Friday, October 23, 2009
Do you ever have weeks that seem extra long? Or days that have been so hectic you don't know where the time went? Or times when you wonder if you are making a difference?
ASP work takes a lot of emotional and intellectual capital if it is going to be done well. We have to invest major energy into our appointments, meetings, classes, and presentations. Our students need to know that we care about their success. We need to listen to, sometimes console, and often encourage our students.
When I find myself worn-out at the end of the week (not the same as burned-out, please note), I remind myself to count my blessings. So, here I go with a list:
- Students who are hard workers with solid values.
- Students who say "thank you" often enough to let me know ASP matters.
- Support staff who magnanimously pitch in even though they are not ASP staff members.
- Faculty colleagues who share articles and books.
- Law library staff who make the study aids library possible.
- Excellent second- and third-year students as Tutors for the 1Ls.
- Excellent second- and third-year students who are Dean's Community Teaching Fellows for our pipeline partnership with a local high school's Law and Justice Magnet Program.
- ASP facilities that let me do so much more for my students than the old ASP offices.
- Wonderful ASP colleagues at other schools who share strategies.
- Lots of great ASP authors who inspire us with their books.
- Wonderful ASP regional and national conferences sponsored by LSAC.
- The new Law School Academic Success Project website.
Gosh, I feel more energized already! Now to the next item on my "to do" list. . . . (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
It is the heartbreaking time of the semester for some of my 1L students. Until now they have been telling themselves that "everything is new" and "just work a little harder" to assuage their feelings of being overwhelmed. But now, it is Week 5; they are still feeling inept. The hardest part is that they look around and see other students settled into the routine and apparently doing well.
What is holding some students back from "getting it" when others seem to be so at ease? Unfortunately, there is no one answer. I cannot offer a "magic bullet" to students who are struggling. However, I can explore several topics with them to look for potential causes and suggest possible solutions. For most students, working on some or all of the following areas will help them get re-oriented and start to have success:
- Reading: Active reading provides far greater benefits than "doing time" over the pages. Some students have had undergraduate professors who lectured on everything they needed to know so they would skim read the textbook. For law school, they need to read critically and process before class. If law students do not have access to an ASP professional to help with their critical reading skills, they can turn to Ruth Ann McKinney's book, Reading Like a Lawyer.
- Briefing: Students who skip briefing entirely are unlikely to gain depth of understanding. Students who overbrief by including everything become lost in the details and are inefficient with their time. Students who depend on canned briefs will not learn the skills they need for reading critically and briefing. Students need to balance the essentials with the details in their briefs. They need to use their briefs to help synthesize cases.
- Outlines: Undergraduate students may have merely regurgitated lectured material for A grades on exams. Multiple tests with no comprehensive final exam encouraged them to use a "cram and forget" cycle of studying. Outlines in law school allow students to cope with massive amounts of material and one final exam. By condensing their briefs and class notes into a master document with the essentials for applying the law to new fact situations, outlines focus on the bigger picture with enough depth for accurate analysis.
- Review strategies: Many law students do not realize that review each week is crucial in law school because of the amount of material to condense, consolidate, and learn with depth so that long-term memory is cultivated. Reading outlines cover to cover each week keeps all the material fresh. Intensely reviewing sub-topics or a topic as if the exam were next week allows the student to gain depth of understanding of specific material. Undertaking memory drills helps to transfer precise rule statements, definitions of elements, or methodologies into long-term memory. Completing practice questions for material that has been intensely reviewed previously allows the student to see what she really did understand and to practice exam-taking strategies.
- Analysis of fact patterns: Some law students do not understand that legal analysis is very structured. Opinion is not equivalent to legal reasoning. Kowing the gist of the law is not enough. A conclusion without sufficient analysis is inadequate. Practice questions allow students to apply IRAC (or whatever structure the professor prefers) until they become adept at it.
- Analysis of multiple-choice questions: Law school multiple-choice questions usually look for the "best" answer. Careful analysis of each answer choice is needed rather than picking by gut. Again practice questions allow students to apply strategies and analyze any patterns in wrong choices.
- Time management: National statistics tell us that most college students study per week less than half the hours that law students can expect to study. For some law students, a substantial increase in study time will increase their understanding. A structured time managment routine will allow them to get all of the necessary study tasks done each week: reading, briefing, reviewing before class, reviewing class notes, outlining, writing memos/papers, and reviewing for exams.
- Procrastination: Procrastination is a common problem for law students. Their procrastination may have had little impact previously because the workload was "doable" and the competition was not intense. Procrastinating students often have motivational problems. Breaking tasks into small steps and creating rewards for completing tasks are just two possible strategies.
- Learning styles: Law students may not understand how to use their absorption learning styles to advantage and how to compensate for their shadow styles. In addition, they may not realize that all four processing styles (global, intuitive, sequential, and sensing) are needed for competent legal analysis. Each student has two processing styles that are preferences and two that need to be cultivated. A variety of strategies can assist learners to use both their preferences and non-preferences well.
When all of the standard techniques and strategies to help students result in little improvement, one may need to consider whether an undiagnosed learning disability exists. A few 1L students each year are confronted with problems because they can no longer compensate for undiagnosed ADHD/learning disabilities in their academics. Unfortunately, only testing can resolve whether or not a student has learning disabilities/ADHD. One should not jump to the conclusion that every student having difficulties in law school has a learning disability, but in some cases it might be worthwhile for the student to be tested. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
In mid-May I always feel as though a long summer is stretched out before me with infinite possibilities. My list of essential projects is quite long. But, I always have another list of other projects that I want to complete but never am able to during the academic semesters. Then there is the list of "wishes" - the exciting ideas that I hope to implement in any leftover time.
And each year I notice it is suddenly September; I wonder what happened to the summer. The essential projects are all crossed off my list. A number of the other projects were also completed. But my wish list received less attention than I had hoped. A few of those items are in place, but many are wishes to be implemented at a future time.
Many of the "lost" hours have been spent well in one-on-one conferences with students. Some of the "lost" hours have been spent in planning meetings to implement new programs or tweak already existing programs. A few hours were truly lost in unnecessary bureaucracy or waiting on others.
I count each of the student conferences as worthy of my time. After all, the students are the reason I am here. And, without the meetings, I would be unable to implement and tweak programs that benefit my students.
So, I start my new "wish" list to include the ideas that most likely will wait until semester break or next summer. I begin a new "essential projects" list for the things that come with the territory of a fall semester. I begin a new "other projects" list for the next level of projects waiting to be completed in between the essentials.
I add my fervent wish for more hours in a day to do it all. And then I settle for doing the best I can with the hours I have each day. Such is the life of a typical and very human ASP professional. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Amy's wonderful post on end-of-semester grades and probation students brings me to the next stage...preparing for law school if you have been admitted, or preparing for 2L year. After the critical low-grades meetings are more-or-less over, ASP starts to see emails and receive telephone calls from newly admitted, soon-to-be JD students. We also start to see a trickle of emails from students who survived, and maybe thrived, their first-year, but want to improve. The main piece of advice I have for both sets of students...enjoy the summer. The best thing you can do for yourself is relax, regroup, and repair. Preparation for the fall begins with taking care of yourself. Critical things, like reading books for fun, playing and watching sports, and catching up with family, fall by the wayside during the school year. And these things are critical; they make you a fun, interesting person. I know law students won't hear me when I say that they best preparation for law school is to take care of yourself, so I will give you practical reasons to enjoy the summer. For 2L's, fun reading and family events give you something to chat about with recruiters during OCI. And yes, recruiters want to know you are a well-rounded person who will not only work hard, but be pleasant and interesting to work with during summer 2010. For soon-to-be 1L's, these things give you something to talk about with classmates during orientation. Future 1L's, you don't know how many times you will be asked what you did during the summer, what makes you interesting, or something you would like to share about yourself during orientation. Law students, being competitive by nature, like to be interesting. So be interesting and memorable by doing nothing but fun stuff for the whole summer; you will see shock, awe, and smiles from your classmates come fall. And then you can continue your campaign of shock and awe by having the stamina to work your tail off all semester, because you repaired yourself over the summer.
Fun reading advice...fun reading is NOT the how-to-succeed books written by bitter former law students who write anonymously or under pseudonyms. The hay is in the barn, as they say, and angry missives telling you that law school is awful aren't going to help you. Fun reading is Jennifer Weiner, Jane Austen, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow (yes, including One L),and Harlan Coban. If you must pick up a book for law school, pick up an encouraging one. Pick it up with this advice; you won't remember most of what they tell you to do by the start of school. 2L's, your brain is fried, so most advice will go in your eyes but not sink in. Unless you are on probation and there are some critical skills missing, you are best not reading about outlining, reading, or exam prep. 1L's, you are going to be bombarded with information, and it's best to give your brain breathing room, not crowd it with more advice.
Am I being intentionally silly? Yes. Am I also telling the truth? Yes. Academic success is more than just grades; it's a complete, healthy life before, during, and after the law school experience. (RCF)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Now that most of our schools have finished graduation or hooding ceremonies, I am sure that all of us in ASP felt a certain amount of "parental pride" when we saw some students walk across the stage. Each year, I find myself grinning ear to ear as I watch certain students receive their hoods and shake hands with the Dean.
When I don my regalia and sit on the stage with the faculty, I am always ready to celebrate with the graduates in general. But I am especially proud of the graduates with whom I worked personally.
Some graduates came in a few times to improve in a particular course or during a particular semester. I was happy to help and glad to see their improvement. I applaud their graduation.
Other graduates struggled with personal, family or medical problems and spent time working with me regularly during the crises to stay focused as much as possible on their academics. I was glad to be a source of support and encouragement. I know that graduation has special meaning for them.
There are always some graduates who were on probation and continued to meet with me an extra semester after they got off probation, ending their careers with all As and Bs as we worked together to crack the code to law school study and exams. I am especially proud of their continued hard work and achievements.
Some of the past probation students with whom I worked ended up in "the great middle" of their class. They steadily improved against somewhat dismal initial grade points. I am proud of their perseverance and steady climb to greater success.
And, there are the Tutors and Teaching Assistants who have worked with our 1L students and our Summer Entry Program. During their tenure, we discussed teaching and helping skills to add to their repetoire of strong academics. I am always thankful for their service.
However they crossed my threshold, I always feel like a proud parent as I see ASP students finish this step in their journeys to becoming lawyers. It is that sense of excitement for their accomplishments that keeps me looking forward to the next semester and the next hooding ceremony. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, December 5, 2008
I have always enjoyed finding quotes that inspire me, make me think, or pique my interest. Perhaps it is the ex-English major in me. As a result of my own interest, I tend to pass quotes on to my students to get a point across to them.
Below are several web sites with quotes on education, learning, or teaching which may be useful to you. Many of the sites also have links to quotes on other topics.
For those of you who are interested in favorite quotes, I did two postings in the past: one of my own favorites and one on those offered by other readers of our Blog. You can find them in the archives in postings for April 25, 2007 and May 1, 2007. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Do you ever wish you had more hours in a day so that you could implement all of the great ideas you come up with during the year? As a one-person operation for 650 students, I truly wish that I could have several of me to implement new ideas.
I need several extra pairs of arms and hands to go along with my brain to type drafts of class notes, develop Power Point slides, and revamp handouts. I could use several extras of my body to attend committee meetings and community groups as we revamp old programs and initiate new programs.
Mind you, there is always unpaid overtime to squeeze in some of the extras. But, one has to be careful about burn-out. As my program has grown from brand-new to established here at Texas Tech, I have been able to pare down the insane number of extra hours that I was putting in each week. However, overtime will realistically never disappear entirely as long as I have new ideas and care about making my program better (and as long as the university tags me as an exempt manager).
As ASP professionals, we have to balance caring for our students and caring for ourselves. Our group of professionals is likely to give of ourselves to others constantly because we want our students to succeed and we truly care about them as individuals. And, we also give to others in ASP through phone calls, workshops, conferences, articles, and other outlets.
And, for those of us who are not married and/or have children, we sometimes have trouble carving out our personal space because it is easy to decide that no one is waiting at home expecting us. (Hmmm, dogs could be very useful. Unlike my cat children of the past, they do need us to show up promptly unless we have backyards with doggie doors.)
So, I have gotten better at carving out personal time. I use every cancelled meeting or appointment slot to the maximum. I keep a long list of "future ideas and projects" as an incentive to improve my program within realistic time limits. And, I occasionally do say "no" or "next year" to requests that come my way.
Despite the disadvantages at times, I hope I never run out of new ideas. I hope that I never stop being inspired by other ASP folks to try a new approach. I hope that I never lose sight that it is a blessing to come to work each day to help my students. After all, these are the things that make me an ASP professional.
So, New Idea, if you are out there, come and find me. I am ready for you. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, July 18, 2008
Summer is one of the few times in the year when I can reflect a bit about the past year, the upcoming year, improvements that I would like to make, and my reasons for being an academic support professional. Although I am still very busy with projects and teaching in our summer program, I have enough of a "breather" to look beyond the usual hectic rush of events.
It is actually this period of summer reflection that always recharges my batteries and gets me excited about the "new crop" of 1L students and the returning 2L and 3L students. Although none of us in ASP will probably have a "perfect score" of graduation and bar passage for every student with whom we have worked along the way, we can use this time to think about the successes that we have been a part of over the year and prior years.
Each one of you will have countless reflections that will make you realize that you have an impact every day on law student lives. If you doubt your impact, just take an inventory of students whom you have helped:
- The new 1L students who came up to talk with you after your Orientation session because they knew you would help when they were too embarrassed to ask someone else their questions.
- The 1L students who came to you for advice during the first few weeks of school because they were feeling overwhelmed.
- The 1L students who arrived in a panic before their exams and needed you to calm them down.
- The non-traditional students who came to you to work on time management so they could excel in law school and still have family time with their spouses and children.
- The discouraged students who felt better after some suggestions and words of encouragement from you during an appointment, in the student lounge, or in the hallway.
- The probation students whom you told that you believed in their being able to improve their grades.
- The probation students whom you congratulated on their hard work while you met with them throughout the semester.
- The excited probation students who came to tell you they got off probation.
- The excited probation students who came to tell you that they had gotten their first "B" or "A" grades.
- The ex-probation students who still come by for advice on specific study problems.
- The 3L graduates who stopped by to say thank you for your support and advice during their three years.
- The 3L graduates who walked across the stage and you remembered helping them through a tough semester, tough course, or life crisis.
- The bar studiers who came to ask for your suggestions on how they could study more effectively and efficiently.
- The bar studiers who have stopped by for some extra encouragement in these final weeks.
- The law students who have invited you to their weddings because you were a big part of their law school careers.
- The law students who bring by their babies for you to meet.
- The law students who bring by siblings or friends who will be 1L's to meet you so that they can get started right.
- The practicing attorneys whom you advised as law students who come up to you to talk about their practice and their lives.
- The countless others that you remember helping who may never say thank you, but whom you know that you had an impact on during a conversation.
I love being an ASP person. To me, my job is a blessing every day. My law students make it all worthwhile even when other areas of working at a law school may have some downsides (fill in the blanks for your institution: budget, status, group dynamics, etc.). (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
It's that time of year; students are receiving their grades. Much has been written and said about motivating students after they receive their grades after their first semester of law school. I find it more challenging to motivate students after they receive their second semester grades...because I don't see them. They are off to their summer placements or going home for the summer. In my experience, the depression and anxiety is not diminished because they are not at the law school. When I do see or hear from them, their depression has an air of permanence that their depression did not have after first semester. I have to convince them that they still have a way to go, the journey is only 1/3 completed, and there is much time to make up lost ground.
However, I have to temper my positivity with the very real problems associated with under-performing for two semesters. By this time, I have already discussed all the obvious fixes; better note-taking, more focused studying, exam strategies. The problems that cause under-performance for the entire 1L year are more nuanced and more difficult to fix.
Does the student have an undiagnosed learning disability?
Are they being honest with themselves about their study time/reading habits/exam strategies?
If not, why are they so invested in deceiving themselves?
Or the hardest question of all, are they just not made for law school?
Having the " why do you really want to be a lawyer?" talk is always hard. Family expectations, personal goals, anger, and depression are all swift undercurrents that can sink the conversation, and possibly sink the student. As much as I stress that there is absolutely no shame in trying law school and deciding it's not for them, it's hard to move past the message that leaving law school makes them a failure. I try to keep tchochkes related to famous, successful people who left law school around my office year-round; Mary Matalin, the Republican political strategist; singer/dancer/actor/choreographer Gene Kelly, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" Harper Lee, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and late Presidents Johnson, McKinley, Truman, and both Roosevelts.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Yesterday I had the privilege of attending my sister's graduation from medical school. It was a truly wonderful experience and a wonderful day. Boston University Medical School chose a non-traditional graduation speaker, and I have been thinking about his speech for the past 24 hours. BUSM students chose Dean Kamen, the engineer and inventor of the Segway motor scooter, to speak to at the medical school graduation. He was a non-traditional speaker because he is an engineer by trade, not a doctor. However, many of the 400+ devices he has patented are medical devices for the most sick patients at hospitals. He spoke of how he was inspired to invent tiny catheters to treat babies with leukemia by watching his brother, a pediatric oncologist. He continued inventing catheters and stents for people with end-stage renal failure, catheters that free them from dialysis centers and allow peritoneal dialysis at home. He was inspired by watching doctors care for the most sick patients in the hospital; he was awed by their courage and caring.
His parting message for doctors was about how important they are to so many other people. He listed the ways doctors are extraordinary and the incredible power they have to change lives. I wish we heard more law school graduation speakers deliver a similar message about our field; we can change lives in way we don't think about everyday. Most law school graduation speakers I know of are attorneys. That is great, but attorneys telling future attorneys about how important we are doesn't send the same message as someone who has had their life changed by the work of a courageous attorney.
Dean Kamen also spent a large part of his time speaking about the importance of moving innovative medical devices through the FDA. I wish I could show his speech to 1L's, especially those who are undecided about law, and 2L's questioning their faith in public service in the face of big-firm job offers. The law has the power to save lives, however, in much less glamorous ways than a doctor or an inventor. The pay for saving lives isn't quite what it is for a big-firm attorney. We need more attorneys fighting for the rights of patients; these attorneys are unsung heroes.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Although many of you have already celebrated graduation, we here at VLS are gearing up for graduation this weekend. I was warned we live under something of a weather curse here at VLS; a dean was just reminiscing with me about the "one great (weather) graduation", back in 2003, when the weather cooperated with the ceremony. Last year it snowed. I interviewed for my current job the week following the snowy graduation, and it was 85+ with 85+% humidity. (Yes, it gets that hot here in the summer in Vermont!)
Besides chatting about the weather, graduates are going through the bittersweet emotions associated with graduation. I see them flying through my office hoping for a last-minute appointment to go over bar plans before they fly off. Two minutes after they leave my office, I see them teary-eyed in the hallways talking to a beloved professor or friend, yet later in the afternoon I can hear them laughing outside in the graduation tents as they try on their regalia for the first time. And yes, many of the hats do make them look like 14th century poets.
(Lesson from my own graduation: It's always a good idea to try on graduation regalia before graduation day.)
Graduation should be a time for us to celebrate our accomplishments as well as our students successes. We saw them through three years. Many, many of those who said they would not make it are now ready to pick up their diploma. If you get a thank you or two, know that there are at least 10 other students who feel the same way but are too focused on their future to stop and say the words. Stop and pat yourself on the back as you walk back from graduation; our blood, sweat, and tears went into getting them on that stage to pick up the diploma.
Addendum-May 19--graduation day was GORGEOUS here in Vermont; clear blue skies and 70 degrees, despite reports of rain showers. We may have escaped the weather curse...
Friday, April 4, 2008
It is three weeks away from the end of classes at my law school. Most students are feeling the pressure right now. Many students are telling me that they are having the blahs, the blues, bouts of depression, or burdens of inferiority.
In short, it is time for me to help them regain perspective and become motivated for the final haul. (Obviously, the ones who need counseling are referred to our Student Wellness Center for additional assistance.)
Here are some ideas that I discuss with each student to help increase motivation and get perspective back.
- Remember the Chinese proverb that "You can eat an elephant one bite at a time." It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of material to learn in each course. Focusing on an entire course means you are looking at the elephant. Focusing on pieces of the course means taking the individual bites. A student gains control by listing the subtopics in a course, estimating the time needed to know each subtopic well, and laying out a study schedule for which subtopics will be done each day. As each subtopic is crossed off the list, the elephant is gobbled down.
- Think of exam study as covering two time periods. The first period includes the weeks remaining in classes when one keeps up with the usual tasks (reading, briefing, outlining each week) and carves out time to study for exams. The second period includes the actual reading and exam periods. By front-loading as much exam study as possible into each class week, you feel as though progress is being made toward the ultimate exams. Then, by planning the reading and exam period for the remaining tasks, you can focus on the final crunch.
- Have a three-track study system each week for both time periods. Read each course outline through cover to cover to keep all the material fresh. Focus on specific subtopics to learn them in depth for the exam. Finally, do practice questions on subtopics that have already been studied.
- Remember that you are the same unique, talented, bright, and special person that you were when you came to law school. If you have lost sight of this fact, it is time to ask a relative, friend, spouse, or other mentor to agree to become your "encourager" for the remaining weeks in the semester. Either telephone that person when you need a boost or have the person telephone you every day with words of encouragement.
- Use inspirational quotes, scriptures, or other sayings to motivate yourself. Whether you keep them in a binder that you read each morning and evening or post them around your apartment, these sources can inspire and encourage you to keep working hard.
- Visualize yourself making progress on your review for exams and taking the exam with confidence. An athlete visualizes success regularly before the actual swim meet or the actual pole vault at a new height.
- Do your best rather than trying to be perfect or an expert in a course. Law school is about learning to analyze areas of law that are new every semester. You cannot become an expert in every course in law school. You can only ask yourself to do your best each semester.
- Focus on the positive each day rather than the negative. By giving yourself credit for what you have accomplished rather than bemoaning what you should have done, you are more likely to move forward in your studying rather than stalling.
- Set up a reward system to motivate yourself for tasks. Set small rewards for small tasks (10-minute phone call, walk to the vending machine for a snack, playing 4 games of solitaire). Set medium rewards for medium tasks (half hour break; playing frisbee with the dog; reading a bedtime story to your child). Set large rewards for large tasks (dinner with friends; a movie; a long bubble bath).
In addition to discussions of study strategies, I find that I often give "pep talks" during this time of year. I praise students for what they are doing right in their study efforts. I encourage students who need to change some strategies to become more efficient and effective. And, I focus on managing the elephant's parts rather than being overwhelmed by the very large elephant in the room. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I remember Januaries.
They begin with the AALS Conference where most of us show up to share ideas, eat too many cookies, scurry through the Thompson-West exhibit getting our cards initialed so we get the free gift and qualify for the big drawing, and ask, “Where is [fill in blank] ... did she retire already?” Then those of us who can show up at the pre-dawn (well, it always seems like that anyway) Academic Support Section overpriced breakfast meeting near the end of the week to ask each other, “Who’s hosting the summer meeting(s) this year?”
The following Monday we all return to our offices to welcome the students back for the spring semester. (Students in the northeast, as I vaguely recall, often return to snow.) All of them are asking the same question: “When do we get our grades?” The wunnelles are asking, “If my grades are horrible, can I get a refund on my spring semester books and get my tuition back?” Some have made New Year’s resolutions to study more efficiently, or visit the pub less, etc., etc.
The long wait for grades ensues. As they trickle in, so do the students – to make appointments with either the Dean of Students or the Academic Support Director (or both). Some drop by to offer gratitude, but most arrive with an array of emotions ranging from disappointment to shock – a few with anger. (I remember one student who arrived with her mother. They both explained that the student had graduated at the top of her college class, had an IQ in the genius range, and – most importantly – had several lawyers in her family (not Mom). The visit was to inform me that there’s something seriously wrong with a school that can’t figure out that she should be at the top of her class – her highest grade was a C. She withdrew.)
But this time of the year is when Academic Support professionals can do some of their most effective work – many students are now willing to admit that what you told them at Orientation really did apply to them.
If you’re relatively new to Academic Support and fortunate enough to be able to attend the AALS Conference, that’s a question to be asking your colleagues –“How can I be most effective in January for the students who have disappointing grades?” Search out the “veterans” and find out their (open) secrets. As weird as January is around a law school, it can be a very productive time for the Academic Support staff!
Me? No AALS this year. I wish I could! But the distance between New York and Montevideo is about 5,500 miles, the air fare is prohibitive, and I just compared the weather report for January in New York to January on Pocitos Beach in Montevideo. (Remember, it’s summer in South America in December.)
Also, the academic support I’m providing to students of Concord Law School via cyberspace is of a different variety – for me it’s limited to extensive (written) exam-answering improvement advice, including (unlike yesteryear in law schools with buildings) explanations of the underlying law when appropriate. I spend fifteen to twenty hours each week at this pursuit, reviewing essay answers that range from beginning students’ awkward attempts, to crystal clear, concise, excellent, lawyerlike answers. My comments are composed of footnotes to most every issue discussed by the student, followed by “overall” suggestions on how to improve. All of my work is reviewed by the professor teaching the class (and modified if necessary) before being sent to the students.
Of course this is time consuming. After reviewing many hundreds of exam questions (Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Evidence), I still spend at least thirty minutes (usually longer) on each one. That’s what makes this type of feedback both (a) very valuable for the students, but (b) virtually impossible for a one-person academic support office at the typical law school-within-walls to handle. But I’ve got to say – this is something I’ve always believed students need: practice, practice, practice … with substantial feedback consisting primarily of encouraging positive improvement advice.
So even though I don’t get to see the smiling faces of the successful students, I suppose that’s balanced somewhat by the time not spent with … well, you know.
I have to admit that “going to work” (in my living room) in attire ranging from pajamas to blue jeans is a plus, too.
Enjoy AALS – I will truly miss a week with you. (djt)
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Here's a great suggestion from Hillary Burgess:
I often hear from professors that students sometimes complain more than they thank. Since I've received so much support for my recent projects (and am in the midst of writing many, many thank you notes), I thought I'd pass along this idea.
To boost your spirits, especially since it's tending toward stress time, what about taking 5-10 minutes to thank someone on your faculty or one of your own professors from your law school days or, better yet, your ASP mentor? Thank someone from your past who would never in a million years expect a thank you note now.
It'll make both you and that person feel good right now; but more importantly, those memories are the ones that carry us and our own mentors through the tougher moments. The letters I've received from former students – and even more so the notes I've received from parents of students – have really helped me sustain some sense of sanity when faced with a stack of papers or, worse, a failing or cheating student.
So thank a random person from your past today. Just a thought.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Do you know who some of the most generous, dedicated, caring, supportive, and knowledgeable people are at law schools? They are ASP professionals. I make this statement based on five plus years of observing all of you, participating in conferences, reading the listserv entries, reading blog entries from my fellow editors, and speaking with you in telephone conversations about a variety of topics.
ASP professionals are a treasure in legal education for their students, for their faculty and administrative colleagues, and for each other. Are we always paid our worth in gold (notice that I left my weight out of this question)? No. Are we always thanked for our expertise? No. Are we always given budgets and facilities that will allow us to have our ideal programs? No. But, despite any failings in these categories, our students (and law schools) know that they would suffer without our being there.
Just look at the wealth of knowledge we share regularly on the listserv to help each other have better programs for our students. Just look at the dedication of ASP professionals who serve on our AALS section, who write and edit the Learning Curve, who serve as my fellow editors and contributing editors for the blog, who have published in our field and other fields, who plan conferences, and who provide materials in conference presentations. (Speaking of dedication, have you noticed that Dennis Tonsing is still writing his wonderful, insightful entries from his post abroad?)
Thank you. I just want you to know that I am proud to have you as colleagues. I am proud to say that I am an ASP professional because of all of you. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I have found this to be a wonderfully useful tool. It saves your time while providing an extraordinarily high level of feedback and/or instruction for your students. The tool? Microsoft’s “Sound Recorder.” It’s probably sitting on your hard drive right now. It’s easy to use … with a headset mike or just talking into your computer’s microphone. Did you know your laptop has a microphone built in? (Maybe yes, maybe no … ask your tech support helper if you can’t determine. If it doesn’t have one, ask for a mike to plug in.)
Suggested uses . . .
· Tip of the day, tip of the week – in an email sent to a specific person, specific group or all students, let them know that if they open the sound message they’ll receive a helpful tip by listening (for example) only 20 seconds. Send them something amazing so they’ll open the next one!
· If you are lucky enough to receive written student work from time to time, this is an excellent way to comment on it. In the body of your email, encourage the student to have a copy of her/his work on the desk, and make notations while listening to your vocal feedback. You’ll find you can say much more than you can write in margins … and you don’t need to make an appointment with the student to deliver the feedback. Result: more personalized help for more students in less time.
· You’ll find it’s a great way to encourage students to attend your presentations, others’ presentations, or off-campus conferences. Mention the conference in an email, and include “I’ve included a 20-second message about how this can help boost your GPA … just click here!”
· If you have the tech-capability at your school, you can store bunches of tips and information on a site that all students can access whenever they want.
Microsoft's is not the only recorder, of course. I use others as well ... but if it's on your computer already, this might be the best way to begin to get used to recording messages for your students.
Caveat 1: Keep the vocal messages short. Students don't want to listen to a rambling "tip." (I think it's different in the case of feedback on a piece of writing, however. Line-by-line positive feedback ... "This is a great way to introduce the rule of law! You should do this more often!" ... will keep them listening ... then you can slip in something like, "What would really help is if you included all four ways of proving malice ... here's how I would suggest you could do that...." A recording like this can go on for several minutes and keep the student's attention.)
Caveat 2: It’s critical not to overuse this method. Remember, emails are easy to delete without opening. (djt)
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Each week seems to fly by faster than the one before it. I keep thinking that the semester will hit a nice routine. However, study skills workshops have now joined student appointments, walk-ins, special projects, class sessions, and meetings on my calendar. It is times like these that I remind myself that ASP professionals also need to use stress busters. Here are some things to consider:
- Increase your number of hours of sleep each night by one to wake up more refreshed.
- Go out to eat lunch occasionally so that you get a break rather than eating hurriedly at your desk.
- On the days that you pack a lunch, close your door so that you can have some undisturbed down time without questions and walk-ins (and indigestion!).
- Take the stairs to give yourself a bit of exercise during the day.
- Walk to a meeting on main campus instead of driving for some exercise as well.
- Mark off project time on your calendar during each week so that you can have uninterrupted time to focus.
- Break your "to do" list into smaller steps so that you have a greater sense of accomplishment crossing off stages of a larger project.
- Do a few relaxation exercises throughout the day to ease your computer posture.
- Remind yourself at the end of a day of three ways that you helped make a difference for your students.
- Read some inspirational sayings or scriptures each day to promote a positive outlook.
- Talk to five students in the student lounge and encourage them - you will feel better for it.
- Limit the number of hours you will stay late or the work you will take home so that you have more time for yourself and your family.
- Make a crock pot your best friend for your nutritional freedom from "what's for dinner" decisions.
- Pick an empty day on your calendar in two weeks time to keep clear from appointments and treat yourself to a vacation day (even if you will just sleep late and stay at home).
- Attend a conference with your wonderful ASP colleagues to get renewed and supported in your work.
- Telephone someone who will be happy to hear from you and will not ask you for anything at all.
Ahhhh...I feel better already. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 6, 2007
I cannot believe that it is actually August 6th. Where did the summer go? I remember May 13th and hooding ceremony as taking place yesterday.
If you are like me, you still have miles to go before you are ready for the fall semester (my pardon to Robert Frost). I have had a very productive summer, but there always seem to be more projects than hours. However, I have concluded that having so much more to do is a result of loving my job and wanting to be better at it each day. I want to excel for my students, just as I encourage them to excel.
If you think about it, we are blessed in the ASP profession. We spend each day helping students succeed. We spend each day learning new study and exam strategies from diverse students. We have great books to read by ASP experts to guide us to new strategies, paradigms, etc. We are surrounded by a learning community with people who actually want to learn. We are surrounded by colleagues with fascinating experiences and specialties in law. And, we get to share our students' successes.
As I look across my office, I see my framed poster from the 1980 opening of the U.S. Education Department. It reads, "Learning never ends."
So, the summer may have flown by me. But, I have been busy learning. And, I hope my learning never ends. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
My neighbor's son just graduated from high school, and he stopped my wife the other day and asked question that surprised her, mostly because he of the way he asked it. He is not an emotional guy, and he is not one of those people who needs to hear a thank you when he pitches in to help out someone else. Nevertheless, he began to tear up a little and asked my wife, "Do they ever let you know they are grateful for all that you have done for them?"
My children are in their twenties, so my wife and I have been through high school graduations and sending children off to college, so my wife understood his question and the disappointment that underlay it. My wife assured him that they do, eventually, in one way or another, let you know they understand all the hard work and love that went into raising them; it is just that they usually do not do it until they are long past high school.
I taught high school for a number of years before attending law school, and I saw the same thing with my students. A few high school students will express gratitude to their teachers during commencement, but the malls are not teeming with those students. High school students mostly go on to college and the rest of their lives without saying thanks to the teachers who gave so much time and sweat to teaching them skills essential to their future success.
After I had taught a while, however, I found that former students, five or ten years down the road, would stop by just to say, "Thank you for all that you did." The longer I taught, the more often that happened. One time, I ran into a former student who ten years earlier had taken every opportunity to let the teachers and administrators know that he thought that our school was a waste of his time. That day, however, he told me that he had decided to go into teaching. He told me he had spent some time coaching kids in a summer baseball league and that he had suddenly realized what it was we had been trying to do for him all those years before. He said he decided then that he wanted to spend his life doing the same thing and that he was now teaching high school.
It took time to hear those kinds of things from high school students because students generally have to experience success for a while before they start to look back over their lives to see who contributed to that success. Until I had taught for a few years, most of my former students just were not old enough to be reflective about the people who had been there for them when they were young.
I suspect the same is true for those of us who work in academic support. I have worked in the field for only a couple of years now, and I have already had a few students go out of their way to say thanks, probably because law students are more mature than their high school counterparts; but few have expressed that genuinely deep gratitude that I still hear every so often from my former high school students.
Law school graduates are busy celebrating the end of law school, preparing for and worrying about the bar exam, moving on in their lives and careers. Down the road, I suspect some will come back to express a deeper gratitude, just as high school students go back to let their teachers know that things are going well and that they hope they have made their teachers proud, just as children one day realize just how much was required of their parents.
I say all of this because at the end of the year, teaching can seem like a thankless job sometimes. Students are not necessarily grateful for all of their professors' hard work, including the hard work of those of us in academic support. If you are new to the field, you may be a little dismayed that your students are not more enthusiastic in their gratitude, and you may wonder if anything you have done was really worth it to them.
I know we are not in this work so that we can have students thank us one day, but the gratitude of students can let us know our work was not in vain, so the thanks matter on some level. Anyone who serves others wants to know occasionally that the work was appreciated.
My experience, as a parent and as a teacher, tells me that the thanks will come someday. You will begin to hear from students, often long after they have gone; and they will let you know that they see all that you did for them. Some, maybe most, will never take the time to say it -- some children never tell their parents -- but most will think it, and some will say it.
What you are doing matters, and it matters to your students -- if not today, someday. Keep plugging along, thanks or no, because you are changing lives. One day, someone will stop you on the street or come up to you at a reception or maybe even drop by your office; and you will hear how much all that you did meant to him. You did not help him so that one day you would hear him say thank you; but when you hear it, you will see your work through different eyes. (Dan Weddle)
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Every August, I watch a new crop of first-year students milling around, waiting for orientation activities to begin. Some look confident, others a little anxious; some talk, and some sit quietly, avoiding conversations; some seem nonchalant, others cautiously excited. As a group, they seem ready for what's coming as their first year begins.
And I always think to myself, "They're about to get hit by a train, and they don't even know they're on the tracks."
It is true, of course. They are about to be hit by a train they have not anticipated, even if someone has warned them ahead of time. Until you have been to law school, you just can't get it. You can know it will be challenging; you can know that it will take hard work and long hours. But you can't really know what is about to hit you until it hits you.
Some might say that law school itself is the train, driven by professors who delight in driving it over unsuspecting students who cannot possibly hope to compete with scholars that have devoted much of their adult lives to mastering their particular areas of law. Students understandably believe that to be so, and many lawyers believe it was true of their own law school experiences.
I do not think the train is law school itself, however. I cannot deny, of course, that some law professors have a sadistic streak or a simply arrogant streak that leads them to belittle those who cannot play at the same level as they. Those professors, in my experience at least, are a small minority. Most law professors genuinely want their students to learn; and while they may be demanding teachers, they are not deliberately cruel.
So what is the train that runs over first-year law students? It is the law itself. The law demands students to develop new thinking skills, new learning strategies, new attitudes about the complexities of life, and a new respect for the pitfalls of shallow reasoning. The law requires an intellectual humility at the outset because it constantly engages perplexing but important questions of justice. The law requires precision and care in the balancing of rights and duties, responsibilities and harms. It grants no room for sloppy or cavalier thinking.
It may seem that law school is the culprit, but it seems so only because law school provides for most students their first encounter with the demands of the legal profession. The train that hits them is an unavoidable and exceptionally challenging learning process qualitatively different from much of what they have encountered in their schooling to that point.
The good news, however, is that they will master the law, insofar as one may do so in three years. By the end of their law school careers, they will have caught the train that hit them, and they will have learned not only how to ride it; they will have learned how to drive it. In a short three years, they will have gone from generally dumbfounded and often shell shocked to generally competent and appropriately confident in the very endeavors that seemed so daunting in the first months of law school.
As a result, at commencement I am able to sit back and think, "Ladies and gentlemen, the train is yours." (Daniel Weddle)