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.
August 11, 2009
Playing Catch-Up During the Waning Days of Summer
Ahh, as always, it feels like summer hasn't really begun and we are back to the grind of the school year. This is the time when my procrastination is hitting me full-force, and I have to play catch-up for all the things I should have been doing since June, but somehow fell to the back of my mind (and my calendar). For all you many, many new ASPer's out there, here is my not-quite-complete list of things I am doing that need to be taken care of before the school year starts. After classes begin, your life becomes a maze of student appointments, class prep, and crisis management, and these things, while important, just don't get done.
- If you are brand-new and don't have a job description, write one NOW. You don't want to be shocked when review time comes and you get poor marks for not achieving something you never knew you had to do. If you weren't given a job description, write one and discuss it with your supervisor. If you have a job description, meet with your supervisor to review exactly what they mean for each item.
- If you are not brand-new…make a plan to do something new this year. Step out of your comfort zone. Think out publishing something if you haven't done so yet. Ask about teaching a hybrid doctrinal/ASP class. Rewrite your syllabus from scratch. Doing just one thing that is new will bring back some of the excitement you had when you first started in ASP. If you don't make a plan now, you will drift into old ways as soon as the semester begins.
- Take your secretary out to lunch. If he doesn't do lunch, buy him chocolates. They will be your savior on days when you feel like you are wading through peanut-butter and you can't un-stick yourself from the mess.
- Get in contact with any rising 2L students who are "at-risk" after their first year. If you don't offer a class or seminars for them, it's always good to "check-in" and see how they are fairing emotionally and mentally.
- Review books you might want to recommend to students. Many great books come out each year, and if you don't review them over the summer, you never will during the year.
- File and otherwise organize. Unless you are compulsively neat, take a day to clean up and clear out the debris. It just feels better to start each year with a clean, organized office.
- Have lunch with any faculty members that are around that you haven't had a chance to meet. Many meetings turn out to be incredibly interesting. You would never guess where your interests and talents overlap with faculty and administrators you would think you have nothing in common with. Yes, some of the lunches are dreadful and boring (but those lunches make for GREAT stories at ASP conferences!)