Friday, August 23, 2013

Teaching Snafus

This week all the students came back to school; it's wonderful. I am teaching Property for the first time, to evening students. Teaching a 1L course for the first time is nerve-wracking, although I have eight years experience teaching at the law school level, and five years teaching doctrinal courses. I had prepared all summer. I had retreated to my father's distraction-free vacation house in Vermont to cram for four days before the start of the semester, just in case there was something I missed during my summer-long preparation. I didn't feel ready (I never do), but I knew I had done everything I could to prepare for this course.

Yesterday was my first Property class. I had planned for an interactive class, exploring the origins of Property law and the theories behind the development of Property. I planned to use a series of images to show how legal positivism effected our understanding of property as a government-regulated set of rights and duties. And then...the projector did not work. A call to IT later, I learned that it started overheating earlier in the day, and it could not be fixed for class. I had 2 minutes, and I had to re-work my lesson plan, removing the discussion and the use of images.

Teaching snafus happen, usually at the least opportune time. It was my first class, at a new school, with new students. Yet the class was a success. It was not as good as my original lesson plan, but the students didn't know what they were missing. The students were excited to have a class that focused on discussion.

New teachers see veteran teachers with their class, but they rarely see the snafus that are a normal part of the teaching process. There is no magic to avoiding teaching snafus. I over-prepare for class, because I live in terror of losing my memory and having nothing to say to students. Although I wanted to use images to illustrate complex theoretical concepts, I knew the material well enough to teach it in myriad ways. Other veteran teachers prepare just enough, and trust the teacher-student interaction, fueled by intellectual curiosity, to carry them through any mishaps.

Trust your students. They want to learn. Even when a topic is new to you, you have more experience than your students. You have have enough material to impart the lessons they need.

New teachers...snafus will happen. (RCF)

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