January 2, 2009
Thoughts on Getting Ready for Spring Semester
Happy New Year to one and all! I hope that 2009 will bring both personal joy and professional success. Some of you are gearing up for your arrival in San Diego for AALS. Others of us will be on our home turf either because of commitments or travel budgets.
Whatever your situation, I thought I would pass on some suggestions before you start a new semester of classes. As Rebecca commented in her last post before the holiday closings for our law schools, we can absorb stress from our students because we have compassion and "feel their pain" as they go through crises.
It is important that we continue to de-stress before our offices are busy once again. All too soon we shall be inundated with students in crisis over disappointing grades, probation status, and (depending on your school's rules) dismissal. If your school is like mine, I see a whole slew of new faces all semester long. Hopefully, some of the suggestions below will help your semester go smoothly.
- If you are one of the fortunate ones who can attend AALS, spend lots of time talking with your ASP colleagues to share your ideas and get new ideas in return. There is nothing more energizing than being with our ASP counterparts! One of the hallmarks of our group is that we support each other and want others to succeed.
- If budget cuts, overwhelming demands or other factors have you a bit blue about your job right now, seek out an experienced colleague who has been through a number of semester cycles and can be a mentor and encourager. If you are at AALS, ask a colleague to lunch. If you are alone in your office, contact a colleague at another school for a telephone chat. All of us have turned to colleagues during rough patches at one point or another.
- Get as much rest as possible. In most states it is the perfect time of year to climb into bed early, snuggle under the covers, and read a non-law book before dozing off earlier than usual. Research shows that people who consistently get less than six hours of sleep are chronically sleep deprived. So get those ZZZZ's with pride all semester long.
- Treat yourself well now and throughout the semester. You deserve it. Do not skip meals, even when your students are lined up outside your door and you need to eat at your desk some days. Get some exercise. ASP types often become sedentary because they are exhausted by the end of a day of multiple appointments, teaching, committee meetings, and so forth. Take your vitamins. Our students share their germs as well as their crises. Set some boundaries to protect your personal time. All of us come in early or stay late at times because of students in crisis or too many students to see in a 40-hour week. However, overworking should not become a consistent way of life.
- Start multiple "to do" lists. Have one for things that must be completed before the semester begins. Have a second list for items to be completed in the first week: daily lists for that week can be added if you work better with further specificity. Have a first month list prioritized so you can easily move items to new weekly lists. Finally, make a "wish" list for the things you would like to do when time or money allow.
- Get organized. Now is a great time to go through the stacks on your desk and discard, file or act on items. Restock office supplies. Delete old e-mails that are no longer needed from your archives. Start a list of projects for your administrative or work study assistants.
- Schedule times each month for uninterrupted creative thinking. Think about new ideas for programs. Think about improvements to current programs. Think about ways to be more efficient. Think about ways to be more effective. Think about new ways to present material for diverse learning styles.
- Schedule times each month for uninterrupted professional reading - most of us have a desk pile of ASP, legal teaching, and bar prep articles that never quite disappears because new items join the stack. Alternatively, choose one of the latest books in the field to read cover to cover rather than hurriedly dipping into it during a random few minutes.
- Schedule times each month for uninterrupted professional writing. Whether you write for an AALS newsletter, your law school alumni magazine, a journal submission, or the book you have always meant to write, fit in the time. If you have a new or evolving program, you may also use the time to prepare new handouts or manuals for your students and tutors/teaching assistants. Get fingers to keyboard so that your colleagues and students can benefit from your expertise.
- Count your blessings. Before you go to bed each night, think of at least three things that you did during the day that made a difference (no matter how small) for students or colleagues. Then think of at least three things (no matter how limited) that you like about your job. Then think of one small thing that you will improve on tomorrow. Finally, think of at least three other blessings in your life outside of your ASP world.
Best wishes for healthy and happy weeks ahead. (Amy Jarmon)