Monday, May 16, 2022

Survey says....

I am on the precipice of turning in all my final grades for the spring. I am looking forward to taking a much-needed break before my summer class begins…on Wednesday. What will I do with my abundant “free time” besides walking the dog, feeding the children, laundry, and saving the universe? I’ll probably go through the survey I sent my summer students and pull out the important information to prepare for class.

For the past few summers, I have taught a class for incoming accelerated JD students which is basically a law school success bootcamp. We only meet for six sessions and the class is one credit (pass/fail), but these students are taking their first semester of law school (with a different curriculum than non-accelerated students) over the summer. They will have midterms around the time we are having BBQs, so they need to be quickly brought up to speed. There isn’t a lot of time, so I carefully plan the syllabus and try to get to know students ahead of time by posting a survey.

I always like sending a survey to students before class begins (accelerated or not) because that way I can ask for pronouns and nicknames early. I’ve recently rephrased my nickname question from: “I should call you,” to, “What would you like me to call you?” I did this mainly because every semester at least one student would write their cell phone number in the box below when I used the former phrasing. It did make me wonder if they really wanted me to phone them and I was disappointing them by just chuckling at how literal they were being.

I try to ask some fun questions, like TV shows they have recently loved and whether they have food allergies (I like to bake for my students without harming them). I also ask if there is anything I need to know about them-and offer both some multiple-choice options and a blank box for “other.”  They can check all that apply. One of the choices I offered this summer was, “I have recently been abducted by aliens and enrolling in law school was a condition of my release.” I got 11/21 checks on that box, so I am thinking this will be a fun group. I also got some important pieces of information: I have a lot of students who have been out of school for a while, a bunch have children or parents they are caring for at home, one is pregnant, and one has a degree in musical theater (which is great to keep in mind for when I finally get to stage “ASP: The Musical”).

My final survey question was new for this class. Since we have limited time together, I want to be sure I can offer as much support as possible (support is our middle name, after all). So, I asked, “My most pressing question about this class, or law school in general, is…” and put a text box below for their questions. Here are a few of the questions I got (almost every student who answered the survey had one):

  1. What is the most important thing to do to succeed?
  2. What are some common mistakes or missteps you see your students take?
  3. What proactive steps can I take to ensure that I have a job right after graduation in the field of law I prefer?
  4. My interests and enthusiasm regarding a particular field/area of law are still quite varied. Is there a typical semester or point in time where most undecideds choose a specific path?
  5. Will I still be able to have normal life?
  6. When is a reasonable time in one's law school-career for their anxiety level to decrease to a normal level?
  7. Are we gonna live?

These are not questions that can be answered with a shrug and a joke about the traditional law school answer being, “it depends,” even though it might be the right answer to some of them. The last three questions in particular need to be carefully addressed at the start, middle, and finish of classes, semesters, and years in law school.  A simple: “no”, “maybe never”, and “holy sh*t, I really hope so” just aren’t going to suffice.

So, to roughly paraphrase Phineas and Ferb[1], I know what I am going to do tomorrow.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Yes, again, can you believe it? I should really go through the survey question on TV shows and pick something intended for adults….

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2022/05/survey-says.html

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