Tuesday, January 8, 2019
January is the gateway between the old year and the new. The name “January” derives (either directly or indirectly, depending on which source you ascribe to) from the name of the Roman god “Janus”, who was the god of beginnings and endings, of passages and transitions. He’s the god that is usually portrayed with two faces: one looking to the future and one to the past. From “Janus” also came the Latin word “ianua”, or “door”, and thence the Latin word for “gatekeeper” – “ianitor”, or, as we now spell it in English, “janitor”. While today people often associate janitors with menial missions like mopping and maintenance, the original meaning of the word is closer to “guardian” or “caretaker” – a person who helps to ensure safe passage.
I often describe my role in academic and bar support as consisting in large part of helping law students through the two biggest transitions they face: learning to “think like a lawyer” upon entering law school, and preparing to take the bar examination after graduation. But perhaps that is too limited. Any learning process can be seen as a series of transitions, and our job is to help our students pass through them all. We are their janitors – the old-school kind, the caretakers and custodians. True, sometimes we have to help clean up some unforeseen messes. But our best work is really about helping our students to take the lessons they need to from what they have been through, and to prepare for the tasks they lie ahead of them.
January itself is a time of transition for law students, particularly 1L students, as they wrap up one semester and move forward into the next. As Steven pointed out yesterday, the new year is a natural time for looking ahead, setting goals, and developing processes. And it is also a natural time for taking stock, assessing successes and stumbles, and cultivating a clear sense of what has been accomplished and what remains. Some students might wrestle with this in different ways, calling for flexible strategies from us. We might help students who have not yet come to recognize the value of retrospection, or who avoid looking back out of shame or disappointment, by helping them to focus on specific, actionable lessons they can take from their past experiences. We might help other students, perhaps those devastated by disappointing performance or those made complacent by success, by reminding them that the past may not guarantee the future, and that next semester they are starting with a clean slate.
January really is Law School Academic Success Month. After all, we help students get through what might at first seem like a long, cold, dark time, and get them to see that it is really just the start of a brand new chapter of their lives. We are tutelaries of beginning, endings, and transitions, all year round.