In Memory of Teaching, Part 6: An Event


At some point during the past several years, colleagues reviewed me.  I wrote this.

My work as a teacher is described elsewhere in these documents,[1] but here I want to write briefly about myself as a learner.  These are general statements of belief and practice, but they are also the principles that describe my work as a scholar and professor.

  • The way to learn is to solve a problem that you give to yourself, discover for yourself, or use to explore situations where learning can occur.  Among the themes I have described steadily are the continuing, unfinished issues that have stayed with me for a long time and continue to lead me on.  As a teacher, I ask my students to work with problems of their design, not mine.
  • Critical thinking is an essential characteristic of professional practice.  In the classroom, I ask my students to describe their understandings of process, exploring options and making choices, and the patterns of relevance and response that lead them toward information.
  • Some of the most important parts of professional service – questioning, interviewing, articulating, responding, reflecting – might usefully be regarded as art forms, the crafting of inquiry as an artifact.  Beyond skill, tenacity and accuracy, our work should lead to an evolving aesthetics of our service and to an understanding of designed practice that aspires to the qualities of artistry.
  • Good conversations about practice are not accidental; they happen between people with aspirations for good work, and they can lead to real, practical insights for the design of services.  Encouraged to collaborate in public, to assist each other in reference rooms, and to grasp the relationship between interdependence and success in the giving of help, my students cannot learn the lessons I hope for alone.
  • The truths that guide practice are best crafted from experiences in situations that permit error, confusion, ambiguity and doubt.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, these conditions have an educative value that a good learner would not want to miss.  We may not always have help, support, advice, or time. Consequently it is important to experience situations where we learn to rely upon ourselves and our own thoughts; to test, reject and accept them, and to discover that we are typically more able than we think ourselves to be.
  • Perhaps our greatest challenge is to grasp the large part of our work that will always remain silent.

In Actual Minds, Possible Worlds – a book I have often asked my Cultural Institutions students to read Jerome Bruner describes his schoolteacher, Miss Orcutt.

In effect she was inviting me to extend my world of wonder to encompass hers.  She was not just informing me.  She was, rather negotiating the world of wonder and possibility.  Molecules, solids,  liquid, movement were not facts; they were to be used in pondering and imagining.  Miss Orcutt was the rarity.  She was a human event, not a transmission device. (126)

I think it is my style, and certainly it is my aspiration, to be like Miss Orcutt, a human event in the lives of my learners, among professionals, and others.  This is all I wanted to do.


[1] See also:  David Carr, “Tensions of Teaching,” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Volume 39, Number 3, Summer 1998, pages 195-203.

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2 Responses to “In Memory of Teaching, Part 6: An Event”

  1. Maureen Barry Says:

    You were certainly a human event for me, Dr. Carr. When I started teaching, you gave me confidence by advising me to teach my students confidence. And I thought, “now that I can do.” All of a sudden, teaching wasn’t quite so scary. Six years (6 years!) into my teaching practice, I’m constantly learning …no two teaching experiences are the same. I realized that being unfinished as a teacher and a learner is a (wonderful) necessity.

  2. Test For License Says:

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