Sunday, September 16, 2018
We are finishing our fourth week of classes for all students and the fifth week of Torts for 1L students (they started Torts during orientation week). Multiple 1L students have been in my office the last 2 weeks stressing over the amount of work and their struggles to comprehend the material. Many of them have been comparing themselves to "everyone else." They are convinced that they are the only ones who are confused, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and chips-and-coffee-fueled.
When I reassure them that they are not "the only ones" and that "everyone else" is not leaps and bounds ahead of them, I see a glimmer of hope. They are not yet convinced, but they are willing to take a deep breath and regroup.
Each student's concerns are somewhat different. We unpack what is going on, and most often make future appointments to address specific topics (time management, learning preferences, reading/briefing, etc.). Here are some of the things we may discover with different students when we start to unpack the overwhelmed responses to the situation:
- The student does not fully account for the newness of law school: a new language, a new way of thinking, a new way of questioning, a new way of writing, and a new professional experience.
- The student has always been one of the brightest immediately in a new course and suddenly is not.
- The student's prior education has not been very challenging and did not require much time and effort to get high grades.
- The student believes that "fast is best." Finishing before everyone else has been the student's measure for success in learning. Suddenly the student is painfully slow.
- The student has lost perspective of what is needed for a course and is overworking (capturing trivia, reading multiple study aids, reading string cites and note cases in full).
- The student believes that everyone else is grasping the classes in less time, with less work, and at greater depth.
- The student believes every classmate who brags s/he understood the 25-page assignment in 30 minutes or never studies evenings and weekends.
- The student forgets that judicial opinions are not written for law students, that not all questions have right answers, and that edited opinions may skip paragraphs linking ideas.
- The student is preparing for either case understanding or synthesis but not both so that some questions are always "from left field."
With each student's appointment, I am once again reminded of what it was like to be a fall semester 1L without an academic support professional to help. The good news is that they already know more than 5 weeks ago (if they just look back), they will know far more in another 5 weeks, and at the end of the 1L year they will be amazed at themselves. (Amy Jarmon)