Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I read Amy's post on exhaustion, and I felt like someone was speaking to me. Then I read Amy's post on not having enough time, and I felt as if someone was answering my un-vocalized concern. Her posts inspired me to add to Amy's suggestions (which are all brilliant, by the way).
Like many of the students who make us want to pull our hair out, I am a "when I feel ready/when I'm in the mood" worker. I can't predict when that time will come, but I do need to match tasks to mood or I don't do them as well as they need to be done. I am disciplined enough so that everything that needs to get done gets accomplished. But emotional and mental energy play a large role in how I schedule my day and when I complete tasks. At this time of the year, my energy reserves are pretty low, and my stress level is pretty high. Scheduling tasks in a way that gives them the time they deserve without completely burning me out is critical to maintaining my own health.
- If I know I have a day of busy work ahead of me, I come in an hour or so early and try to knock a couple of high-mental energy tasks off my list as soon as I walk in the door. I know I can't do more than one or two of these tasks at a time and I need to psych myself up to get them done. Because these types of tasks suck the mental energy out of me, I choose to do them on mornings when I know the rest of the day will be busy, but not difficult.
- If I have a high-emotional energy task (such as an angry student) that I cannot choose to schedule when I feel most prepared, I find a close colleague who will give me a pep talk before the task. I am very lucky in that I have a number of wonderful colleagues I can turn to when I need someone to tell me that "this too shall pass" or that I just need to get through the meeting, and then we will go buy some chocolate.
- Don't fear the mental health day if you need one. It's easy to think of all the things that need to get done and convince yourself that it's impossible to take a day to take care of yourself. But you are no good to the students if you are ready for a meltdown. Last week, after driving 2 hours to a regional campus, and getting stuck in more than 3 hours of traffic on my way home, I chose to take the next day off from work. Did I have 100 things that needed to get done? Yes. Would I have been effective? No. I was exhausted, frustrated (I hate driving), and I had pressing personal matters (doing my taxes) that were weighing on me. I got twice as much accomplished when I came back to work the following day because I took care of myself first.
Keep your head up. Even when you feel like putting your head on your desk would be really comforting, or when the exhaustion makes you want to cry. Remember that smiling, even if you don't feel like it, can improve your mood. And we are all in this together, in an exhausting, but wonderful, enriching field. (RCF)
Saturday, April 9, 2011
This point in the semester is always difficult for me as an ASP'er.
I have so many student appointments that my calendar looks like a major airport with circling planes waiting to land. Not only do my regulars come in, but now is also the time for triage appointments. It is when I do crash consultations in the hallways, at the coffee pot, and in the parking lot. I regularly expand my slots by coming in early, eating lunch at my desk between appointments, and staying late.
Group workshops are still on the schedule. Hmmm, those handouts for next week need to be revised.
There are three application and interview processes that I am involved with in some way for student positions for ASP. It is great working with students who want to be Tutors, TAs, or Dean's Community Teaching Fellows - but the paperwork end is a drag.
Several major project deadlines are on the horizon. It seems that after 5 p.m. and on weekends are the most ideal times for those to get done. Ahhh, more administrative support would help - is anyone out there listening?
Of course, there is committee work. It is crunch time for those duties as every committee tries to wind down for the academic year.
And, I am teaching EU law: juggling student presentation appointments with finishing Power Points, writing my exam, grading assignments, and planning review sessions. I really enjoy my seminar students, but often shake my head at the extra hours needed in my day.
It is the time of the semester when I have so many coughing, sneezing, flu-carrying students sitting in my office that I inevitably fall deathly ill at least once. Ah, that puts me behind on an already crammed schedule!
There, I have that off my chest (literally and figuratively). So, I manage this time of the semester by doing what I tell students to do:
- Use windfall time during the day when a student shows up late for an appointment or the appointment ends earlier than I expected.
- Match small tasks to small time slots. Even 5 or 10 minutes can be useful for an e-mail or phone call or administrative task.
- Evaluate five or six times a day what my priorities are and how to re-organize my time.
- Work on major projects in small increments to get forward progress.
- Let no one task consume my entire day so that I do not get hopelessly behind on all other tasks.
- Negotiate deadlines to remain as realistic as possible in what can get done when.
- Cut out the non-essentials: what is mere frills, what provides little payback, what can wait until the summer.
To all of you getting tired at this point of the semester, I understand your plight. May your time and stress managment skills conquer! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, March 19, 2011
We write a lot about discovering student's learning and processing styles. But few of us spend a lot of time thinking about our teaching styles. We teach the way we were taught, the way that feels most comfortable to us, or the way we are told to teach by our employer. A handful of people change their teaching style based on what they learn at conferences. As ASPer's, we busy, and few of us have a lot of downtime to think about why we teach the way we teach and reflect on our teaching style.
I am using teaching style in the broadest possible way; all the things you do to prepare to teach and how you teach students. This is unique to every individual. Learning is a complex interplay between teachers, students, and students and peers. We all have preferences. We all need to understand our preferences to do our best to help students learn.
The one-on-one teacher: Whenever I go to a conference, I hear attendees talking that one-on-one is the best method for teaching students. It is assumed, not discussed. I have heard countless times "I could teach them anything, if I just had enough time to teach them one-on-one." No one seems to question the validity of the statement. One-on-one teaching is a teaching style, and one that does not work best for everyone. It is not true that everyone could teach anyone anything if they could just work with them one-on-one. It is a great method if it is your strength, but it is not everyone's strength. I a lot of former practitioners prefer one-on-one's because it is how they worked with clients. My message to new teachers is that they should think before they assume this is the best way to reach all students. It's not the best way, it is a preference. Just as we would not assume there is a best learning or processing style for students, don't assume one-on-one's are the best teaching method because that is what you hear from colleagues.
The student-group leader-teacher: This is a common way of delivering ASP at many law schools. ASP professionals are expected to teach students to lead groups of students. There are some brilliant ASper's who use this method to great success; Joanne Koren at Miami and Mike Schwartz at Washburn immediately come to mind. However, there is no one master method for teaching student leaders to run student study groups. If you are an intuitive teacher, teaching students to teach students is difficult. Intuitive teachers are ones whose teaching reflects the needs and the makeup of the class. It is a more spontaneous, reactive way to teach, although it requires as much, if not more, preparation. Intuitive teachers master the subject material so that they can change the direction of the class on the fly to reflect how the class is moving that day. If this is your teaching style, it is difficult to translate this method to student leaders. You cannot tell student leaders to master the subject material. Most intuitive teachers have significant classroom experience, and it is rare for a student leader to have the teaching experience to be intuitive with the students they are leading. Intuitive teachers can learn how other teachers teach student leaders, but it is not their preference. And there is nothing wrong with finding that is not the best way to reach students.
The classroom teacher: Not everyone is cut out to be a traditional classroom teacher. There are some magnificent, awe-inspiring classroom teachers in ASP and doctrinal teaching, such as Rory Badahur at Washburn or Paula Manning at Western State. If you don't prefer classroom teaching, it doesn't mean you aren't a good teacher. It means your preference may be one-on-one or leading student leaders. I find that there is a spectrum, at one end are pure classroom teachers, and at the other, pure one-on-one teachers. Most people are somewhere along that spectrum. The difference is in how the teachers use peer learning. Classroom teachers need to cede control of learning to the students to be successful. This is not something everyone is comfortable doing. You need to build trust between teacher (you) and the students, and trust between peers. This is a skill. It's much easier for student's to feel safe in a one-on-one than it is for a class to feel safe. Safety is critical to learning because students need to push boundaries in order to learn, to move outside of their comfort zone, and to risk being wrong.
Every teacher needs to do some of every type of teaching. However, everyone has preferences in how they work with students. My message to new teachers--there is not a right or wrong preference, no master method that is most successful with students. When a colleague, even a very respected colleague, tells you that they have found a method that works best with students, realize they have found their method that works best based on their teaching preferences. That method may not work best for you. You need to reflect on your skill set and your preferences. The method that is most likely to reach your students is the method that reflects your preferences and strengths.
I have a non-ASP colleague at the undergrad who is one of the most brilliant one-on-one teachers I have ever observed. However, this teacher dislikes classroom teaching, and finds it ineffectual at reaching students. This educator was reflective during the job search, and found a position that consists primarily of one-on-one instruction, with limited classroom time. I am fascinated by one-on-one methods because I greatly prefer classroom teaching, and find a full day of one-on-ones to be draining, and for many students, counter-productive. I find students understand much more from peer learning in a class than in a one-on-one. I find that students are better at translating their misunderstanding of material to each other than to me. My colleague and I both receive great evaluations reflective of our respective teaching preferences. Our student body overlaps, so we know that the evals are not reflecting student preferences (i.e., students who like one-on-ones going to the colleague, students who like classroom teaching to me), but our strengths.
My message to new teachers: reflect on your preferences and your strengths. Your students will learn best when you play to your strengths as a teacher. There is no one master method of reaching students. Just as we respect student learning and processing differences, respect teaching preferences. (RCF)
Monday, February 7, 2011
This is a call to everyone in ASP who has something to say, but is afraid to write. Most of us don't need to write for our job. However, if you don't write, it's almost impossible to move past "staff" status. There aren't as many writing mentors in ASP as there are doctrinal folks who can help junior faculty while they are writing. So I am writing about my writing process to let new ASPer's know that it is not them; writing is tough. But it's worth it.
I have been working on a major writing project for the last couple of months. I finally finished this weekend; I had to do the bulk of the writing on days off and weekends because my workload was too heavy to allow much writing 9-5. Finishing a writing project is both a relief and filled with anxiety. It is incredibly satisfying to be done, but then comes the intense worry that it's not good enough, a citation is missing, or that I forgot a topic essential to the discussion. One of the reasons I don't write as much as I should (outside of this blog) is due to the anxiety it provokes when I finish. Unless I have a deadline, I will never stop second-guessing my work.
Writing is a lot like running. I am a long-time distance runner (almost 20 years!). Even for the best writers, it's sometimes a grind. In both writing and running, it's hardest when you are out-of-shape. We generally don't think of needing to be "in shape" to write, but writing makes writing easier and more fluid. This does feel a little unfair, because when you most need to feel good about writing (or running) is when you are getting back after a long break. But that is when it is hardest and most painful.
For nearly two months I resorted to exhaustive, probably unnecessary, research because writing was too painful. I could not get more than a paragraph or two on a page, and I knew I needed 10,000-15,000 words. It seemed insurmountable because I had not written that much in years. I knew I could do it, but I could not remember how I did it, what my process was, what I did in terms of a timeline. But after two months, I found that my one-two paragraphs while researching out came to about 3000 words, and suddenly I had about 20% of the project done. And it didn't seem like I could never do it. When I would come back to running after taking time off due to illness or injury, it would seem like I could never get over the 1-3 mile range. And then, after a couple of months, I could hit 5 miles without stopping. And at five miles, a half marathon doesn't seem so unreasonable after all.
The second hardest time is when you get writer's block, or in running, when you plateau. This usually happens when you have been at it for a while. You become acclimated to the process and you stop responding. Nothing you do seems to make it better. This tends to happen at the worst possible time; when you need to get a project finished, but your mind is empty, or when you are training for a major race, and your legs don't want to cooperate. The experts say beware of overtraining, but work through it. It will break. This was were I was at about two weeks ago. I desperately needed to get past the 5000 word mark, but everything I wrote was terrible. None of it fit with the theme. I couldn't transition between topics. Every word was painful. But I knew I had two weeks, so I worked through it, and it did come together. But during that period, I probably erased more than I wrote. Through erasing and rethinking, I came out with a much stronger theme.
The last painful period for me is finishing up. As I said at the start, I never want to finish because I am afraid it's not good enough or dreadfully flawed. The easiest way for me to get over this is to send it out to be proofread. As soon as I hit "send" I think of five topics I needed to cover but forgot while I was writing. I would never remember what I needed to add if I didn't hit send. The anxiety of someone else reading my work, and finding it lacking, produces the adrenaline to put it all together. Quite honestly, what I send out to be proofread usually is lacking. It's not my best work, and it's not even very good work. In running, this is usually the period when I need training partners to keep going. I am in a pretty bad state about two-three weeks before a race, and I need companions to keep me going. I will not walk unless injured, so even when I hate running, I keep going because I am too proud to be the person who slows down the group.
In that last rush of adrenaline, I can usually knock out a substantial portion of the paper. The fear won't go away until it's published. In this way writing is still like running...you cross the finish line, and you immediately start planning your next race. In my case, I wrote three pages of a law review article while finishing my last work. Writing and researching made me realize how much more there is to say on the topic. So I started with just a heading. Then I jotted some notes about where I wanted to go with the topic. The I took a break from the major project and put in several more topic headings. There was no fear, no anxiety, as there is when I start writing after a long break. It was smooth. (RCF)
Friday, January 7, 2011
Do you make resolutions each year for changed behaviors that you wish to implement during the coming year? Most of us do. And statistically, most of us are not successful at those resolutions. Why is that?
Well, we may set too many goals. We include a long list of behaviors that we want to change that would overwhelm any one human being. Suddenly we expect ourselves to improve in ten or twelve areas at once - usually areas that we have always struggled with during our lives. We resolve to lose 75 pounds, get rid of all debt, stop smoking, never procrastinate, eat more fruits and vegetables, do a major cleaning every week, be nice to everyone in the world who isn't nice to us, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, save the whales, and .... You get the picture.
Our students often set too many goals at once as well. They tell themselves that they will get all A's, turn in every paper 3 weeks early, be President of six clubs, volunteer ten hours per week, work at the most prestigious law firm twenty hours a week, and do it all with full scholarships.
When we set too many goals that are all major changes or accomplishments at once, we become overwhelmed quickly. First, we feel pulled in a thousand directions and do not know where to focus. Second, we quickly realize our progress is minuscule or at least slow. Third, the moment we fail at one of the goals we are tempted to give up on that goal. Fourth, when we fail on one goal, we may assume we will inevitably fail at them all and become discouraged.
We also often set unrealistic goals. We want to make huge leaps in our lives instead of taking manageable steps that eventually will lead to that huge leap. We want to lose that 75 pounds NOW, instead of losing 1-2 pounds per week for however long it will take. We want to get rid of all debt NOW, instead of paying off one credit card balance at a time after we have cut up the cards.
Again our students set unrealistic goals. It is inevitable that my students on probation will announce that they will get only A's the next semester. Instead, they should focus on doing the best they can each day because it is consistent, hard work that produces good grades. Instead of declaring that every paper will be turned in three weeks early, they should focus on meeting each deadline for each stage of the paper on time or perhaps several days early. They should resolve to be a committee member or officer in one club and do an excellent job for that club.
We often fail to ask for help with our goals. We are more likely to succeed if we have help. Think about going to the gym - if you have to meet a friend there for a spinning class, you are more likely to attend. If a friend helps us stay accountable by pulling us out of the store when we get tempted by the $300 pair of shoes, we are more likely to avoid extra debt.
Some students feel ashamed of their weaknesses and avoid asking for help. But going it alone can be - well, lonely. If students align themselves with friends and family who will help them meet their goals, they will be more likely to succeed. A friend who encourages the student to read for class is far better than the friend who encourages one not to read or to go out for a drink. A sister who calls and asks for a list of what the student got done that day is trying to help the student stay accountable. Academic success professionals often help students with accountability by setting up regular appointments and asking the hard questions about the student's progress on academic tasks. Professors are happy to work individually with students who are sincerely working to improve.
Here are some tips for those New Year's resolutions that law students are contemplating:
- Limit the list to no more than 3-5 items that are truly achievable. Pick goals that one has a good probability of meeting rather than "pie in the sky" goals. For example, outlining every week in a course is achievable while making the world's best Commercial Law outline is not.
- For each goal, break it down into the small steps or tasks within the larger goal. As each small step gets crossed off, progress is made which serves as encouragement for more progress. For example, a paper can be broken down into all of the research, writing, and editing tasks.
- When back-sliding occurs, do not give up. Accept that everyone is human and get up and start again. For example, when one oversleeps and misses class, get the notes from a friend and move on - go to bed earlier, set two alarms, and get up when the first alarm goes off.
- Set up a support system that will help you achieve your goals. Ask family and friends to telephone regularly to discuss your progress, encourage you when you are having trouble, and praise you when you make progress. Find a mentor (professor, administrator, staff member, local attorney, or upper-division law student) who will actively support you in your goals. Ask fellow law students who are equally serious about changes in their grades/lives to team up as accountability and study partners.
Change can be daunting. Behaviors are learned. As a result, they can be unlearned. The longer a bad habit has existed, the longer it will take to replace it with a good habit. But, it can be conquered. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Every year it comes, and students aren't ready for it. It's the sickly time of the year. Windows are closed, germs have no where to go, people forget winter hygene (wash hands frequently, sneeze into your elbow), and students start to get sick. The sickly time of the year usually coincides with the panicked-about-exams period. Students who kept telling themselves that they have plenty of time to write those outlines, catch up on their reading, and prepare for exams realize that exams are coming, and they are not ready. Add in a bad cold or the flu and you have students facing a crisis. While it may not seem like a crisis in the global scheme of events, law students are not known for keeping things in perspective.
What do you do for your students when the sickly time of the year comes? First, bring out the tissues and the hand sanitizer. You don't help anyone when you are sick yourself. Next, help them create a plan. Not only does this help them see what needs to get done, but it also helps manage the panic. Students are no longer facing a big unknown, because they have a plan. If the panic becomes overwhelming for them, refer them to professional help.
While the advice is not ground-breaking, it can help you manage the barrage of emails and visits you get when students face sickness and exams in the same month.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Each law school has a different "fit" for the ASP staff member within its community. Some of us are contract administrators for 9, 10, or 12 months. Some of us are tenure-track faculty. Some of us have multiple hats: doctrinal teaching or legal research and writing plus ASP or bar prep.
At the law schools where ASP'ers are not full faculty members, they sometimes can feel a bit "out of the loop" from the faculty - especially if their offices are in isolated locations or their schedules do not bring them into contact with faculty on a regular basis. ASP'ers should not be shy, however, about becoming integral members of the law school community.
Here are some tips for having more involvement with faculty and getting more exposure for your ASP program:
- Give every faculty member a general flyer on your ASP services for students. Make it a handy reference sheet so that they can tell students more about the types of services that you offer and the topics that you cover.
- Give every faculty member information regarding dates/topics for your workshops or other events that you are holding for students each semester. Again, it gives them a handy reference when they are talking with students.
- Give every faculty member a small stack of your business cards so that they can hand them out to students. A student is more likely to e-mail for an appointment if the address is right in front of her.
- Give every faculty member a flyer on how you may be able to help them. Include services such as consultation on a specific student's learning problems, solving typical student learning problems for their course material, developing visuals in the classroom, understanding how learning styles affect the classroom dynamics, in-class workshops on particular study skills, etc. Your own expertise will guide what services you might be able to offer professors.
- Ask a new faculty member to lunch to tell her more about your office and ask how you may be able to help her settle in to your law school/city.
- Attend faculty functions that may not relate to your duties directly but allow you to have more time with faculty. Show your interest in what they do: in-service talks on faculty research, coffee klatch time, lunches to honor faculty publications, dinners for faculty awards. The more faculty see you as part of the overall law school community, the more you will be seen as a colleague rather than a satellite function of the law school.
- Attend faculty meetings if you are allowed to do so. You will learn a great deal about your law school, faculty concerns, and faculty colleagues' personalities. Know the etiquette for your school, however. Speak only if that is allowed. Vote only if you have that privilege.
- Volunteer to be ex officio on faculty committees as appropriate. For example, your expertise might be helpful on a faculty subcommittee considering a for-credit bar prep course.
- Announce your presentations and publications within your school's newsletter or news website as appropriate. Your colleagues will be interested in your contributions to the law school's reputation regionally and nationally.
- Offer to teach a course outside ASP in a specialty area that you have if your law school will allow that option. If your practice expertise was in entertainment law or admiralty law, your law school might welcome an elective course in that area. Make sure that you will have the time to juggle teaching with your ASP duties before you offer though!
I have always been fortunate to have good faculty colleagues to work with at each law school. But, I have to remind myself to make the time to keep up those relationships. We all get so busy that it is easy to become isolated in ASP and "not get out much" as a result. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, July 12, 2010
Alas, it is conference season. I know many ASPer's are just getting back from Elon Law School and LSAC's conference on counseling. I wish I could have joined everyone, but sadly, I am still in a travel freeze. After 5 years, and countless conferences, here are some tips for making the most of the experience:
1) Be social, even if you are an introvert
Yes, sadly, ASP can be sort of clique-y. It's not intentional; many of us have known each other for many years, and some of us worked together for years before we switched schools, moved, etc. However, it is worth remembering that 90% of us where the uncool kids in school growing up (we were way too smart) so we welcome everyone as adults. We are not mean girls (and boys), I promise. Say hi. If you are shy and uncomfortable, let us know. Most of us were uncomfortable at our first conferences as well. The only way to get the advice and help you want is to break into the cliques and start talking to people. Really, we are like a congregation of kindergarten teachers once you know us.
2) Be a joiner, even if you are not a joiner.
You need exposure. To get exposure for your program, school, etc, you need to join things. AALS, LSAC, Institute for Law School Teaching and Learning, Humanizing Legal Education. When you are at those conferences, be a joiner. Go to the (sometimes stupid and quirky) social functions. Join subcommittees. When you join things, be social and let people get to know you and what is great about your program. The legal academy is a tiny place, so everyone knows someone at your school. This is instrumental for your career. You never know when you may need a phone call placed on your behalf to your boss/dean, letting her/him know what a great job you are doing. the only way to for that to happen is to be social, and be a joiner.
3) Ask questions
We tell our students there are no stupid questions, and then we are afraid to ask questions as conferences for fear of sounding stupid. As someone who has presented a ton, I don't think I have ever heard a stupid question. We completely understand that people new to the profession need to ask basic questions. We want to help. Conferences are places where you should be asking questions.
4) Toot your own horn. No one else will.
While being social, be sure to mention your accomplishments. If you feel like you don't have any accomplishments, then just tell people what you are doing. No one else is going to let others know the great things you are doing at your school. ASPer's are the modest, non-competitive ones in the legal academy, which is self-defeating at times.
5) If you are would like to present at a conference in the future, tell somebody
The powers-that-be (that change from year to year, conference to conference) don't know if you would like to present unless you let people know. ASP is unlike other areas of the legal academy, in that you don't necessarily have to write a paper in order to present something that you are doing. While we are a many-talented group, I haven't encountered any mind readers among ASPer's as of yet.
Friday, June 4, 2010
For most ASPer's, summer is here. Depending on your roleat your school, this may be a quiet time to catch up on reading and planning for the upcoming year, or it may be the beginning of your busy season, if you are involved in bar prep. Regardless of your role, be sure to take some time to reflect on your hits and misses during this past school year. Re-evaluate what programs you want to continue, update, change, or throw out for the upcoming year. Be sure you take some time to re-evaluate your program for yourself. We spend so much time justifying our programs to our schools, that we sometimes forget that everything is a work-in-progress, and not all programs are meant to survive year after year. It's okay to have a program that flops, sometimes in spite of your best efforts. Use your misses as an opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of your students. Sometimes students change faster than we do, and our programs are just not reflecting their current needs. Sometimes a program misses and there is no explanation why it did not work. The key is not to be afraid of failure, and not to take successes for granted. Sometimes it seems as if law school curriculum is set in stone (and from the Stone Age) but ASP needs to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of our students.
If you do have some spare time this summer, there are a handful of new or revised ASP books on the market that could be helpful to you. I suggest everyone take a look at Carolina Academic Press (CAP) website and check out their new titles, as well as West and Aspen. Don't be afraid to ask for a desk copy; publishers offer them so you can check out their books and recommend them to students.
Even if you are involved in bar prep, take some time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Staycation, vacation, or just a couple of days off--everyone needs a break.
Everyone should take advantage of the wonderful conferences being offered this summer and early fall. As always, LSAC has some amazing conferences planned, as well as the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference in Topeka. (I am an presently out of the conference loop because of time constraints and budget cuts, so I may be missing some.) It is wonderful to catch up with colleagues and share successes and horror stories (we all got 'em!)
For the next couple of weeks I will be leading orientation sessions for incoming freshman, and then I am off to teach 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at Stanford for a couple of weeks (my version of a vacation), so my posts may be a bit more sparse than usual. Here is to wishing everyone a wonderful, healthy, relaxing summer! (RCF)
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Orientation started here at UConn last week. This is a wonderful time of the year when I get to meet my incoming freshman and help them start their college careers on the right foot. It's a refreshing change of pace to work with excited, happy kids looking forward to the next stage of their life. This is also an incredibly busy time of year; at least two days a week I meet with more than 30 students a day to go over their courses and career plans if they are pre-law. Here are some of the things I have learned from orientation over the past two years.
The excitement and enthusiasm for the future of 18 year olds can cheer up anyone. They are not the jaded, cynical teenagers we see on TV. They see the world for all the amazing potential it holds.
18 year olds can't wait to be adults and have the privileges we often feel are burdens. It reminds you of all the great things that go along with responsibility.
This is the chance for an ASPer to help pre-law students choose classes that will help them succeed in law school. Classes that stress critical thinking, analytical writing, and use of primary sources provide a great foundation for law school.
Parents, please let your children choose their own path. Nothing is more heartbreaking than working with an 18 year old who already looks defeated because their parents have decided they will be happy if they become a lawyer (doctor, investment banker, engineer). A colleague spent more than an hour with one student who could not choose one elective; it was the only class his parents did not pre-choose for him. He was overwhelmed by all the classes he wished he could take, but couldn't.
Rateyourprofessor.com. It's insidious. (Disclosure: I am ranked, at two different schools, and I am well-ranked. I still hate it.) It is not monitored, and it's the worst possible way to choose professors. It breaks my heart to see kids choosing classes based on who is the easiest grader, rather than the classes where they will learn the most.
You have to watch people make mistakes, and you can't stop them. We see a lot of this in ASP. It happens at the pre-law stage just as much. From choosing "easy" classes instead of great learning opportunities, poor lifestyle choices, to ignoring enrichment opportunities, it's hard to watch people make mistakes. And it's hard for their professors not to tell them they are making mistakes.
While I am specifically referring to freshman orientation here, all these lessons are true for law students just beginning their journey as well. We should take the time to appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a fresh perspective on life.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I thought this was interesting, especially as so many of us are preparing students for finals.
"I see adults with ADHD who are in medical and law school or running companies, and at some point, they hit a ceiling. Their coping mechanisms aren't effective anymore," says Peter Jaksa, a clinical psychologist who works with ADHD patients in Chicago.
Many people in law school are incredibly smart, and managed to succeed in college (and sometimes a prior career) because their intelligence overcame their inability to focus or concentrate. No matter how naturally smart someone is, reading cases and fact patterns requires prolonged focus and concentration, which is why many students "hit the wall" when they get to law school.
However, it's sometimes very difficult to get a sense of what the real issue is with a student. I don't know any MD ASPer's, but most of us aren't qualified to make any sort of diagnosis, only suggest testing by a specialist. Students who don't like law school, who find the cases boring and work monotonous, can have similar "symptoms" as students with undiagnosed ADHD. It's not our place to diagnose students, just give them their options and suggest testing. ASPer's should not feel like they have to have an answer for every student issue. Sometimes what we are seeing is more than an academic issue, and has a medical cause. (RCF)
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I find as an ASP'er (and a faculty member when I wear that hat) that I regularly have to decide where to draw the line between offering assistance and allowing students to make their own decisions (and sometimes as a result, mistakes).
Take for instance the chronic "no show" student. This person has a standing appointment on my calendar (usually because of probation status) but part way through the semester disappears. It usually starts innocently enough - one of us has to re-schedule because of illness or out-of-town commitments. Our school does not have any immediate penalty with teeth to it if a probation student does not attend appointments. I make the gesture of a reminder e-mail encouraging the student to return to our scheduled appointments. But, I ultimately allow the student to decide if she wants to accept the assistance available.
Another example is the student who tells me that she is going to attend a workshop or make an appointment to discuss a particular study problem. Sometimes the student neither show ups for the workshop nor contacts me for an appointment. If I later bump into the student in the hallway, I'll follow up with encouragement to make an appointment so we can address the issue. After that, I drop the matter.
A final example pertains to the elective courses that I teach. I always have 30% of the grade connected to a presentation. I strongly encourage students to meet with me the week before their presentations so that I can alert them to any problems with their planned PowerPoints or handouts. If a student chooses not to meet with me, then the presentation may be incomplete or inaccurate and cost the student points that could have been gained with some additional pointers from me. When a student does not make an appointment within the expected time, I do not interfere since it is the student's choice (and responsibility) to request assistance or not.
The dilemma, of course, is that some students who most need the assistance are the very ones who do not take advantage of it. If I go beyond offers of assistance and encouragement, however, I end up playing a parental role. And lessons about asking for assistance are perhaps better learned in law school than later in life when the stakes are higher. The reality is that students will be on their own when they leave us. Employers and judges are not going to hold their hands. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Some interesting science to report...at least one presenter at every ASP conference mentions that students feel that red pen makes it look as if the paper is "bleeding" negative comments. A new spin: teachers actually grade more harshly when using red pen. Another reason why green, pink, purple might be better bets when giving student feedback.
(I realize this link doesn't look like it fits with my post...it does.)
And a link to the full study is here:
The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards
by Rutchick, Slepian, and Ferris
Monday, April 12, 2010
I stumbled upon this blog post at Above the Law (I read ATL daily to keep up with what my students are reading about law school and legal careers). I am posting the link at the bottom of the page. It is written by a lawyer-turned-therapist who works with lawyers who are miserable because of their jobs. Disregarding the comments posted by readers, I found this is excellent advice for law students who are really, really unhappy being law students. Some unhappy students did not know what they were getting themselves into, or they were pressured into law school by well-meaning family members, or they are simply in crisis and need to take some time to sort out their life. No, this is certainly not a blog post that simply slams law school or being a lawyer (the WSJ just ran an article on the number of blogs devoted to that topic). It does have a very tough-love tone to it. I would rather have students who are miserable leave law school after one year of law school with 30, 40, or 50+k debt, than see them miserable three years later,150-200k in debt, and getting the type of negative feedback from senior associates and partners that is mentioned in the post. I would never pressure or even suggest to a student that they should leave, but if they open the door in a conversation with me, I don't have a problem showing them this article and discussing their options with them. These are not easy conversations to have with a student. No one relishes the thought of talking with a depressed student about leaving what they thought was their life's work and planning to pay off five-figure debt without a degree to show for it. But talking students through the bigger picture helps them find their own way: this is their life, and they need to be happy because they won't get a second chance. (RCF)
Thursday, April 8, 2010
ASP'ers want students to succeed. We want them to live up to their academic potential. We want them to get A's and B's as often as possible. We want to congratulate them on their hard work. We want to see them blossom as they learn management skills to deal with stress, time, and organization.
Let's face it, most of us are practical problem solvers at heart. We desire to point students in the right direction. We suggest strategies and techniques that are based on learning or memory research. We teach all of the basic legal study skills. We brainstorm with students for possible solutions to their unique issues.
A few students get sidetracked by obstacles beyond their control: undiagnosed learning disabilities, hospitalization, family emergency, personal tragedy. They may have chosen to succeed but had their efforts cut short. These students' resulting academic difficulties may well reflect their exceptional circumstances rather than a choice to fail.
However, other students choose failure rather than success through a variety of daily decisions. They choose not to attend ASP workshops. They choose not to ask their professors for help. They choose not to attend structured study groups or tutoring sessions as 1L's. They choose not to use appropriate study aids to clear up their confusion. They choose not to complete practice questions for feedback. Even students who are required to participate in ASP can choose not to implement what they learn.
Some students compound these choices with other behaviors. They skip appointments for the flimsiest excuses. They do not prepare for class. They take their maximum absences without concern for learning. They party rather than study. A few may even feel entitled to good grades merely because they pay tutition and have succeeded in the past. A few may try to coast on their gifts of gab and ingratiating charm.
At law schools where there is not a second chance, students are suddenly faced with the consequences of their decisions. At law schools where a period of probation allows "rehabilitation" for prior decisions, many students will make new choices to succeed so that the consequences will not be dire. However, some probation students will have damaged their GPA's so severely that academic dismissal will become an almost certain mathematical conclusion.
ASP'ers can offer services, warn about bad choices, and counsel students about behaviors. But, sad as it may be, we cannot stop some students from exercising their personal right to fail. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 1, 2010
In my role of Director of the Pre-law Center at UConn, I am noticing an interesting phenomena. I am in the process of arranging a law student panel for pre-law students here at the Storrs campus. I have been contacting the UConn alums who left their contact information with the school to see if they would be interested in participating. I am inviting roughly twice as many students as I need to fill the panel, with the understanding that a law student's life is busy and many won't be able to make it simply because it will take time away from studying. However, the students I have contacted thus far have been wonderful, enthusiastic, and want to help. In a time when we hear so much about law student depression, negativity, and apathy, it has been a joy to talk to these law students. I should note that these students are randomly chosen. There is no selection bias; I am contacting students who left contact information with the school before they started law school for reasons that had nothing to do with the Pre-Law Center. I don't know their grades. I don't know their job prospects. They did not leave the information for the purpose of being a part of a "Yeah! Law School!" panel. They don't have to respond to me, so they probably aren't giving me answers to rationalize their choice.
I have been pondering why it is that so many people respond happily--even when they can't make it--to a request to talk about the law school experience when the predominant feeling one gets from the news is that law students are miserable. The students I have talked to are happy with the choice they made, and would make it again, even in this job market.
This has led me to think about the conversations I have with students in my role as an ASPer. We see the students who are struggling and/or suffering. Many tell us they would not make the same choice again. We don't get the chance to talk to students who say they would make the same choice. One of my goals for the student panel is to ask them why; why do they find law school enriching? I think that their answers might be helpful for students who are struggling. I do not want to diminish or belittle student suffering, but I think there are parts of the law school experience that are easy to forget when one is struggling. I think there is something rewarding about law school that we might be missing, something that students still feel but don't readily express. Among the general (non-lawyer) public, there are a lot of trite responses about why law school is a positive life choice, and most of them involve money, career potential, or degree flexibility. Current law students know those responses are no longer accurate. But law school is a positive thing; I think we all could benefit from listening to students tell us why, in their own words. (RCF)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Interestingly, this is about the time of year when things become very quiet for me, in both my capacity as Director of the Pre-Law Center and as an ASPer at the law school. Students start gearing up for exams, and unprepared students are still telling themselves that they have time. Because this is the calm before the storm, this is also a great time to reach out to students before they hit the wall and panic before exams. Some strategies for reaching out to students...and where to find them at this time of year:
1) Get lunch at the cafeteria. Lots of students who won't come to your office find it easy to chat with you about exam strategies while you are waiting for your lunch. It makes them feel like they are not really asking for help if they are not going to a workshop or making an appointment to see you.
2) Send out inspirational emails to the 1L class. Some of Amy's older posts, such as fables for law students, are fantastic for law students needing something lighthearted but purposeful.
3) Put up study hints in bathroom stalls. A shout-out for this idea goes to Julie Kalish of Dartmouth College; she started this with bar prep hints in the stalls of the bathroom at Vermont Law School. Students do pay attention. (If you are uncomfortable going into student bathrooms--I certainly would be--student workers are generally fine with helping you out).
4) If there is an end-of-semester party sponsored by the SBA, go for the first 15 minutes or half-hour. By all means, do not stay unless you are going with a large group of faculty. Those parties tend to inspire all sorts of student debauchery you want to know nothing about. But they are generally pretty tame at the beginning, and like the lunch line, students who won't come to your office will chat with you at the start of a party.
5) If you can afford it, put small candy-and-note gifts in their student mailboxes. Candy makes them feel better, like someone is on their side. For $50, you can make law school feel a little less alien and the exam process a little more manageable.
If you have additional suggestions about how to reach out to students at the end of the year, or strategies that have worked for you that you would like to share, please send them along to me or Amy and we would be happy to post them for everyone to read. (RCF)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Amy's wonderful post Oct. 22 on students and illness brings us to another issue of illness...our own health. As someone who has had two distinct stomach viruses and a cold during the month of October, it is important for us to remember to take care of ourselves. I strongly suggest you stock up on the following, and keep them readily available in your office:
1) Tissues where students sit. If a student starts to cough, I remind them of the tissues by mentioning that I have nice, soft ones, unlike the scratchy kind provided by the school. They usually get the hint.
2) Hand sanitizer. I use some as soon as a new student walks in, and offer it to them as well.
3) Disinfecting wipes. I try, my best, to clean off the area where my students sit with disinfecting wipes at the end of the day. Realistically, it doesn't happen that much because my desk is usually covered in papers, but some cleaning is better than no cleaning.
4) Instead of a candy bowl, I have a cough-drop bowl. A big bag of cough drops is a cheap as candy when purchased from one of the big-box discount stores, and they can keep students from coughing on you and your desk.
My last piece of advice is for you, not for the students. Take time off if you are sick. You are not doing students any favors by coming in when you are sick. You may hear some grumbling when you are not available at the students convenience, but most students are very gracitous when you cancel office hours because you are ill. If you teach a class, think about using an online module as a make-up class, or give students the opportunity to make up class in a non-traditional way. You may sacrifice some coverage, but three weeks of groggy lessons because you didn't recover from illness is less helpful than canceling a class and only missing one week of coverage.
Stay healthy, ASPers!
Friday, October 16, 2009
A study by Kerma Partners and Redwood, a unit of LexisNexis, on the "stuff" that causes some associates to thrive in the legal profession can tell us a lot about the skills law schools and law firms actually value in new attorneys. Law school grades and law school rank matter less than some less-intuitive measures, like participation in college athletics. The results of this study were less surprising to me, because my late fiance, and law school classmate, was a college athlete who thrived in law school and during his brief experience in a large corporate law firm, as did many of his friends. While the study specifically identifies the team work and leadership skills that are developed as a college athlete, there are a number of other skills honed in high-stakes athletics that translate to success in law firm life.
1) Law school rank-order, or "curved" grading is less jarring when you (or your team) are used to being ranked.
2) High-stakes competition is not new to college athletes, and prepares students for the highly competitive law school environment.
3) Practice only makes perfect when the practice is disciplined, relevant to critical skills, and there is an adequate foundation of basic preparedness. Time-on-task matters more to success than overall practice hours.
4) College athletes are accustomed to performance evaluations that can be very critical, and take the suggestions as useful input, not an evaluation of their worth as a human being.
5) Many college athletes have been in competition with people who cheat, cut corners, and behave unethically, but they do not use it as a litmus test of the sport. When a college athlete finds out a peer has cut corners or cheated on a test or assignment, they are less likely to blame the school, the profession, and let the experience taint their entire career.
6) Most college athletes have to be very disciplined with their study time, because most are not aided by tutors and endless hours to complete assignments. That discipline carries over into law school study time and career management.
7) Team sports are excellent practice for study groups in law school. You need to rely on each other to be prepared and each member must carry their own weight. Everyone needs to be prepared before they practice as a team.
I am extrapolating on the study, and many of these observations are based on what I saw first-hand as a law student as an ASPer. Not all college athletes thrive in law school, but finding the common skills that lead to success in both fields helps us direct all law students. (RCF)
Monday, July 6, 2009
Whether someone is just starting out as a 1L student or getting ready to enter 2L or 3L year, the following tips can help with both academic and personal success. These are my top 10 tips out of several hundred that could be given.
- Have a restful summer. Law school is hard work. To get consistently high grades, law students need to work 50-55 hours a week outside of class. It pays off to have a blissful and restful summer. In addition to any work hours or class hours, have some fun. Get lots of sleep. Enjoy life. Do at least some things that have nothing to do with law. (And, if you are an entering 1L, do all things that have nothing to do with law.)
- Learn how to manage your time well. Many law students become stressed and overwhelmed because they do not take control over their time from day one of classes. Flying by the seat of one's pants worked well for most students prior to law school. It is the road to self-destruction and mediocre grades in law school. Set up time blocks on a weekly schedule for completing all tasks regularly: reading for each course, reviewing the material again before class, reviewing class notes within 24 hours to fill in gaps and condense, outlining weekly, reviewing outlines, doing practice problems, working on papers or other assignments.
- Stop wasting time; that is, stop procrastinating. Law students tend to waste enormous amounts of time if they do not have structured time management schedules. Some of the big time wasters are interruptions from e-mails, instant messages, text messages, and phone calls. Other time wasters are naps, errands, video games, TV shows, surfing the Web, and visiting in the student lounge. Use these distractions as rewards after getting your work done rather than as time wasters to avoid work.
- Use memory to advantage. Unlike undergraduate school, the courses that one takes in law school need to be remembered because of the bar exam and legal practice. Cramming does not reinforce memory because the information never gets into your long-term memory "filing cabinet" and disappears once you regurgitate the information on a final exam. Law school courses have an overwhelming amount of material that needs to be applied on exams and not just memorized. Because we forget 80% of what we learn in 2 weeks if we do not review it constantly, review every week of the semester is the key to good grades on exams and retaining information for later use. It is easier to regain use of information for the bar exam (and practice) if one learned it well to begin with and merely has to "brush up" rather than re-learn.
- Become efficient. Efficiency is about making the best use of one's time. Law students who constantly monitor how they are learning and hone their skills to be more efficient will excel. Active learning techniques help one to become more efficient because one is using study time to learn rather than merely "do time" over cases or outlines.
- Become effective. Effectiveness is about getting the best results out of one's studying. Law students who constantly monitor what they are learning and hone their skills to be more effective will excel. Using learning styles to advantage will help one to become more effective.
- Take responsibility for your own learning. In law school, you will not be spoonfed by your professors. They will expect you to read in-depth, to review material, to ask questions if you have them, and to practice application of material on your own.
- Monitor your own learning. Always as yourself questions to determine how well you understand the material. Always evaluate your study habits to see what is working and what is not. Then determine the changes you have to make. Professors, tutors, and the academic support staff can all assist you in becoming a better student.
- Undertake some pro bono or volunteer activities. Whether you help with local legal clinics, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, or walk dogs at the local animal shelter, you want to get active helping others. Why? First of all, it helps you to remember how fortunate you are instead of becoming depressed by all the work in law school. Second, it helps you become a better lawyer because you gain empathy for others and a routine of service to others. Third, it helps you feel more connected to your law school's community which is most likely not your own home town.
- Take good care of yourself. Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Eat balanced meals rather than junk food. Exercise several times a week. Laugh every day. Give yourself rewards for a job well done. Law students often defeat themselves by getting liittle sleep, eating poorly, never exercising, and constantly focusing on the negative.
It is possible to do well in law school AND have time for oneself. However, law students often fall into extremes - playing too much, sleeping too little, waiting until too late to do the work. And, when they get in trouble, they often refuse to ask for help. Do yourself a big favor and get help when you need it. (Amy Jarmon)