Friday, August 14, 2009

5 Things to Remember at the Start of a New Academic Year

I will try to keep it short and sweet:

1) It's a new year. Leave last year behind, good or bad. New students, new experiences, and a new dynamic in the classroom.  Each class has it's own character. Each "class character" has it's own strengths and weaknesses (EX: whininess can also be vigilance; the class that complains about nonsense is also on top of details, which is an important lawyering skill).  Focus and encourage the positive characteristics, and model better choices to minimize bad characteristics (they are watching us closer than we think....)

2) Dress up on the first day. A recent study found that dressing in professional attire on the first day makes an impression. The study found that you don't need to keep it up if it's not you; by the sixth week, professorial sartorial choices made no impact on student impressions of the class. I, personally, choose to dress in suits or dresses when I am with law students or pre-law students; I want to model that they are choosing to join a profession, not a country club. But I know of extremely successful professors who are much more relaxed and convey the seriousness of the profession.

3) Show up at orientation, even if you don't have to.  Dean Gail Agarwal, now of KU Law, was my Torts professor. She was at the first day of orientation, at 7am, in the blazing-hot Carolina sun. She did not have to be there...but everyone from my Torts section remembers that she was there, with a big smile. Mike McCann, while a visiting professor at BC Law last year, drove up for the day to be at Vermont's orientation; colleagues who have to be at orientation notice and remember their peers who show up. The students remember too, and it makes a difference. 

4) Bar results start coming out simultaneously with orientation (exceptions being the big states--CA, NY, MA-- which tend to release results later in the semester).  When the bar results come out for your state, be there for the ones who did not make it. Congratulate the ones that did pass the bar.  Listen to their stories. Be a cheering section and a shoulder to cry on.

5) Remember your first day of law school.  Remember the butterflies. Feel the excitement. I think we should get sucked into the whirl of energy at the start of the year. I remember thinking that the first day of law school was the first day of my "real" life (although I was a second-career law student with a master's degree).  And in many ways, it was the start of a new life.  We, as law professors, and as ASPer's, get to experience something that is only shared by kindergarten teachers and med school professors. It is magical.

(RCF)

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