Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Ten Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Mental
Approach to Law School
These first five tips should be viewed as advice to new students. Certain aspects of the law school experience are out of a student’s control and may not be subject to change. Therefore, these tips emphasize areas where students do have control, and suggest ways for them to perform up to their potential.
1. Stay balanced – Law school will be, and should, an important part of every student’s life. Keep in mind, however, that you are more than a law student. All students have multiple facets to their personalities that must be honored throughout their time in law school.
2. Exercise – At times, law school will be a mentally draining experience. Physical exercise can be the perfect way to recharge your batteries after a taxing day. You’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel after 30 – 60 minutes of exercise clears the cobwebs from your mind.
3. Remember that you are not your grades – Too often students define themselves by the grades they receive in law school. If all students feel that they have to finish in the top 10% of the class, then 90% of the class will judge themselves as failures.
4. Do your best – Do not judge yourself as a law student based on the number of “A’s” you receive. Instead, ask yourself whether you have done your best. If this advice sounds too “new agey” for your tastes, then consider this advice from a more analytical perspective. If you have done your best, by definition there is nothing else you could have done. It would be illogical to expect anything more from yourself then the best you have to give.
5. Be confident because you’ve earned the right – If you have done your best throughout the year, then walk into your examinations confident that will you perform up to your capabilities. If you done your best in terms of preparation, then you have earned the right to be confident in the outcome of your exams.
Professors control their classroom, and by extension they have a great deal of control as to how students experience law school. These suggestions are ways in which faculty can help promote the mental health of their students while maintaining harmony with their pedagogical choices.
1. Know who your students are – Law school can be an extremely impersonal experience for most students. Many come from educational backgrounds that emphasize small classes and frequent contact with faculty. In contrast, over 100 students are enrolled in typical classes during the first year of law school. Classes of this size serve to distance faculty from their students and can promote feelings of being lost in the crowd.
a. Learn their names – Learning the names of over 100 students is no small task, but devices such as name placards can help.
b. Encourage students to visit during office hours – Take time throughout the semester to encourage students to utilize your office hours to ask pertinent questions or to simply get to know you. All faculty members announce office hours at the start of the year, but regular reminders as to your availability can go a long way towards promoting a more welcoming academic environment.
c. Use technology to your advantage – Even in classes with large enrollments, technology can be an effective way or reaching out to students on a more personal level. E-mails to the entire class that provide encouragement and advice, as opposed to reminders about due dates or changes to the syllabus, are an outstanding way of maintaining contact with students. Similarly, scheduled web chats where students ask questions to their professors and each other can help promote learning and alleviate stress.
d. Schedule meetings with study groups – Setting aside certain office hours for meetings with student study groups helps maximize the use of a professor’s time and also allows more introverted students an opportunity to meet with their professors in a less intimidating environment.
2. Use frequent and varied assessment tools – Increasing the number and type of assessments that professors perform over the course of the year serves two important purposes. First, students are less likely to experience extreme stress during any single examination if professors provide additional assessment opportunities. From a pedagogical standpoint, more frequent and varied evaluations provide professors with a more accurate assessment of each student’s abilities.
3. Provide frequent and individualized feedback – While it is extremely difficult to provide students with individual feedback, the benefits are considerable. Without individualized feedback, students are more likely to feel lost or to inaccurately assess their performance to date. In this context, knowledge empowers students by giving them information they can use to alter their approach or can be the impetus for seeking additional help. Importantly, faculty can also assess whether the class as a whole has absorbed key concepts
4. Be aware that words have power – In law school, students tend to assign a high level of important to everything their professors say. Offhand comments can have a devastating impact on a student’s psyche disproportionate to what the professor actually said. Professors who wield this power carefully, however, can send important messages as to the value of every student’s opinion.
5. Emphasize goals that are within each student’s control – Highlighting grades and honor boards places undue emphasis on extrinsic goals that are, at least in part, outside of a student’s control. In contrast, goals such as achieving one’s potential are within a student’s control but still require the best that each student has to offer.