Thursday, December 22, 2005
In addition to teaching Legal Research and Writing at Capital University Law School, J. Joseph Bodine, Jr. is a Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. Professor Bodine also supervises the death penalty externship program at Capital. The program affords Capital Law students the opportunity to litigate death penalty cases in the state and federal courts.
Professor Bodine sent us a comment on the posts of Professors Stillman and Jarmon about their takes on the role of academic support personnel. He writes:
I take great comfort in the recent comments regarding the role of academic support professors. My experience has been the same—at times, I feel that I am more coach, cheerleader, therapist, trouble-shooter, or best friend rather than a teacher. Then it occurs to me that the definition of teacher encompasses all those roles.
I believe that effective academic mentoring requires a holistic approach. What occurs outside of the educational environment is as important (sometimes more so) as what happens within the confines of school, and I see my role as helping my students manage outside stressors as well as helping them learn more effectively. That role, however, is challenging because my natural instinct is to serve as caregiver (once a court referred to me as “radically paternal” in a published opinion). And if one becomes too much of a caregiver, I fear that the effectiveness of teaching may suffer.
Professors Jarmon and Stillman identify what I think is the greatest challenge of being an academic support professor—where does one draw the line? And should the line be drawn at all? I take great care to avoid taking ownership of student problems or ultimate responsibility for their success or failure. At the same time, I embrace every opportunity to be, as Professor Jarmon calls it, my students’ chief encourager. I strive, like Professor Stillman, to help students keep a sense of self are so they do not become casualties of the law school experience. But I struggle to keep the necessary balance—can you care too much?
Thanks for the thoughts, Professor Bodine. (djt)
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
As exams come to an end, you probably have visits, phone calls, and emails from students who believe that they have done poorly. Some have good reason for that belief; they showed up an hour late for the exam and answered only half the questions, for example. But most just know they have not done as well as they had hoped ... they did not walk away from the exam room with that all-too-infrequent feeling of "Wow! I just aced that one!"
Frankly, those who have that "aced" feeling often have not aced anything.
The pessimistic feeling has little to do with not having learned the subject matter, or even with not having mastered the art of resolving novel, hypothetical, legal questions under extreme time pressure. Rather, it has to do with a dread of receiving ... yup ... poor grades.
Refer them to Professor Franzese's article. Say what?
Professor Paula Franzese, of Seton Hall University Law School, "gets it" when it comes to teaching. Not only is she a seven-time recipient of the Student Bar Association’s Professor of the Year Award, but she also has been named “Exemplary Teacher" by the American Association of Higher Education and was ranked the Top Law Professor in New Jersey by the New Jersey Law Journal. If you have had the pleasure of attending one of her presentations (example: AALS conference), you know why. She gets it when it comes to grading as well. She advises:
Law school modes of evaluation leave much to be desired. In a context where there is so little feedback, how one happens to do on a particular day on a three or four-hour test tends to take on an undeserved importance and magnitude. Some even construe their grades as the final word on their abilities and opportunities as a future lawyer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Students need to read what she has written.
Professor Franzese has given me permission to link to a copy of her essay, "On Grades" (click on this link).
"Let your grades inform your life," she counsels students, "not define, diminish or even exalt it."
Think about sending your students to this link as their grades trickle in over the next few weeks. (djt)
Monday, December 19, 2005
Yesterday, I asked my eight-year-old daughter what she had learned in Sunday school. She told me they were learning, “how to pray.” I almost laughed, but she said it so earnestly, I knew better. I think she meant they were learning the ancient biblical Hebrew that makes up the prayers, but I was happy that she hasn’t seen a need for everyday, informal prayer in her almost nine years.
Law students know how to pray this way. I am certain of this, not only because I witness what seems to be prayer in the hallways or bathrooms here at the law school, but more because I remember being a law student myself. I prayed: not to be called on; to be called on; for a break in the contracts reading; for a spot in the civil trial practice class. I prayed for good co-op jobs and favorable evaluations after exams. I prayed for snow (and/or blistering heat) on exam days. I prayed to pass the bar, and since there was a blizzard during the Massachusetts bar the February I took it, I think I may have gotten some of the prayers mixed up.
And it wasn’t a formal kind of prayer, more like a fervent internal chant: please, please, please……
As exams are winding down here, I sense a great relief in the building. The air is less thick with anxiety and fewer students are muttering to themselves. I can sense that their prayers have turned away from exams and maybe towards the generosity of the faculty members who are grading those exams. Perhaps their prayers are even moving into the holiday mode. I know mine have, so I pray that you all have a wonderful holiday season. Please, please, please…(ezs).