May 6, 2006
A Day to Savor
My wife gave me a ring the day I graduated from law school. I had never had a class ring before and had never really cared about having one until then. After three years of law school, however, I wanted that one.
It symbolized all that we had given up and all that I had poured into obtaining that degree. It reminded me that I had not been fooling myself when I decided to take on law school, that I had really been able to do it after all. It reminded me of the faith my wife had shown in me over those three years, never wondering if we had done the right thing or if I would do well.
During the bar exam, I deliberately stopped every so often, looked at the ring, and told myself, "Even if I fail this exam and never get to practice law, I earned that law degree and that fact can't change."
For those who never doubted their ability to succeed in law school, they will probably find it tough to relate to such feelings. But I didn't enter law school sure of my success, and even at the end I couldn't shake that "smoke and mirrors" feeling, that feeling that I somehow I had been getting away with something all along and that eventually I'd get caught and that everyone would finally know that I had no business going to law school.
In a couple of hours, I will watch another class walk across the stage to receive their diplomas and hoods. It will be their turn to bask in that glow of success that attends such ceremonies. Many of them, I suspect, will marvel, as I did when I graduated, that it all worked out, that law school wasn't beyond them after all. They will all be able to drop the anxiety and stress of the past three years and take a moment to relish the fact that they have earned law degrees and that nothing can change that fact.
The bar exam will be here soon enough, and those first years of practice will be upon them, with all the same fears and self-doubt.
Today, however, all those things should be in the distance. For a day or two, they deserve to look back and see what they have accomplished and forget about the challenges to come. They deserve to relish the unalterable fact that no matter what happens next, no one can ever rob them of the right to say, "I earned a law degree." (dbw)
May 1, 2006
A Great Opportunity!
How does Boston sound? If you are looking for a tenure-track position as a director of academic support in one of the country's best cities, New England School of Law may be looking for you. Below is the position posting, along with contact information.
DIRECTOR OF ACADEMIC SUPPORT
NEW ENGLAND SCHOOL OF LAW, in Boston, is looking to hire a director of academic support to develop, teach, and evaluate academic support programs. We want someone who is dedicated to providing academic support; experience in the field would be an advantage. The director of Academic Support will work closely with the coordinator of our Charles Hamilton Houston Committee and with the rest of the faculty. This is a faculty position, with a salary commensurate with qualifications. Applicants should send a cover letter and resume to Professor Judith Greenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org.
New England School of Law is an equal opportunity employer and invites applications from all interested persons. (dbw)
Good I OAT!
Here in the still chilly northeast, exams start later this week. Since part of any ASP office's duties include some exam time cheer-leading, I had seriously thought of wall-papering our bulletin board and office area with notices that read, "Good Luck on Exams from the folks at ASP!!!!!" (I do tend to use way too many exclamation points!!!!!! So I'm enthusiastic; is that a crime?????????) But then I thought better of it.
Certainly I have not taught my students that their exam performance has anything to do with luck. Sure, there can be some luck involved; as in: "wow, I am sure lucky that last question had to do with adverse possession because I knew that one cold." There is absolutely no luck involved in knowing it cold.
Knowing the material comes from doing the reading, going to class and outlining. Knowing the material comes from studying the outline and spending the time to study effectively and efficiently (Dan is right, sleep is very important!). So I have revised my sign. Instead of wishing my students luck, I wish them this instead:
Good Organization of your answer!
Good Timing on the exam so you can finish it all!
So essentially, I wish them all Good I OAT. I think it may catch on; and it may lower your cholesterol as well. (ezs)
April 30, 2006
No Point Losing Sleep over Exams
During exam time, a strong pressure exists for students to cut back on sleep, exercise, and nutrition in order to devote more time to study. The reality, however, is that studying at the expense of such things is subject to the law of diminishing returns; it does more harm than good.
In the years I have been teaching, including those in which I was a high school teacher, I have found that my preparing for class in the wee hours of the night seldom produces a high quality class session the following day. I find that, while my lesson plan is detailed as can be and completely logical in each progression of thought or activity, I cannot seem to execute the plan with the vigor or flexibility required to make it work properly.
Rather, I find that I cannot keep the steps clearly in mind as I try to move through the plan, I cannot think quickly enough to respond effectively to students' insightful questions or extrapolations, and I cannot adequately assess my students' areas of confusion. All my energy is focused on executing this perfect plan, and I am too fatigued to adjust effectively when necessary, so I end up unable to execute the plan after all.
The plan becomes the enemy of the lesson, primarily because I am too tired to let the point of the lesson drive the plan. I just cannot think fast enough and hold the complexity in my head completely enough to do the material justice. I find myself staring at the plan from somewhere far afield of the point of the class session, wondering how the heck I ended up so off course. My students mostly just end up staring.
As a result, over the years my practice has become to schedule preparation to avoid late night scrambles, making room for the daily fires that often wreck schedules that have no room for slippage. I have accepted the fact that at some point preparation becomes self-defeating as it cuts into rest. I have repeatedly found that a good night's sleep will allow the success of a somewhat incomplete lesson plan while fatigue will generally sabotage a more complete plan.
I suspect our students need to learn that same principle as they prepare for tests. Studying into the wee hours for a test the next morning is probably worse than stopping short of the goal and simply being rested for the exam. A rested, alert mind is more likely to fill in the gaps than is an exhausted, slow-moving mind which is trying to remember all that was crammed into it at 3:00 a.m.
Perhaps the point is that if one is not fully prepared at 11:00 p.m., one will likely not be any more prepared at 3:00 a.m. First, what is absorbed from 11:00 to 3:00 probably will not stick particularly well; and, second, the fatigue created in those hours will interfere with applying even those concepts that have been absorbed, including those that were mastered in the days and weeks leading up to the exam.
Law school exams demand complex thinking that can respond quickly to difficult combinations of issues; that sort of brain work requires energy and mental agility, two things fatigue impedes. Being unable to sleep the night before an exam is not fatal, but it is not helpful either; so there is no point creating that situation on purpose.
Let's encourage our students to protect the quality of their thinking by scheduling rest, exercise, and good nutrition during their exam weeks. If they are behind on their flow charting or on internalizing material, they probably cannot effectively close those gaps in the middle of the night. At this point hard, steady work throughout the day combined with a rested, energetic mind on each exam day is the best hope.
An exam is one of those things you just shouldn't lose sleep over. (dbw)