity in learning comes from gaining new knowledge and skills, as well as participation within a community of practice. In this sense, learning to become a teacher (and self-identifying as a teacher) comes not only from learning how to teach – whether formally or informally – but also how you practice that teaching within an organization, and how others perceive you as a teacher.
For librarians, teacher identity can be a tough thing to develop. First of all, librarians do not often benefit from formal training in teaching (with the exception of school librarians). Secondly, librarians can face additional barriers in developing teacher identity if the organizational culture they practice in does not recognize or understand the importance of their teaching role. Thirdly, students also need to perceive the librarians as teachers (they usually don’t).
So what do you do? How do you develop a teacher identity as a librarian when faced with so many barriers? I’ll tell you what worked for me:
- Formal training. Taking classes in educational theory and pedagogy helped me to reflect on my own teaching practices. I learned what I was doing right, and I learned what I was doing wrong. I also learned to speak the language of teaching, which changed others’ perceptions about my knowledge as a teacher, resulting in an improvement of my own self-image as a teacher.
- Community of practice. For me, the development of teacher identity grew as I became more involved in the ed tech community. In other words, I had to step out of the librarian community of practice in order to really gain a teacher identity.
Now that I self-identify as a teacher (and for the first time I can truly say that), I have stepped back into the librarian community as part of the blended librarian community. As I bring my own teacher identity into the blended librarian community, my hope is to mentor and inspire current and future librarians to grab hold of their own teacher identity. This blog is part of that process.
Developing a teacher identity as a librarian is not easy, especially because of the external perceptions (and sometimes negative stereotypes) that librarians face. Teacher identity is more than just describing yourself as a teacher. It’s both genuinely seeing yourself as a teacher and being seen as a teacher by others. Someday I hope that pre-service librarian training takes into account teacher identity, just as pre-service teacher training does today. It will, if I have anything to do with it!