Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wisdom of the Know-Nothing

When I started in ASP, I thought I didn't know anything. I was convinced I knew nothing. I remember the panic when I had to teach my first class during orientation, a few weeks after I had taken the bar exam.  Now, almost six years later, I still get butterflies before I teach a new class, but the panic has subsided. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I don't feel like I don't know anything.

After being a part of the ASP community for six years, I am beginning to realize that I may have lost wisdom from that time in my life when I thought I knew nothing.  Part of that wisdom was empathy. I didn't realize it at the time (my panic was too overwhelming) but I was feeling the same thing as my students. They too were panicked and overwhelmed by the thought of law school, convinced they knew nothing. I was better able to anticipate their challenges because so many of the challenges faced by 1L's are emotional, not intellectual. While they panicked over their first set of exams, I was panicking with them, afraid that I had not taught them the skills they needed to succeed. However, exams came and went, and the vast majority of my students succeeded. When I was talking them through the steps needed to work through pre-exam anxiety, I knew them first-hand because I was using them myself. I keep in touch with a handful of my students from my first year teaching, and they have gone on to be successful, happy lawyers.

Right out of law school, I was in touch with the exam-taking process. I knew the process of sitting down, loading up ExamSoft, and knowing when to stop writing and edit. It's been almost six years since my last exam, and it takes some time for me to remember the steps students need to go through to take an exam. There are quirks to exam taking that are fading from memory, quirks that can impact grades. I ask my students now how they go about taking an exam, but its no longer something I experience, but something I know from being told.

There is so much I know now, so much I wished I knew when I started teaching. I have broken down the exam process at four schools and with countless teachers, I have studied the how and why of law student success, and I have seen myriad student issues. However, there is a wisdom to being new to something, to being the know-nothing doing something for the first time. It's not the wisdom of experience, but the wisdom of inexperience. I would not trade what I know now for the wisdom of inexperience, but it helps to remember what it feels like when you learn a new skill.  Law school is still new to our students. (RCF)

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