Friday, September 25, 2009
Faculty Position Announcement
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Law invites applications for a full-time faculty position beginning Fall 2010 in the area of Academic Support/Legal Writing. Beginning and experienced teachers will be considered. Scholarship in areas related to legal education and/or research and writing pedagogy is strongly encouraged, as is leadership in state and national professional associations. The successful candidate will receive a twelve-month, non-tenure-track clinical faculty appointment subject to long-term contract renewal. Candidates should have outstanding academic records, as well as experience and demonstrated excellence in teaching, leadership, administrative skills, and legal research and writing. Membership in the North Carolina State Bar, or the ability to attain membership by the Fall of 2010, is preferred.
Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Applications may be sent to Ms. Alice Girod by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Ms. Alice Girod, UNC-CH School of Law, 160 Ridge Road, Campus Box #3380, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380. Applications should include: a cover letter, a current curricum vitae, and contact information for 4 references. Confidential inquiries are welcome. Such inquiriers may be made to Professor Charles E. Daye, Faculty Appointments Committee Chair - by mail: UNC School of Law, 160 Ridge Road, Campus Box #3380, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380; - by phone: 919-962-7004 or by email: email@example.com or to Professor Ruth Ann McKinney, Assistant Dean for Legal Writing & Academic Success, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the UNC-CH School of Law, please visit our website: www.law.unc.edu .
This is not about the stress and anxiety students are feeling, but the stress and anxiety we feel at the start of the school year. 5 weeks into the year, and many of us feel as beat-up as our students. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you light the candle (mixed metaphor, but I think it works).
Most ASPer's run themselves ragged at the start of the school year; orientation, new-student workshops, bar prep workshops, one-on-one's with nervous students. On top of these demands, many of us are also teaching classes of some sort. At the start of the semester, you think..."Okay, it will get better in a few weeks. I just have to hold out for a few weeks, and it will slow down." However, it rarely slows down. After the start of the semester, mid-term prep starts. Then mid-term crisis. Finals prep is right after you finish with midterm crisis. Throughout, ASPer's are grading and giving feedback, writing practice questions, serving as a resource to other faculty, attending committee and faculty meetings, returning (voluminous amounts) of email, and some have additional publishing and presentation requirements for contract renewal or tenure considerations. And if you are a new ASPer, everything just takes a longer amount of time to get finished, because you are on such a steep learning curve. To be in your first or second year of the profession, don't expect to work as fast or get as much done as someone in the fourth, fifth, or sixth year.
Lesson: It won't slow down until summer, unless you are involved in bar prep, and it never slows down.
ASPer's tend not to be of the personality type that takes time for themselves. We are the givers. We certainly don't do it for the money (in fact, many of us took pay cuts to be ASPer's). We do it for the satisfaction of helping people. But there is a never-ending supply of people to help. Recognizing this fact is part of the solution. During law school, a wise, wise ASPer told me that all of us got to law school because we ate our spinach before the chocolate cake, but in law school, there is a never-ending supply of spinach, and it's possible to never reach the chocolate cake. You just need to make a choice to stop eating the spinach and reward yourself with the chocolate cake. There may be spinach left on your plate, but you need to choose the chocolate cake.
Right now, you need to start making tough choices, choices that replenish you emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. No one will make these choices for you. Of course there is more to do, there always is more to do, but some of it just won't get done. You won't please all people. Doing more than you are capable of handling can make you a poor role model for our students, who need to see effective work-life balance. No, students won't be thrilled when you tell them you are taking a day off from meetings to focus on professional development, but they will learn much more from a refreshed, happier, teacher than a burnt-out, angry, exhausted one. You may not get support from your faculty and staff; some may resent that you are taking a break during the semester (many don't realize that you worked through the summer). ASP has a high burn-out rate because so many of us don't make the tough choices soon enough. We wait until we finish our first year, then we want to wait until after contract renewal, then after we succeed teaching our first doctrinal class, publishing for the first time, so on and so forth. Very few administrators will tell you to take a time out to focus on your own needs; their top concern is the needs of the school and the needs of the students. You need to explain that you are placing the needs of the school and the students first when you take time off, because you will come back giving 100% everyday, instead of 50% (or 30%) most days.
If you feel like you need permission, I am giving you permission. I am not your boss, your partner, a family member, or a colleague (to most of you). I am a concerned person who has been there, and done that. (RCF)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
It is with a sad heart I heard this morning that Charles Whitebread of USC Law passed away recently. Although he was a doctrinal professor, he was dear to the hearts of many of us in ASP; his book The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance is excellent, and anyone who has taken Bar/Bri will never forget his worderful, humerous take on Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law. He was one of the few people who could add levity to normally dry bar material.
Charles Whitebread, we will miss you.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
It is the heartbreaking time of the semester for some of my 1L students. Until now they have been telling themselves that "everything is new" and "just work a little harder" to assuage their feelings of being overwhelmed. But now, it is Week 5; they are still feeling inept. The hardest part is that they look around and see other students settled into the routine and apparently doing well.
What is holding some students back from "getting it" when others seem to be so at ease? Unfortunately, there is no one answer. I cannot offer a "magic bullet" to students who are struggling. However, I can explore several topics with them to look for potential causes and suggest possible solutions. For most students, working on some or all of the following areas will help them get re-oriented and start to have success:
- Reading: Active reading provides far greater benefits than "doing time" over the pages. Some students have had undergraduate professors who lectured on everything they needed to know so they would skim read the textbook. For law school, they need to read critically and process before class. If law students do not have access to an ASP professional to help with their critical reading skills, they can turn to Ruth Ann McKinney's book, Reading Like a Lawyer.
- Briefing: Students who skip briefing entirely are unlikely to gain depth of understanding. Students who overbrief by including everything become lost in the details and are inefficient with their time. Students who depend on canned briefs will not learn the skills they need for reading critically and briefing. Students need to balance the essentials with the details in their briefs. They need to use their briefs to help synthesize cases.
- Outlines: Undergraduate students may have merely regurgitated lectured material for A grades on exams. Multiple tests with no comprehensive final exam encouraged them to use a "cram and forget" cycle of studying. Outlines in law school allow students to cope with massive amounts of material and one final exam. By condensing their briefs and class notes into a master document with the essentials for applying the law to new fact situations, outlines focus on the bigger picture with enough depth for accurate analysis.
- Review strategies: Many law students do not realize that review each week is crucial in law school because of the amount of material to condense, consolidate, and learn with depth so that long-term memory is cultivated. Reading outlines cover to cover each week keeps all the material fresh. Intensely reviewing sub-topics or a topic as if the exam were next week allows the student to gain depth of understanding of specific material. Undertaking memory drills helps to transfer precise rule statements, definitions of elements, or methodologies into long-term memory. Completing practice questions for material that has been intensely reviewed previously allows the student to see what she really did understand and to practice exam-taking strategies.
- Analysis of fact patterns: Some law students do not understand that legal analysis is very structured. Opinion is not equivalent to legal reasoning. Kowing the gist of the law is not enough. A conclusion without sufficient analysis is inadequate. Practice questions allow students to apply IRAC (or whatever structure the professor prefers) until they become adept at it.
- Analysis of multiple-choice questions: Law school multiple-choice questions usually look for the "best" answer. Careful analysis of each answer choice is needed rather than picking by gut. Again practice questions allow students to apply strategies and analyze any patterns in wrong choices.
- Time management: National statistics tell us that most college students study per week less than half the hours that law students can expect to study. For some law students, a substantial increase in study time will increase their understanding. A structured time managment routine will allow them to get all of the necessary study tasks done each week: reading, briefing, reviewing before class, reviewing class notes, outlining, writing memos/papers, and reviewing for exams.
- Procrastination: Procrastination is a common problem for law students. Their procrastination may have had little impact previously because the workload was "doable" and the competition was not intense. Procrastinating students often have motivational problems. Breaking tasks into small steps and creating rewards for completing tasks are just two possible strategies.
- Learning styles: Law students may not understand how to use their absorption learning styles to advantage and how to compensate for their shadow styles. In addition, they may not realize that all four processing styles (global, intuitive, sequential, and sensing) are needed for competent legal analysis. Each student has two processing styles that are preferences and two that need to be cultivated. A variety of strategies can assist learners to use both their preferences and non-preferences well.
When all of the standard techniques and strategies to help students result in little improvement, one may need to consider whether an undiagnosed learning disability exists. A few 1L students each year are confronted with problems because they can no longer compensate for undiagnosed ADHD/learning disabilities in their academics. Unfortunately, only testing can resolve whether or not a student has learning disabilities/ADHD. One should not jump to the conclusion that every student having difficulties in law school has a learning disability, but in some cases it might be worthwhile for the student to be tested. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
We have recently had our student organization fair for 1L students. Board of Barristers is ending advanced competitions and is about to start its 1L competition soon. Our daily announcements are full of organization meetings with interesting speakers. Elections for class officers and student bar positions ended. Pro bono activities have been announced as well.
Most law students were very active in a variety of organizations during college. Many of them held multiple leadership positions concurrently. They received academic accolades throughout their busy social and service schedules. And on top, many of them also held down part-time or even full-time jobs.
The natural tendency for law students is to get involved. They have been "doers" all of their lives. High school graduates get into the colleges of their choice by being student leaders with solid academics. College graduates get into the law schools of their choice by being student leaders with solid academics. The resumes of our nation's law students are truly impressive. Orientation speakers regularly extol their entering classes with statistics that they are the brightest group of 1Ls that law school has ever had.
It is not surprising that many law students plunge into the opportunities for leadership and service full-heartedly. If they are married students, they often have a string of community activities added to their law school choices: assistant coach for a child's team; Sunday School teacher; Scout leader; and more.
Despite warnings during orientation sessions that law school will be different than past educational experiences, it is hard for many law students to think that the warning applies to them. Surely, it applies to other people who came with lesser grade point averages or fewer involvements.
When I talk with students in January who are unhappy with their grade point averages (whether or not they are actually on probation), I always ask them about involvements outside their academics. Many of them list a multitude of commitments. It is readily apparent that they were overextended in outside commitments and took their focus off their academics. For 1L students, it is understandable that they do not realize the balance that they need to keep. However, it is often upper-division students who make the same mistake.
I do not believe that law students need to be monks who never participate in anything outside the hallowed halls of the law library. In fact, I often meet students who did nothing but study 24/7 but still did poorly in their academics. So, having no outside interests also seems to result in less than desirable grades.
The variable that makes the difference, I believe, is having a balance between academics and life outside the law school. Students need to be involved in other pursuits than their grade point averages. Students need to have outlets that are totally unrelated to academics. However, they need to use moderation until they get into the swing with law school study strategies.
Here are some suggestions for law students to find the balance that will make them better people as well as better students:
- Choose at least one student organization for which you have a real interest or passion. Attend the meetings and social events regularly. Not only will you meet others with similar interests, but you will have an outlet from studying.
- Defer taking on any committee chairperson or officer positions until you have completed the first semester of law school and received your grades. If your grades are below or near to the academic probation mark, defer such extra commitments until your grade point average has improved.
- Once your grades are "safe," take on a committee or officer assignment about which you are excited and which will add to your enjoyment of law school. If the tasks seem like drudgery, decline and volunteer to help in some other way.
- Learn to delegate. A good leader is able to let others help with the work and does not hoard tasks thinking s/he is the only one who can do them well. Let your fellow members have the joy of serving and the opportunity of learning new skills.
- Consider choosing at least one service opportunity in the community each semester. By helping others, you will be grateful for the privilege of being in law school instead of bemoaning your miserable fate as a law student.
- Remember that family is important. You need to be there for family events and emergencies: your mother's heart surgery, your little sister's confirmation, your grandmother's 90th birthday party. Plan your studying ahead when possible so that you can be with your family without jeopardizing your grades.
- Realize your strengths and weaknesses. Determine how much you can do and still reach your goals for law school. Each person has a different capacity for balancing activities. Make the choices that are right for you. For one law student, it will be one major organizational position. For another law student, it will be pro bono work rather than leadership positions. For another, it will be family commitments.
- Learn to study efficiently and effectively. There are a multitude of study strategies that not only help you use your time more wisely but also help you get better results for your time.
Law students who learn the skill of balancing their lives during law school will have better skills for balancing their lives in practice. Isolation is not a positive choice. Burn out is also not a positive choice. My wish for every law student (and practitioner) is to have a balanced life with room for family, friends, fun, service, love, and work. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, September 21, 2009
Some ASP professionals have very defined populations under their institutions' goals for academic support. They may work with "at risk" students or probation students or 1L students. Other ASP professionals provide services to all law students.
A defined population helps the ASP professional target a smaller number of students; ideally this will mean more individualized attention for those students. A wide audience helps the ASP professional reach students who actually need assistance even though they fall outside any pre-determined "net" that would be cast by a law school.
When offering services to all law students, the ASP professional must find ways to reach the widest audience efficiently and effectively. The more varied the approaches, the more likely that the maximum number of students will be helped. Group workshops and individual appointments can be very effective. However, here are some thoughts on additionial ways to reach students who may not come to workshops or request appointments:
- Have handouts and packet materials on study and life skills available for take away. Students can easily obtain materials without face-to-face contact. Wall pockets or spinner racks are especially useful for distribution.
- Publish study tips through the law school media. Tips columns can be written regularly for the law school newsletter. Or they can be sent by e-mail on a regular basis to all law students. Alternatively, they can be posted on a law school intranet/internet sites.
- Prepare podcasts on specific study topics that can be posted on the law school intranet/internet sites.
- Have the AV department record any group workshops presented and prepare DVD copies. The copies can be made available for check-out through the academic support office or the law library.
- Register for a TWEN site for ASP. The site will provide a variety of ways to interact with students: posted handouts, discussion groups, podcasts, and other means.
- Pair with student organizations to present workshops on topics of interest to their members.
- Offer to present topics in 1L classes such as reading and briefing cases, graphic organizers, or exam taking.
- Periodically provide students with e-mailed links to outside resources on academic success: the Law School Academic Success Project, other law school ASP sites, practice exams at law schools, web sites on stress managament.
- Alert students to your university's main campus programs dealing with stress management, test anxiety, depression, or other topics. Programs are often sponsored by the Student Health Services, Counseling Center, or Recreation Center that can benefit law students, but would be overlooked by them.
Students appreciate access to information to improve their study strategies and life balance. They often will benefit from ASP outreach when they would not consider attending a structured event. (Amy Jarmon)