Maria’s Story and Guiding Questions

When I think about teaching burnout, I feel this sense of hopelessness, despair, futility. I feel disillusionment with my subject area, a sense that it really doesn’t matter, that it’s pointless, that I’m tired of clawing for space and recognition in the margins, and that maybe I should retrain to become an accountant or something.

I’m standing in front of the classroom, or in the back, or along the side–I try to move around a lot–and I listen to myself. I am bored by my own voice, by what I have to say. If I have to explain what a scholarly periodical is one more time…I don’t know what I’ll do. I came into the room with a plan, an activity, a vision for making this room come to life with interaction and energy, and, of course, learning. But sometimes I find myself ditching the plan, tossing my carefully-designed activity sheets into the recycling bin, and resorting to the easy boredom of lecture, of point and click, of autopilot. It is crushingly dull for me, for the students, but I do it anyway, because it seems easier than trying to engage only to be disappointed, or trying to truly believe in what I’m teaching in order to paper over the cracks I see creeping over the surface.

I am tired of everything.

I wrote the above in October 2014, a little over one month into my fall sabbatical, and while my perspective has brightened considerably since then, the disillusionment I felt at the time was very real, and I can easily drift back into that mindset.

I think there is something particular about library instruction for most people that makes it unusually conducive to burnout. In the one-shot model, there’s so much repetition and so little opportunity for relationship building. A reflective practitioner can actively and regularly try to modify her teaching practices to keep things fresh and interesting, but that’s really hard sometimes in a fall semester when you are teaching maybe 40 one-shots in prime instruction season, about a 6 to 8 week time span.

Revisiting this piece several months later brings up lots of questions in my mind. I don’t have the answer to any of them, but I want to grapple with them over the next several months.

  1. Do I need have a more rigorous self-care regimen?
  2. Do I need to build self-care techniques and strategies into my library instruction program as the coordinator?
  3. What does it say about our profession that we habitually do this to ourselves every semester, every year: we cram-pack our calendars with session after session after session, leaving everyone feeling exhausted and disillusioned?
  4. What if I started saying no to library instruction requests? Or, put differently, what if I started saying things like, “No, I will not schedule this session on the day you requested, because we already have several sessions scheduled that week and the librarians need a break. How about a different date?” Or: “No, I will not schedule a library instruction session for your class if it does not have have a specific library assignment.”
  5. What kind of resources does a library instruction coordinator need to have to foster a burnout-resistant culture of self-care in her program?
  6. What kind of support does a library instruction coordinator need from her director?
  7. What kind of work do we need to do in our field as a whole to make it more burnout-resistant? What do we need to rethink or modify or eliminate?

These are some of the ideas I want to talk about in this project, and I invite you to participate in this conversation with me.