Thoughts on teaching geology

As a write this, my GSCI 100 summer school students are taking their final exam (it isn’t cumulative, in case you are wondering).  The last six weeks represent my first full-course teaching experience since I joined the library world in 2005.

An image of the Marcellus Shale
An outcrop of the Marcellus Shale

It was fun and exhausting.

It was fun to talk about geology again.  I love my job, I love libraries, and I love the quest for information.  But my first love was the natural world, and the study of it through the lens of geology.  My librarian colleagues can attest to my occasional mini lectures on geologic topics (especially when they are trapped in vehicles on the way to conferences), but it was great to share more detail on these topics with a group of students.  I got to talk about climate change and the Marcellus Shale and flooding.  We talked about the recent earthquake that was felt in Western New York and the geology behind other recent earthquakes.

But it was also exhausting.  During summer school, a typical 14 week class is compressed into 6 weeks.  Which means that my preparation time for this class was compressed, too.  Because I haven’t taught an intro geology class in 5 years, and because the student’s textbook was new to me, I had a lot of prep work to do.  Most of my evenings (after my daughter is in bed) have been spent at my kitchen table on my laptop working on lectures and labs for upcoming classes.  Many nights, I have had to stay up late finishing grading or lectures!

Folks have been asking me, “Would you teach it again?”  I’ve said that I might.  Course prep for next time probably wouldn’t be as onerous, and the extra money is nice.  It is a great way to stay in the world of geology, and to share my love of this subject with students.  We’ll see what happens – the geoscience department may not need my help again.

What should my students call me?

During one-shot library instruction session, the issue of what to call the librarian instructor rarely arises.  Now that I’m teaching a geology class again as an instructor, the “what should students call me” question comes up.

Title options for the Royal Opera House website registration form
Title options for the Royal Opera House website registration form

Students often take the path of least resistance – they don’t call me anything.  Emails don’t begin with a salutation and there is rarely a need for them to refer to me by name in class.  I used to give extra credit on quizzes and exams if students could correctly answer the question “What is your instructors name?”  Fewer students than you would think got it right.

So far this summer, the students who call me anything seem to default to “Professor Swoger”.  Is this appropriate?  While I am the instructor for the class, and I certainly like to profess things, none of my official titles contain the words “professor”.  My “budget title” says Senior Assistant Librarian, my “local title” says Visiting Reference Instruction Librarian and the title on my business cards says Science and Technology Librarian.  We don’t use the term librarian as a title in the same way that professor is used.  “Librarian Swoger” sounds a bit odd.

Generally, I don’t correct students if they use the title Professor, but I do correct them if they default to “Dr. Swoger”.  I don’t have a PhD, so that title doesn’t apply.  I also have a sense that Professor also applies to PhD recipients or folks with the appropriate job title.

I’m kind of ambivalent about telling students to use my first name.  Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t.

Of course, I could be Mrs. Swoger, but I always look for my mother-in-law when that is used.  I prefer Ms.

So, when I send my class an email, how should I sign my name at the bottom?  Perhaps I’ll try to be consistent by the time the course ends, or I could follow the lead of my students and just not sign my name at all!