July 18, 2008
Who we are and why
Summer is one of the few times in the year when I can reflect a bit about the past year, the upcoming year, improvements that I would like to make, and my reasons for being an academic support professional. Although I am still very busy with projects and teaching in our summer program, I have enough of a "breather" to look beyond the usual hectic rush of events.
It is actually this period of summer reflection that always recharges my batteries and gets me excited about the "new crop" of 1L students and the returning 2L and 3L students. Although none of us in ASP will probably have a "perfect score" of graduation and bar passage for every student with whom we have worked along the way, we can use this time to think about the successes that we have been a part of over the year and prior years.
Each one of you will have countless reflections that will make you realize that you have an impact every day on law student lives. If you doubt your impact, just take an inventory of students whom you have helped:
- The new 1L students who came up to talk with you after your Orientation session because they knew you would help when they were too embarrassed to ask someone else their questions.
- The 1L students who came to you for advice during the first few weeks of school because they were feeling overwhelmed.
- The 1L students who arrived in a panic before their exams and needed you to calm them down.
- The non-traditional students who came to you to work on time management so they could excel in law school and still have family time with their spouses and children.
- The discouraged students who felt better after some suggestions and words of encouragement from you during an appointment, in the student lounge, or in the hallway.
- The probation students whom you told that you believed in their being able to improve their grades.
- The probation students whom you congratulated on their hard work while you met with them throughout the semester.
- The excited probation students who came to tell you they got off probation.
- The excited probation students who came to tell you that they had gotten their first "B" or "A" grades.
- The ex-probation students who still come by for advice on specific study problems.
- The 3L graduates who stopped by to say thank you for your support and advice during their three years.
- The 3L graduates who walked across the stage and you remembered helping them through a tough semester, tough course, or life crisis.
- The bar studiers who came to ask for your suggestions on how they could study more effectively and efficiently.
- The bar studiers who have stopped by for some extra encouragement in these final weeks.
- The law students who have invited you to their weddings because you were a big part of their law school careers.
- The law students who bring by their babies for you to meet.
- The law students who bring by siblings or friends who will be 1L's to meet you so that they can get started right.
- The practicing attorneys whom you advised as law students who come up to you to talk about their practice and their lives.
- The countless others that you remember helping who may never say thank you, but whom you know that you had an impact on during a conversation.
I love being an ASP person. To me, my job is a blessing every day. My law students make it all worthwhile even when other areas of working at a law school may have some downsides (fill in the blanks for your institution: budget, status, group dynamics, etc.). (Amy Jarmon)
July 13, 2008
New beginnings and the shock of law school
We had the welcome dinner last night for our Summer Entry Program students. These students are admitted through a one-month intensive course, Introduction to Legal Studies. The course is graded and is a two-credit elective.
Each student is admitted through a competitive process for this small class which focuses on students whose admissions files suggest great potential to succeed in law schol, but whose LSAT scores are not among our highest ranks for the 1L class. Usually, these students have high undergraduate grade point averages and many other accomplishments.
Last night as administrators and faculty gathered to greet these students, there was a sense of excitement in the air. As everyone in the room introduced themselves, these new 1L's got to know us and vice versa. Each table had 1 or 2 SEP students with the other seats taken by those of us who were old hands (including three 2L Teaching Assistants who had previously been through SEP).
As I sit here in my office putting finishing touches on the first week's lecture and discussion materials, I feel that "new school year" glow. There is always something very energizing about new beginnings. There is so much promise and assuredness for all involved.
I spend several hours with them the first day discussing the differences between law school and other educational experiences and the changes that they will need to make in their study habits. By the end of the second day, most of the students will have realized that there is a great deal of reading and the standards are higher than in their prior education. The TA's do a review session before the first exam on Friday. However, the first exam is always a shock because it is comprehensive and requires analysis as well as memorization.
I'll spend next weekend grading. And then, I'll start meeting with each student to discuss the results. There will be stunned looks from those who never received any grades except "A's" before now. There are usually some tears. I'll spend a great deal of time giving encouragement and reminding each student that it is one grade in multiple grades over the next four weeks. In addition to my individualized attention and detailed comments on the exam, TA's will also provide individual tutoring for those students who did not grasp the material sufficiently.
Part of me wishes that I did not have to give grades. However, I also know that my students need feedback to understand what they have grasped and what they have not. So, I walk the line between the reality of their performance (if weak) and the importance of their realizing that they can succeed if they make the changes necessary to succeed.
I would feel better if all of the students who do poorly on the first exam do so because they did not take the week's work seriously; however, only a few of the poor grades result from that attitude. For most who receive their first bad grades, they made the same mistakes that professors see on fall practice exams. At least, I have the knowledge that they are learning lessons now which if taken to heart can help them succeed in the fall semester rather than end up on probation in January.
The SEP students have a special place in my heart because they are often from disadvantaged backgrounds - whether economically or educationally or both. When I watch them cross the stage at graduation, I feel like my own children are graduating. And, when I see them later as practicing attorneys, I feel an almost parental pride in their accomplishments.
So, the next four weeks are especially important to me because I want all of my SEP students to succeed. I'll easily work fifteen hours a day on class prep and grading. It will be exhausting. So, I plan to go home now and enjoy the last few hours of "the glow." (Amy Jarmon)