Wednesday, March 22, 2017
“It takes a village” or “it takes a village to raise a child” are sayings that we often hear. The origins of these sayings are unclear and there is much dispute about the origins. It is primarily thought that these sayings originate from an African proverb which states: “it takes a village to raise a child.” Some also believe the saying has Native American roots. Here, my discussion is centered on the relevance of these sayings in relation to the work of Academic Support professionals. In this context, I am highlighting the collective social responsibility our law school community shares for one another and particularly for the students we serve. We all have a concern for the morale and overall well-being of the community.
In our law school communities, there are individuals, visible and invisible, who contribute to the daily and overall functioning of our institutions. These individuals can, and often do, have a profound impact on students, providing them with support in a variety of ways. The individuals I am referring to are the administrative assistants, custodial and janitorial staff, librarians, teaching assistants, and general clerical or other support staff. These individuals interact with students in different ways than students do with faculty and administrators, probably because students view them as “regular and average” individuals rather than individuals in positions of authority. I have found that students often share more personal information with these individuals because they have regular interactions with them. As students typically stick to study spaces, they are more likely to run into a teaching assistant or a custodian. Also, students might communicate their stresses and fears as they drop-off or pick-up materials from administrative assistants. The best aspect of these interactions is that most of these visible and invisible individuals are familiar with campus and community resources because they are a part of both of those communities. Through their relationships with communities, they are often able to provide students with moral support, words of encouragement, and a piece of familial nurturing, something rarely found in the law school environment and something certain ethnic and cultural groups desire.
Why then are these individuals mentioned above an asset to Academic Support professionals? They are an asset because they not only provide valuable insights into the habits, culture, and concerns of students, but also alert Academic Support professionals to things they might want to implement. By interacting with the lady at the welcome desk, I was urged to become a notary to provide a free service to students who could not afford to pay to have bar application documents notarized. By speaking with a custodian, I learned about a student who slept on campus during the final exam period for fear of missing early morning exams, thus enabling us to find alternate options for the student. By overhearing a conversation between a student and a teaching assistant, I learned that some students were unable to afford food therefore a colleague and I jointly developed creative ways to inform students about the food bank on campus.
The best part of all of this is that interactions are mutually beneficial: students find the support they need and the visible and invisible members of our community share the enthusiasm of having students who look like them or hail from similar backgrounds attend a professional school and work towards becoming a lawyer.
It is noteworthy to mention here that regardless of a law student’s family name or place of origin, career growth or development, each student's academic success and degree completion metaphorically "belongs to the entire law school community." And for those of us who grew up in rural areas in Africa or as members of certain ethnic and cultural groups, ingrained in our experiences is the idea that we all share in our successes, achievements, and challenges. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, March 9, 2017
It's the middle of the academic semester for most of us.
That often means midterm exams or filling out bar exam applications or working on that summer job hunt. In the midst of so much to do with so much competition for achieving success, it's easy to feel out of place. To be overwhelmed. To sense that I don't really belong in law school or that I can't succeed.
When that sort of self-doubt starts in, it's time to step back and gain perspective about who you are, your strengths, your character, and your purpose. You see, too often I am comparing myself against the wrong benchmark (others!), and, in doing so, I'm trying to be someone who I am not. And, that's mighty stressful because it is awful hard (i.e., impossible) to be someone else! So, instead of trying to measure success based on what others are doing, step back and get some perspective about who you are.
Not quite sure about how to get some perspective?
Well, there's a great video clip that illustrates the point quite well. It involves a boy struggling to hit a baseball. When it seems that all is lost, that he just can't manage to connect the baseball bat to the ball, he takes a pause...and...in that moment of pause...he realizes something brilliantly radiant about what he is good at. So, if you happen to feel like you are not quite hitting the mark in law school, take a moment to enjoy this short video clip. I promise, it will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. And, in the process of taking a pause, you'll be reminded of a great truth -- that success is a matter of perspective (and not at all a matter of competition). http://www.values.com/optimism
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
It is spring break at my law school and it is very quiet. Most of the students have left for the break but a few remain. Some students are anticipating getting ahead in their academic work, working on legal writing assignments, or hoping to improve overall academic performance by starting to prepare for exams early. Other students continue to maintain their individual meetings with my office so I continue to interact with students. Although it is spring break, I find myself with much to do such as: (1) planning for the remainder of the semester, (2) planning for a part of the summer, (3) checking-in with students who recently sat for the bar exam, and also (4) getting some rest. Additionally, I try to take a day or two off from work to laze around or simply take care of household responsibilities because I know that I will have to wait until July for the next lull.
Spring break is typically a time when I am able to make “small talk” with my colleagues when I take breaks away from my desk. It is also a time when I can leave the building for lunch because attempting to leave the building when school is in session is a challenge due to back to back meetings throughout the day. Even when I am able to leave the building for lunch, I encounter difficulties finding a parking space upon my return because parking is also a challenge. Today, in recognition of International Women’s Day, I had lunch with a female colleague I have been trying to meet-up with for several months. Happy International Women’s Day to all Academic Support Professionals who self-identify as female! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
We have passed the midpoint in classes now at my law school. This coming week is our Spring Break. A number of students have told me that they have paper drafts, midterms, presentations, or other projects due the week after Spring Break. Now that we are on the downward slope of the semester, more and more students are looking stressed.
I live in West Texas. It is a semi-arid, agricultural area - noticeable once you get beyond the city limits with all the non-indigenous trees and green lawns. When the cotton is not planted and covering the fields, the South Plains can look pretty stark. Flying over this region now will confront you with almost a lunar landscape effect: irrigation circles in the unplanted fields, a land-grant grid, canyons, and scrawny mesquite trees and brush.
And March winds. Lots and lots of winds. And dust blown up by those winds on some days. And enormous tumbleweeds blocking my driveway (my garage off a paved alley skirts a mesquite pasture).
And today, smoke from the wildfires approximately two hours to our north. I live on the southwest edge of town. When I left for work, the smell of smoke was slight in my house, but hit me as soon as I opened the garage door. The sky was an odd gray; the sun was orange behind the smoke. As I drove into campus (a 15-minute drive northeast), the smell of smoke became much stronger. The sun was now a strange yellow with blurred edges.
My thoughts turned to the folks farther north. To the first responders fighting the wildfires. To the farmers and cattlemen concerned about their land and herds. To the small towns that are potentially in the way if the winds kick up more and shift the wrong way.
In short, the stress and anxiety of law school are manageable in light of what could be happening in our lives. It is often hard in the fish-bowl environment of law school to remember the cares of the world outside our doors - our very insular academic world.
I hope my students regained their perspectives today. There are stress situations that are unpredictable and life-threatening. Law school stress may be self-imposed and can often be successfully managed with scheduling, curbing procrastination, and seeking help from many resources. Law school is tough. But life can be tougher. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Microaggression. Merriam Webster initially noted this word as “a term to watch” but added this word to the dictionary in February 2017. Microaggression as defined by Merriam Webster is “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who deal with microaggressions and aggressions that impact their ability to focus on academic work and impact their academic performance? I pose this question not because I have an answer but because this is a question I have asked myself lately.
It is quite difficult to be mentally present, engage with doctrinal content, and focus on tasks at hand while being concerned about what covert or overt actions will occur next or be directed towards you. The idea that one might have to contend with a racial or ethnic land mine at any time in a law school classroom or hallway is very daunting. A microaggressive comment from a professor during exam review can be devastating particularly when we encourage students to meet with professors to review exams and obtain feedback. There are a few articles addressing the impact of microaggressions on the recipient which highlight serious psychological effects.
Oftentimes, just reminding students of why they are in law school and encouraging them to not give up on a future legal career while having honest discussions about how they will manage these situations is usually a starting point. I spend time encouraging students to view these encounters as strengthening their abilities to deal with difficult situations while making them realize they are not alone. We discuss their feelings, anticipated accomplishments and consequences of each situation, and management of similar situations. I fundamentally view this process as an unwritten part of my job mainly because I am a person of color who was once a student of color. Silencing the loud voices of negativity when a student already has a few layers of self-doubt, and awakening and reminding students of the infinite reach of their abilities to view the world as a better place can be a struggle and long term process.
Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF). A term coined by William Smith in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society (2008) is “a theory attributed to the psychological attrition that People of Color experience from the daily battle of deflecting racialized insults, stereotypes, and discrimination.”i “RBF is the cumulative effect of being “on guard” and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.”ii
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who have been microaggressed when we are managing our own instances of microaggressions and aggressions but also contending with Racial Battle Fatigue? I pose this question because I am curious about how other academic support professionals manage such situations.
To make a very long story short, I had a week filled with incidents that would fit the classic definition of microaggressions and some I would characterize as aggressions coming from various aspects of life in the span of five days. I was anxious and somewhat distracted, which is out of character for me, unfocused, and unhappy but tried to be positive but all efforts failed. I faced each situation, responding in various ways I deemed appropriate, sought the support of my circle of trust, and moved on. I usually do a good job not showing my frustrations. In retrospect, I did not realize how much these encounters impacted me.
Something amazing happened the following week; I found joy, passion, and energy because of the students. I received a number of kind notes, nice words, positive feedback about programs and presentations, and other expressions of appreciation. For someone who is accustomed to problem-solving, affirming students, acknowledging wrong doings, validating feelings, empowering students, and checking-in to ensure that all is well, I did not quite know what to do with myself. It was like the universe suddenly said: “everything is great; this is just a step in your journey.”
I often believe that I am on an island even though there are so many people that surround me. No one knows the many battles fought and won within the confines of the four walls of my office, on the island. What often keeps me going are moments when students make comments to me such as; your words or actions made a difference and changed my outlook when I was on the precipice of giving up and filled with tears. This brings back memories of individuals who did the same for me during moments of immense pressure and self-doubt. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it! But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a suggestion for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
For first-time bar takers and repeat bar takers, this is the week they have prepared for the past two months. This preparatory period was particularly demanding for me as students responded to my advice and used the ASP office extensively. Between November and February, students from coast to coast engaged with me through emails and phone conversations. I heard the devastation of poor performance on mock exams and practice questions and read about the fear of failure and saw it spread to other bar takers. Current students expressed concern for bar takers and asked whether their former classmates were in touch with me. The most challenging aspect of this bar preparatory period was coaching students to manage the roller coaster of inevitable emotions. For some students, the “real talk” discussions to address frustrations, implosions, and physical tolls were insufficient. I had to find a creative way to re-energize bar takers.
Something I have always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do came to mind. I always wanted to highlight the achievements of former students, mostly to inspire current students but I saw an opportunity to encourage my February bar takers as well. I contacted a select yet diverse group of alums who I believe would influence current students and requested pictures for display. With their permission, I would post pictures on a wall in my office and use them to motivate current students. Of course, not everyone responded but those who did were quite elated about the idea of sharing their pictures with others. This project provided me with the opportunity to speak with former students, some of whom I met for the first time almost eight years ago.
Today, about two thirds of my display board is filled with pictures from commencement and swearing-in ceremonies. So far, every day has been a wonderful walk down memory lane. I remember each student’s struggles and successes, laughter and excitement. I remember serious conversations we have had, new and unique things they taught me, and fears and concerns they harbored. I witnessed these students achieve their dreams.
For my February bar takers, I shared with them a photo of my wall with an inspirational message and it was a hit. I encouraged them to visualize their own successes and remember what they have already accomplished including the struggles of law school and all they overcame to make it to commencement. For my current students, when they come into my office, there are many unfamiliar faces, yet a few recognizable faces posted on my wall. This wall of pictures has been a great conversation starter particularly about the things students look forward to accomplishing. Reflection is imperative to rejuvenation. Every now and then, I look up at my wall and smile.
Congratulations to the February 2017 bar takers, you survived! Here’s to plenty of rest before your next endeavor. (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, February 19, 2017
For too many law students, law school becomes an endless slog. They get so bogged down in the daily grind that they lose enthusiasm for the law and the legal profession. If they do not rediscover their original sense of purpose, they will endure their legal studies rather than experience them fully.
Here are some suggestions for resuscitating your love of the law and finding your purpose again:
- Remind yourself why you came to law school. What were your goals as an aspiring lawyer? What areas of the law piqued your interest? What wrongs did you want to right? What legal causes were you passionate about?
- Remember who your legal role models were. Who were your inspirations for becoming a lawyer? Whether it was Atticus Finch, your mother the judge, your uncle the corporate lawyer, or the public defender who took your cousin's case, think about why you wanted to be like those individual lawyers.
- Take time to get involved with the "heart matters" of law school. Volunteer to help with intake at a pro bono clinic. Get trained to participate with VITA or CASA or another worthy cause. Join a law school organization that provides community service.
- Meet and talk to local lawyers. Attend a local bar luncheon as the guest of your professor or a local attorney. Attend lectures, CLE seminars open to students, and alumni events at your law school where you can meet the speakers and lawyers in attendance.
- Sign up for courses that help you get hands-on with the law: clinics, trial advocacy, client interviewing, alternative dispute resolution, drafting courses, and more.
- Talk with your professors and career services staff about your legal interests after graduation and ways to pursue those interests. Gather information about types of legal jobs and legal specialties that you are considering.
- Read biographies and other non-fiction books about the lawyers, legal cases, and legal movements that have impacted our world. Explore how the law and lawyers can change society for the good.
A sense of purpose makes any endeavor more meaningful. It gets us through the rough days. It inspires us to move toward our goals. It turns the slog into a stepping stone. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 9, 2017
I just came out of a great conference. However, it wasn't a great conference because it made me feeling better. In fact, I left the event realizing how far I often fall short of the mark as a teacher. But, it was great...in the sense that I learned (or perhaps re-learned) some key principles...that I can bank on in trying to BECOME a better teacher.
So, let me cut to the chase. Based on the principles shared by conference leader Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, I started to think that I might be trying too hard to teach my students. That's right. I might be trying so much to help my students learn that I leave very little for them to do, which is to say, that I leave them no room for learning.
You see, according to Dr. Weimer, I can't actually "learn anything for my students." Rather it's my students that are the learners. And, to be frank, learning is just plain hard work. It's messy. Its discomforting. It's even downright excruciating sometimes. But, I often don't want my students to feel that sort of uncomfortable frustration that is required to generate real learning. Or, as Dr. Weimer put it, "we are often doing a lot of the hard messy work of our students" by making decisions for them, which, if true, means that our students are not truly learning. In short, we are just teaching them to be dependent on us rather than coaching them to succeed as independent learners, to put it in my own words.
So, my sense is that my students need less of me as a teacher and more of me as a coach. They need me to step out of the limelight, to give them fresh air to try, to let them work hard and ponder mightily as they grapple with the course materials. That's because learning is personal. It therefore requires lots of practice. It requires deep engagement in the materials. It requires sometimes (or even often) failing.
But, as Dr. Weimer pointed out, my students often do not see me fail. Instead, they often see me demonstrating how to succeed (i.e. teaching!). But, I didn't learn the materials through success. Rather, I learned the materials through lots of rough 'n tumble practice (and that means through lots of trials, errors, and downright embarrassing mistakes).
So, Dr. Weimer encouraged me (us) to open up with our students, to admit our mistakes, to let our students have empowered agency to personally engage with the materials. In short, it's time for me to teach from the sidelines, and, that means that I am not "making the big plays for my students." Instead, I am their coach on the sidelines and they are the players moving the ball downfield as learners. That's a game that I am excited about watching. Oh, and by the way, taking Dr. Weimer's words to heart, I admitted to my students just today that I have made lots and lots of mistakes on the path to learning how to become a lawyer, and it was through walking through those experiences that I truly learned. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Most bar review programs include a simulated practice exam which might be a full MBE, a full written day, or a combination. First time bar takers might be apprehensive about completing the simulated exam under timed circumstances but they typically complete the task because they are fearful of not doing what they need to do to be successful on the bar exam. For repeat bar takers, it is a little more of a challenge. Repeat bar takers hold on to memories of all of the effort they previously put forth and the negative result it yielded. Often, these students might either start but never finish the simulated exam or complete the simulated exam but experience emotional trauma. For students who finish the task, the raw score is a verdict on how they will perform on the exam. When things seem to fall apart, this is the time to remain optimistic, not give up, and expect the best. Keeping the exam in perspective is imperative.
The bar exam is only a few weeks away so be realistic about what you can accomplish in the weeks and days to come, cater to your weaknesses because what you are afraid of will show up on your exam, visualize the exam taking process, and be positive. Good luck to all of the February bar takers. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Continuing from Professor Goldie Pritchard's excellent post yesterday regarding "Student Motivation and MLK Celebration Day," on April 13, 1963, Dr. King penned one of the most famous letters of all time: "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
In writing to fellow religious letters, Dr. King explained, in his words, that "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." Then, turning to the question about whether it was proper to engage in direct action in the form of sit-ins and marches, Dr. King defends civil disobedience, arguing that the root question was whether the segregation laws were just or unjust. If unjust, then disobedience was justified.
That led Dr. King to explain why the law was unjust in a very famous paragraph: "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."
Wow! Impactful! Poignant! Straight to the heart of the issue! Take a close look at the paragraph above. Did Dr. King start with the issue? After stating the issue, did he next state a rule and then explain the rule to his fellow religious leaders? Moving on, didn't he next transition to an analysis of that principle by concretely applying the rule to the segregation laws? Finally, look closely as Dr. King finishes with a succinct conclusion. That's right...Dr. King's argument is structured in IRAC and yet Dr. King was not an attorney (rather, he earned a Ph.D. from Boston University).
When I first saw Dr. King's use of IRAC, I was shocked because I thought that IRAC was just a tool that lawyers used to analyze legal problems. In short, I was convinced that my legal writing professor invented IRAC. And, it felt SO unnatural to me...so mechanical...so impersonal...that I tried my utmost to avoid writing in IRAC.
Looking back, I see my folly. IRAC was not invented by attorneys. Rather, IRAC is the structural foundation for some of the most monumental moral arguments of all time. In short, IRAC (what the rest of the world calls deductive reasoning) is powerful because it is a common form of analysis to all of us, long before we ever came to law school. Simply put, we have been using IRAC for all of our lives, and yet, we just didn't know it. So, take time out to reflect on the power of IRAC as a tool for persuasive analysis. As demonstrated by Dr. King, IRAC can be the structural foundation for making moving moral arguments, arguments that in Dr. King's day led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, don't shy away from IRAC. Rather, embrace it, refine it, polish it, and always, with an eye on what's the right thing to do. In that way, paragraph by paragraph, you as a future attorney can make the world a better place for others. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
At various points in a given semester, students find themselves unmotivated for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include managing financial pressures, dealing with academic challenges, feeling lonely, suffering from stress, and experiencing racism, sexism or some other “ism.” There are several articles and other sources that address intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to engage students. However, I am always seeking innovative ways to encourage and support students.
Monday marked the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017, an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Most institutions of higher education commemorate this day with a variety of activities. Institutions have a variety of programs which include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, artistic expressions, marches, community service, and speeches. Students attend the various programs but for others this is simply a day off and an opportunity to either rest or get ahead academically.
This year, I am an advisor to a student group and based on my interactions with this group of students, it was imperative for me to find different ways to re-motivate these students. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a great opportunity to encourage them by drawing examples from his life and encouraging students to partake in at least one activity. For students, there are a number of qualities and values they can draw from his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, an activist, a well-educated and accomplished man of color, his commitment to society, his ability to stay true to his convictions, and the ease with which he communicated, encouraged, and rallied those around him. Reflecting on all that he was able to accomplish with the challenges of his time, we should all be courageous in the face of adversity and preserve our hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Law students often become so caught up in surviving each class week that they forget the bigger picture. They are preparing for being lawyers! Their clients will depend on them to be great lawyers, not just mediocre lawyers.
Every skill learned and honed in law school assists the graduate to be a great lawyer.
- By learning and honing skills in reading and briefing cases, students prepare for being experts for reading thousands of cases during their legal careers.
- By learning and honing skills in understanding judges’ reasoning and the evolution of the law, students prepare for expert legal reasoning and possible policy arguments for necessary modifications in the law.
- By learning and honing listening and note-taking skills in class, students capture the nuances of the law and recognize the important information.
- By learning and honing skills at arguing both sides of a scenario, students prepare for being experts at arguing their clients’ positions and anticipating the arguments of opposing counsel.
- By learning and honing skills at legal research and writing, students prepare for being experts at locating the relevant law and clearly and concisely stating the law in a variety of legal formats.
- By learning and honing their skills through clinics, client interviewing, trial advocacy, law office management, and other skills courses, students prepare themselves for the daily rigors of legal practice.
There are more skills learned and honed during law school. These are just a few that law students need to become great lawyers. Academic support professionals and professors are there to assist in the process. Law students need to reach out for assistance when they are struggling with the skills needed as lawyers. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, January 2, 2017
I hope that all of our readers had blessed holidays! Some of you were snowed in; some of you were basking in the sun. Wherever you spent your time off, I know you enjoyed the break from your busy academic schedules.
AALS is this week in San Francisco. There is a plethora of sessions to attend including our Section on Academic Support business meeting and program. Other interesting programs are being offered by the Sections for Legal Research and Writing, Teaching Methods, Balance in Legal Education, and Student Services. Although I will be unable to attend this year, I will look forward to hearing about the programs from colleagues who do attend.
As you dive into the new semester and think about New Year's resolutions, I would suggest the following:
- Pick one professional development goal for the semester: attending a regional workshop, signing up for AALS or AASE committees, writing an article for publication, finding a mentor to encourage you in your work, being a mentor for a new ASP'er, etc.
- Pick one innovation goal for the semester: redesigning a series of workshops for your students, working more closely with student organizations, working cooperatively with career services or student services colleagues on programs that overlap your areas, etc.
- Pick one community service goal for the semester: helping with a pro bono clinic, working at the local food bank, serving meals at a homeless shelter, socializing the animals at the local shelter, teaching Sunday School at your church, etc.
- Pick one personal goal for the semester: reading a non-law book each month, spending more time with family, taking time for yourself each evening/weekend to rest and reflect, learning a new hobby, getting in touch with your spiritual side, etc.
We tend to make long lists of resolutions. So many, in fact, we can never meet them all! So focus on these four areas of your personal life and work and choose just one goal. Then work on sustaining that effort throughout the semester.
If you are a go-getter and complete and sustain goals easily and quickly, then set a new goal to add in each area that you have completed and sustained. But don't be an over-achiever burning the candle at both ends. Savor your goals and the processes that accompany them.
May you all have blessed semesters and success in all you resolve to do. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Wow. At long last, final exams are over...sort of.
For most of us, we have a very difficult time with uncertainty in general, which is particularly exasperating as we wait - sometimes for weeks - for our grades to arrive.
So, despite the festive times of this month, we often find ourselves unable to relax, to enjoy the season, and to simply wind down and rest.
Nevertheless, there's a simple way - in just a flash of a moment - to help break free from the many stresses and strains of the past few weeks of final exams. Why not try out, today, the "smile loop?" It sounds, sort of, fun, doesn't it? So, here's the scoop (and the science too):
You see, according to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein:
"Smiling produces neural messaging in your brain that makes you happier. Some studies have shown that when we smile our facial muscles contract, which slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones. This leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. And, when we smile at someone, that person tends to smile back. So, we've created a feel-good loop." http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-fall-back-in-love
For those of you that are not scientists (that's me!), the short scoop is that smiling brightens not just our days but the days of those around us. And, it sure seems to me that smiling at another person gets us on the right track to thinking about others rather than worrying about the past few weeks of final exams (with its lingering wait for grades).
I had the chance to put smiling to the test in very unforgiving circumstances over the course of the past few weeks as a volunteer attorney. There's a little Greek island just a few short miles off the Turkish coast. Because of its locale so close to Turkey, thousands of people have been fleeing on small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea to escape persecution, calamity, and in some cases war in their native countries - from Syria to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to South Sudan - with the hope of receiving refugee in the European Union. I talked with a man, his wife and his adorable small children that risked it all traveling by land from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey only to be finally living for months in a small UNHCR tent in a refugee camp on the island of Chios.
Despite the lack of resources and the uncertainty of still waiting - for months on end - to receive as of yet an asylum hearing, he smiled. And, then his children smiled. Why, his whole family smiled. In the cold of the wind swept coast of this little island refugee camp, we all smiled...together. He and his family may not have had much to give but they gave something immeasurably priceless...they shared smiles with me.
Let me say, this was not unique. As I walked through the refugee camp with a number of refugee-seekers, even though we often didn't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in ways that are often richer than words. Over and over, refugees would just come up to me with big generous smiles and warm handshakes of greetings. Memorably, a small Syrian boy grabbed my hand one day by the lunch tent as a group of young people were dancing, asking me to join in the footsteps and singing.
You see, smiles are not just a trick to make your life better or happier. No, no at all! Rather, smiles are the sweetness of life itself in helping us to make the world a little better for others. So, as you wait for final exam grades to come in, be of good courage and share smiles with those around you. Who knows? That brief smile might get you up and dancing!
Monday, December 19, 2016
Most law students have completed exams and papers (or will soon). So congratulations on finishing another semester of law school! For those of you who are first-year students, you are now seasoned law students and no longer the newbies! For those of you in second or third year, you are well along your journeys to being law school graduates.
And for those of you who have graduated this December, special congratulations and best wishes come your way! We wish you well in your bar exam study and exam-taking. We wish you well in your new employment or job hunting efforts after bar results.
Stay focused in your bar study. Complete the entire bar review course including the practice questions - not just some of it - so that you increase your chances of passing the first time. Bar review is essential to prepare well for the exam; this is not a time to coast just because you have been studying for three years. Pace yourselves because this is a marathon and not a sprint. You can do this! (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Exams are in full swing so students are focused and appear to be productive. The hustle and bustle of activity throughout the building has calmed down only to usher in the quiet sounds of exam study. I see and hear students prior to and after exams; meanwhile, I am able to complete administrative tasks uninterrupted. Topics of student conversation typically relate to stress, study strategies, complex concepts, time management, and study aids. Students have an array of “light bulb moments” which is quite interesting to hear. Conversations I have with students are slightly different and concern pre-exam confidence building and post-exam debriefing.
The most exciting thing I have observed is how students support one another as classmates, friends, and colleagues. Students are more likely to listen to other students, even more than they listen to academic support experts, so it is nice to hear students repeat to their peers’ advice I have given them. A few things I have heard students repeat in the hallways include:
“You can do this! We’ve got this!”
“You studied so hard and it is going to pay off.”
“You taught me the information so you know it.”
“We completed all of the professor’s past exam so we have some idea of what the professor is looking for. If worse comes to worse, we have a reference point and can write something down.”
“We were in office hours more than anyone else and figured out what we did not know.”
“You are smart!”
“Leave the past in the past; you have control over what is ahead.”
Encouraging hallway chatter makes all the difference! (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
As my students left for fall break, my advice to them was plan for a healthy balance between rest and academic productivity. Catching up on sleep and recharging for the exam preparation period and for exams is imperative. My students had a significant assignment due prior to fall break so this is a much-needed opportunity to reclaim some Zzz’s. I also encouraged students to accomplish some of the heavy lifting they need to achieve prior to exams. By heavy lifting, I do not mean taking on ambitious feats such as starting and completing outlines for every single course. Yearly, students boast these plans but seldom, if ever, do they accomplish them. The focus should be on smaller goals that students would not have time to otherwise accomplish while balancing classes during the semester. Goals such as simply identifying concepts they do not understand and dissection those concepts or making a list of items to discuss with professors during office hours. Goals such as reviewing or completing outlines for one or two courses are also effective. Quality over quantity is very important. Doing what is best for you rather than simply mimicking what others are doing.
As an ASPer, I experience the same challenges my students face. How do I find the perfect balance between maximizing student free days and rest? When students are away, meetings and other administrative demands seem to increase. I also like to address a few things on my to-do list that I have neglected throughout the semester. This year, I had an unrealistic laundry list of things to do but only managed to complete a few tasks and I have to be okay with this. This was a unique semester which put significant demands on my time and included a number of early mornings and late night meetings. I have neglected my family so I have to reconnect with them and unplug from work for a little bit. This is a necessary challenge because like the students, I am a human being too and should take care of myself. Happy Holiday Season to all and PLEASE get some rest. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
When I accepted a position as an academic support professional, I had an idea of what my duties and responsibilities would entail. As a law student, I was a teaching assistant and ultimately supervised teaching assistants hired through the academic support office. I worked closely with the director of the academic support program and I saw her daily interactions with students and the various programs she developed. I worked with her for most of my law school career and thought I knew all there was to know about academic support work. One thing I did not realize was that your personality and the culture of the law school dictate the various duties one might undertake. I have a student affairs background so many of the things I do are rooted in student development theory. I try to be aware of the needs of students who are also parents and have early morning, evening, and weekend meeting options for them. I try to recognize when it is important to have personal discussions rather than focus on the planned academic task. I try to attend various programs put on by student groups to support my students as they take on leadership roles. I meet with students on weekends and away from the law school building to help them regroup and begin their journey to sit for the bar exam a second time. There are a number of other things that most don’t know I do. I do these things because my students inspire me and I am personally invested in their success. Others invested in me and I hope that my students believe I invest in them. Imagine a world without teachers?
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The most rewarding aspect of my work is hearing about the impact I have on the lives of my students. I typically hear from students themselves but it is even more rewarding to hear from those they hold near and dear. It is an honor when parents and friends know about you before they have even met you. I cherish these moments dearly when I face challenging days or wonder whether I am truly making an impact. Around this time in the semester, I am typically juggling individual meetings with students, reaching out to students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam, reviewing midterms, quailing fears about final exams, helping students strategize for the remainder of the semester, serving on committees, and not to mention preparing for and presenting workshops to 1Ls and LL.M. students in addition to answering numerous phone calls and email messages. I promise you, there is a lot more but I will stop there. I enjoy all that I do but it can seem a little overwhelming at times.
During those more demanding periods of time, students typically remind me of why I do what I do. Simple things like a visit from a prospective student sent by three former students who saw me as a resource, thank you cards collected over the years, and a visit or phone call from a former student make all the difference. What really energizes me are the phone calls from students who have passed the bar exam and attained their goal of becoming attorneys. Sorry again to the individuals I share space with because I typically scream with excitement. How can you not feel good about your students’ accomplishments? I hope that all those who do this work recognize their value and contributions to the lives of each and every student they engage with. During challenging periods of time, it is very easy to forget about the hundreds of students you have interacted with over the years.
As a graduate student, one of my advisors suggested that I keep every card, every note and every email I have ever received from a student in a drawer. She said: “when things get challenging, read some or all correspondence to center yourself and reconnect with who you are and what you do.” I have found this advice invaluable because sometimes the supporter can use a few words of encouragement. I hope that we all take the time to remember why we do what we do, our purpose and our strength. (Goldie Pritchard)