Tuesday, May 22, 2007
My neighbor's son just graduated from high school, and he stopped my wife the other day and asked question that surprised her, mostly because he of the way he asked it. He is not an emotional guy, and he is not one of those people who needs to hear a thank you when he pitches in to help out someone else. Nevertheless, he began to tear up a little and asked my wife, "Do they ever let you know they are grateful for all that you have done for them?"
My children are in their twenties, so my wife and I have been through high school graduations and sending children off to college, so my wife understood his question and the disappointment that underlay it. My wife assured him that they do, eventually, in one way or another, let you know they understand all the hard work and love that went into raising them; it is just that they usually do not do it until they are long past high school.
I taught high school for a number of years before attending law school, and I saw the same thing with my students. A few high school students will express gratitude to their teachers during commencement, but the malls are not teeming with those students. High school students mostly go on to college and the rest of their lives without saying thanks to the teachers who gave so much time and sweat to teaching them skills essential to their future success.
After I had taught a while, however, I found that former students, five or ten years down the road, would stop by just to say, "Thank you for all that you did." The longer I taught, the more often that happened. One time, I ran into a former student who ten years earlier had taken every opportunity to let the teachers and administrators know that he thought that our school was a waste of his time. That day, however, he told me that he had decided to go into teaching. He told me he had spent some time coaching kids in a summer baseball league and that he had suddenly realized what it was we had been trying to do for him all those years before. He said he decided then that he wanted to spend his life doing the same thing and that he was now teaching high school.
It took time to hear those kinds of things from high school students because students generally have to experience success for a while before they start to look back over their lives to see who contributed to that success. Until I had taught for a few years, most of my former students just were not old enough to be reflective about the people who had been there for them when they were young.
I suspect the same is true for those of us who work in academic support. I have worked in the field for only a couple of years now, and I have already had a few students go out of their way to say thanks, probably because law students are more mature than their high school counterparts; but few have expressed that genuinely deep gratitude that I still hear every so often from my former high school students.
Law school graduates are busy celebrating the end of law school, preparing for and worrying about the bar exam, moving on in their lives and careers. Down the road, I suspect some will come back to express a deeper gratitude, just as high school students go back to let their teachers know that things are going well and that they hope they have made their teachers proud, just as children one day realize just how much was required of their parents.
I say all of this because at the end of the year, teaching can seem like a thankless job sometimes. Students are not necessarily grateful for all of their professors' hard work, including the hard work of those of us in academic support. If you are new to the field, you may be a little dismayed that your students are not more enthusiastic in their gratitude, and you may wonder if anything you have done was really worth it to them.
I know we are not in this work so that we can have students thank us one day, but the gratitude of students can let us know our work was not in vain, so the thanks matter on some level. Anyone who serves others wants to know occasionally that the work was appreciated.
My experience, as a parent and as a teacher, tells me that the thanks will come someday. You will begin to hear from students, often long after they have gone; and they will let you know that they see all that you did for them. Some, maybe most, will never take the time to say it -- some children never tell their parents -- but most will think it, and some will say it.
What you are doing matters, and it matters to your students -- if not today, someday. Keep plugging along, thanks or no, because you are changing lives. One day, someone will stop you on the street or come up to you at a reception or maybe even drop by your office; and you will hear how much all that you did meant to him. You did not help him so that one day you would hear him say thank you; but when you hear it, you will see your work through different eyes. (Dan Weddle)
Friday, May 11, 2007
Want to live in a beautiful town in the Northeast?
Roger Williams University School of Law, in Bristol, RI, invites applications for the position of Associate Director for Academic Support. This is a full-time, non-tenure track, administrative position. Responsibilities include providing guidance and mentoring to all law students by performing a wide variety of duties within the Academic Support Program. The incumbent’s primary responsibility is to develop, manage, and administer all academic support activities and programs for the School of Law. The Associate Director works closely with other constituencies within the law school, particularly the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Assistant Dean of Students, the Director and faculty of the Legal Writing Program, the Writing Specialist, the Bar Training Specialist and the faculty in general. The Associate Director for Academic Support reports directly to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
- a strong educational record, academic and otherwise;
- a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school;
- at least two years of law practicing experience;
- ability to work well with a diverse student body;
- strong teaching, interpersonal and counseling skills;
- ability to work collaboratively with faculty and staff;
- ability to manage multiple priorities under deadlines;
- managerial and supervisory experience;
- accessibility to Senior Staff and students during and outside of normal hours of law school operation; and
- the ability to handle highly sensitive matters with complete discretion.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Every August, I watch a new crop of first-year students milling around, waiting for orientation activities to begin. Some look confident, others a little anxious; some talk, and some sit quietly, avoiding conversations; some seem nonchalant, others cautiously excited. As a group, they seem ready for what's coming as their first year begins.
And I always think to myself, "They're about to get hit by a train, and they don't even know they're on the tracks."
It is true, of course. They are about to be hit by a train they have not anticipated, even if someone has warned them ahead of time. Until you have been to law school, you just can't get it. You can know it will be challenging; you can know that it will take hard work and long hours. But you can't really know what is about to hit you until it hits you.
Some might say that law school itself is the train, driven by professors who delight in driving it over unsuspecting students who cannot possibly hope to compete with scholars that have devoted much of their adult lives to mastering their particular areas of law. Students understandably believe that to be so, and many lawyers believe it was true of their own law school experiences.
I do not think the train is law school itself, however. I cannot deny, of course, that some law professors have a sadistic streak or a simply arrogant streak that leads them to belittle those who cannot play at the same level as they. Those professors, in my experience at least, are a small minority. Most law professors genuinely want their students to learn; and while they may be demanding teachers, they are not deliberately cruel.
So what is the train that runs over first-year law students? It is the law itself. The law demands students to develop new thinking skills, new learning strategies, new attitudes about the complexities of life, and a new respect for the pitfalls of shallow reasoning. The law requires an intellectual humility at the outset because it constantly engages perplexing but important questions of justice. The law requires precision and care in the balancing of rights and duties, responsibilities and harms. It grants no room for sloppy or cavalier thinking.
It may seem that law school is the culprit, but it seems so only because law school provides for most students their first encounter with the demands of the legal profession. The train that hits them is an unavoidable and exceptionally challenging learning process qualitatively different from much of what they have encountered in their schooling to that point.
The good news, however, is that they will master the law, insofar as one may do so in three years. By the end of their law school careers, they will have caught the train that hit them, and they will have learned not only how to ride it; they will have learned how to drive it. In a short three years, they will have gone from generally dumbfounded and often shell shocked to generally competent and appropriately confident in the very endeavors that seemed so daunting in the first months of law school.
As a result, at commencement I am able to sit back and think, "Ladies and gentlemen, the train is yours." (Daniel Weddle)
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Several people have sent me items that relate to students studying law. So, I thought I would share them with you. Natalie Tarenko, Texas Tech School of Law's Writing Specialist, sent me two offerings:
- Repetition is the mother of learning. Russian proverb
- Skill is not won by chance. Growth is not the sport of circumstance. Skill comes by training; and training, persistent and unceasing, is transmuted into habit. The reaction is adjusted ever to the action. What goes out of us as effort comes back to us as character. The alchemy never fails. 'Let no youth,' says James, 'have any anxiety about the upshot of his education whatever the line of it may be. If he keep faithfully busy each hour of the working day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out . . . .' The main quotation is from a 1925 commencement speech at Albany Law School by Justice Cardozo titled "The Game of the Law." Cardozo attributes the inner quotation to James, probably Henry or William.
Norman Otto Stockmeyer, Professor Emeritus, from Thomas M. Cooley Law School shared with me the following quotes from his TWEN site:
- Writing is thinking made visible. Joe Kimble
- The beginning of knowledge is learning to call things by their proper names. Chinese proverb
- The point of a question is to get you to think, not simply to answer it. What Smart Students Know
- You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
- Assumpsit happens (Prof. Stockmeyer teaches Contracts.)
- If you can't say it clearly, you don't understand it. John Searle
- To know the law is not merely to understand the words, but as well their force and effect. Justinian
- We do brain surgery here....You enter with a skull full of mush, and leave thinking like a lawyer. Professor Kingsfield in Paper Chase
- Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself. Chinese proverb
- There are no answers without questions. Fidelity Investments advertisement
- "Learn" is an active verb. Dennis Tonsing's 1,000 Days to the Bar - But the Practice of Law Begins Now
- Out of the facts arises the law. Old adage
No doubt, all of you could add more sayings to the collection! (Amy Jarmon)