Monday, June 17, 2019
Beard: n. a person who carries out a transaction for someone else in order to conceal the other's identity. – Oxford Pocket English Dictionary
It is a common practice for high-stakes gamblers to use a beard, a trusted acquaintance, when placing a bet. Beards keep the identity of the “shark” gambler unknown and preserve the odds. Celebrities and people who want to conceal their dating partnerships also use beards to maintain an expected public persona and to preserve their privacy.
The true role of a beard is to control or influence audience perception. Our job in academic support is to influence the perception and actions of the students we serve. ASP behind the beard allows us to fulfill our mission of student service and advancement. Behind the beard our message is not altered or concealed, only the messenger is.
My real-life experience behind the beard looks like this. For weeks, I preached and pushed a certain commercial tool to my bar takers. I negotiated a substantial discount for their purchase. I offered weekly incentives, provided demonstrations, and all but swore a blood oath that this tool would increase their chances of passing the bar. Crickets. I asked a recent bar taker to share her experience with the tool. She made one social media post that echoed verbatim my message. Within minutes of the post, I received multiple inquiries about the tool and sign-up confirmations.
Today’s law student does not respond to the pedagogy of the past. We may tell our students what is best for them academically and make recommendations for learning tools to support their development. And we may be right. But until our students “hear us” and find credible our advice and recommendations, our words fall on deaf ears. We can strategically use the peer learning model and employ student tutors, fellows, and former students to promote our messages by sharing what has worked for them to positively influence the actions of current students.
Monday, June 3, 2019
Don't let compliments get to your head and don't let criticism get to your heart. -- Lysa TerKeurst
The other day we held a bar workshop at my school. At the end of the session we collected evaluation forms from the students. I could hardly wait until the students were all out of the room to look at their written comments. A colleague and I sat at the edges of our seats to read what the students wrote about “our” workshop. As we thumbed through the evaluation forms, we read an abundance of smile-generating comments like: Good, Good, Excellent, Learned something new, Would recommend this session to others, and Glad I came. But our smiles askewed when we reached the one comment that read this session was longer than I expected and the presentation was poor.
Of the many laudatory comments, only one offered anything other than praise. And yet that one evaluation form is all that we focused on for the rest of the afternoon. My colleague and I became defensive and responded to the anonymous feedback as if talking to the student who submitted it. I suspect that our reaction was not atypical in the academic support teaching profession. We probably reacted in the same manner that many professors do as we review our course evaluation forms, student emails, or other summative feedback. We focus almost blindly on what someone did not like at the expense of commentary reflecting the effectiveness of our teaching and service.
So many of us in academic support or other teaching professions may put too much weight on the criticism and not enough weight on the compliments. Perhaps it is because we invest so much in the success of our students and the excellency of our programs that we forget the role that criticism can play in our own professional development. As this summer’s bar prep gets rolling full throttle, I’ve made a promise to myself to not let my view of the forest be impeded by one tall tree. While I am providing my students with daily affirmations, I pledge to affirm and nurture myself and my wellbeing. In doing so, I will be better able to service my family and my students who depend on me. As you read your course evaluations and performance reviews this summer, challenge yourselves to take criticism with a grain of salt (or a bottle of wine) and be thankful for the wonderful learning opportunity that the feedback provides.
Monday, May 27, 2019
Most of our readers have seen the announcement that I am retiring. My work in ASP at law schools has spanned nearly 18 years - at U of Akron as well as Texas Tech. I have been humbled by the outpouring of well wishes and kind words on the listserv and in personal emails. I was honored and deeply touched to receive an award at the recent AASE conference.
My years in ASP have been a pleasure. There are many reasons for that:
- I love working with students. I want them to achieve at the highest level of their potential and not just survive law school. Learning new strategies can transform their law school semesters.
- I love seeing students and alumni flourish in their lives and careers. It gives me great joy to hear about their successes: improved grades, competition wins, officer positions, job offers, bar passage, promotions, marriages, new babies, and more. And, I have also been with them through disappointments and tears. I have had the honor of being part of so many lives.
- I love learning. There is a 1980 framed poster in my office from the official opening of the U.S. Education Department that reads "Learning never ends." Each day I learned something new from my students, my colleagues, or other resources to improve my work.
- I love the ASP/bar prep community. You are awesome colleagues! The amount of sharing of ideas, materials, and encouragement is unlike that in other legal professional groups. I am convinced that you are some of the nicest people to work with as colleagues anywhere on earth.
- I love the dear friends in ASP/bar prep with whom I have shared many experiences. Whether we have seen each other only at conferences, worked on AALS or AASE projects, talked by phone, or emailed regularly, I have been privileged to be your friend. Your friendship and support have been phenomenal.
I wish each and every one of you personal satisfaction, opportunities to learn, camaraderie with other ASP'ers, and career successes.
Monday, May 20, 2019
As my career in ASP winds down, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years. Here are a few things that strike me as important lessons learned from discussions with my ASP/bar prep colleagues, observations of our profession over time, and my own experiences:
- ASP and bar prep work have gained more recognition through the years. LSAC supported us early on. AALS recognized our efforts with a section designation. Changes to ABA standards brought more attention to our roles. More law schools now have programs, but there is still work to be done if all law students are to have access to full-time, funded services.
- ASP/bar prep started its work to increase academic and bar success for minority students. With the pressures of stigma and backlash, many ASP programs opened services to all law students. Although programs may still have minority components within the services, the broader law school population has now become the focus. Declining admissions (and the resulting decline in applicant credentials in some cases) and ABA emphasis on bar passage rates have continued the pressure for services to be available to all law students. Let us not forget our original purpose of supporting diversity as our roles expand.
- The work we do is not just about grades or bar passage. We teach skills that impact our graduates throughout their lives. We teach skills resulting in better lawyering and more satisfying living. Among the skills we teach are learning strategies, legal reasoning, problem solving, organizing work, managing time, managing stress, and avoiding procrastination.
- We need to be careful that we do not just jump from the "hot topic or solution of the month" to the next hot topic. It is tempting, but ultimately shallow. There is no magic wand available for ASP or bar prep. Learning, memory, and legal reasoning are complex topics with layers of nuance. To those three, we must add the topics of diversity, motivation, procrastination, learning disabilities, time management, work management, stress management, resilience, grit, mindset, and mental health - also very complex and nuanced. I could easily list another dozen topics that relate to our work. We need to investigate deeply to understand the nuances, remain open to intertwined concepts, and build successful strategies over time.
- The numbers game is not all that matters. It is nice if large numbers enroll in courses or attend workshops, but numbers alone do not tell the story. Our work regularly impacts on an individual level. We need to remember that assisting one student at a time is valuable. Let us not forget the merit of one-on-one assistance during our law schools' demand for numbers to tout.
- We need to provide alternative methods for students to access our services. Some services may involve mandatory appointments, workshops, or courses. However, even mandatory offerings may not reach all students who need help or may fail to reach them at the time when they are most receptive. We need to continue to explore different ways to reach students where they are and when they are receptive to services. The possibilities are endless, but include appointments, workshops, packets, handouts, email tips, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, intranet pages, pop-up events, and walk-abouts.
- We need to remember that each student is unique. One size does not fit all, no matter what theory suggests. Each student comes with individual strengths, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, educational backgrounds, and experiences. We cannot forget the individual when we consider our repertoire of theories, generalities, and strategies.
- We need to ask questions and listen to the answers. I learn some of the best strategies from students explaining what they have discovered. In the search for the combination of strategies for each student, we need to explore with the student what works, does not work, needs to be modified, or needs to be tossed.
- We want students to succeed and are personally involved in their learning. However, ultimately the student must implement the strategies, eschew bad habits, and work to achieve success. Despite our best efforts, some students will not reach their full academic potential and may even fail academically or fail the bar repeatedly. It exemplifies the old adage of leading a horse to water.
- Working 60-70 hours per week (and often more) is the temptation in ASP/bar prep because we want to implement new programs, stay up with professional development, be available to students, show up at events to support them, and answer emails at all times of the day and night. However, working at such a pace leads to burnout and ultimately does not help us or our students. We need to model the work-life balance that we regularly recommend to our students.
- Have faith in your own expertise and the" best practices" that match your law school's culture. The variety of law schools means that one size does not fit all. Be open to ideas and weigh their value for your law school situation. ASP/bar prep colleagues are willing to share ideas and expertise - usually for free. Read the Law School Academic Support Blog, post queries on the Law School Academic Support listserv, attend AASE and AALS conferences or other regional workshops, and reach out to experienced colleagues. However, be wary of anyone who tells you there is one and only one (that is, the individual's own) path to "best practices" in ASP/bar prep; that viewpoint is just not accurate.
- No matter how dedicated and expert we are in our work, our law schools have to provide the facilities and resources for us to do our work well. Without commitments for space, budget, staffing, support services, and equal status, we will be limited in achieving the greatest results for our students. Talk is cheap. It takes actions from each and every law school in support of our ASP and bar professionals to make a difference.
ASP/bar prep work is challenging, impactful, rewarding, and gratifying. We can be proud of what we do each day. What we accomplish is important. We need all law schools to recognize how important our work is for our students' academic success and for their futures. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, May 13, 2019
Few law students are able to ignore grades - especially if the final exam is the only grade for a course. Whether students have been successful or unsuccessful in the past with their grades, they become anxious about the current exam, the upcoming exam, and the just past exam.
How one feels coming out of the exam is really immaterial because the class as a whole is what determines the outcome. I remember coming out of a property exam hoping I did not fail. I knew property really well but had been unable to finish the exam. When grades were posted, I got a very high grade because I finished more than others and that professor wrote the exam so no one would be able to finish it.
Here are some things to consider as you go through exams and afterwards:
- Ignore the rumor mill. It has little truth on it this time of year. Use your common sense to spot the ridiculous. Example: Our exams are graded by anonymous numbers, and professors assign final grades by anonymous numbers. The rumor mill had the 1Ls convinced that grades for the semester would now be assigned alphabetically by last name so the only people who would receive A grades were last names beginning with A or possibly a few students with last names beginning with B.
- It is common to walk out of an exam and realize that you missed an issue, misunderstood a question, forgot an ancillary rule, and made other mistakes. It's okay. Do not beat yourself up about the errors. It happens to everyone. Put the exam behind you and move on.
- You do not want to talk with classmates about the exam after it is over. Just smile, wish the person luck on the next exam, and walk away. Why? You will stress because someone will mention an issue you missed - but it wasn't there and that person was wrong. Someone will brag about how easy the exam was when you thought it was very hard. Someone will predict doom and gloom and cause you to worry and lose focus on the next task.
- The days of having to get 90-100% on the exam to get an A grade in a course are over. You left that grading scale behind with college. It is not unusual for a law school A to equal just 70-75% of the possible points - and sometimes even fewer points.
- A final exam measures your performance on one day on one particular set of questions. You may know that course at a deeper level than your grade will show. Maybe the curve was tight. Maybe there were very few questions on a topic you knew well. Maybe you blanked on a topic. Maybe you were ill.
- You are not your grades. Good or bad grades, you are far more than your grades. You are the same capable, intelligent, funny, caring, amazing person who came to law school the first day you arrived.
- If you want to improve your future grades, the academic support professionals at your law school can assist you in learning new strategies that will boost your academic results. See them early and often next semester.
Take your exams in stride. Do the best you can each day under the circumstances. It is the daily work that pays off in better grades. If you have a bad day, get some rest; start over again the next morning. Best wishes for exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, May 6, 2019
Exams have started at our law school, and law students are looking much more sleep-deprived than usual. It is tempting to skimp on sleep to study. It is also easy to toss and turn instead of sleeping once getting into bed. Here are some hints to help in the sleep department:
- Realize that a good night's sleep of 8 hours will do your brain more good than late-night cramming. You will be more alert, focused, and productive the next day.
- Exercise expends stress and helps you sleep. Even a 30-minute walk can help. Most research suggests that your exercise should be before 8:00 p.m. to get the most sleep benefits.
- Avoid naps because they ultimately can disrupt your night's sleep routine. If you must nap, make it a power nap of no more than 15-20 minutes.
- Take at least one hour as a wind-down break before bed each night. Make that hour non-law and non-electronic time. Walk your dog. Pack your lunch for the next day. Chat with your spouse. Read a fluff novel.
- If possible, stop studying by 8:00 p.m. at the latest on the night before an exam. Spend time doing something you enjoy that will occupy your mind fully and prevent you thinking about law school. Play the piano. Join a pick-up basketball game. Go to the IMAX theater.
- Do not stress if you need 30 or so minutes to fall into a deep sleep. Most people do not fall asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow. Breathe deeply; relax your muscles; think happy thoughts (a memorable vacation, a walk on the beach, inspirational quotes or scripture).
- Improve your sleep environment to optimize your chances for a good night's ZZZZs: a cool room temperature; blackout curtains; total quiet (for some) or an eco-sound machine as white noise (for others); a cool air mister to add moisture to a room with dry air.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day no matter what your exam schedule is. Your body likes a set routine. You will be more likely to get sleepy before bed and wake up alert if you stay on a schedule.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep, get up and go to another room. Don't stay in bed and toss and turn. Read a few pages in a novel or some magazine articles. Avoid electronics. As you begin to relax and get sleepy, go back to bed.
- Try one of the old-time remedies that seem to work for lots of people: drink a cup of herbal tea before bedtime; drink warm milk before bedtime; take a lavender bubble bath.
May you fall asleep and have sweet dreams! (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
There are some weeks when I'm pretty sure that no one else at my law school talks more than I do. Given that law schools are full of lawyers, this is a pretty audacious claim. But two or three times each semester, I encounter a perfect storm of ASP responsibilities -- I have classes to teach, I meet with the students from those classes for one-on-one discussions, I participate in administrative meetings, and I have drop-in visits from or appointments with other students seeking individual counseling -- and my entire work week, from morning to night, is chockablock with lectures and chats and debates and advising. Usually, by Tuesday afternoon, I can feel my vocal cords growing fatigued and irritated. I have discovered that if I just try to soldier on, then before the week is out, those little laryngeal muscles will seize up like an old pick-up truck engine, and suddenly I will be flapping my jaw uselessly, with nothing but a breathy wheeze coming out.
It is very hard to explain to a student how to think like a lawyer when you sound like a strangled serpent.
The fact is that teachers of all kinds are among those most at risk for developing voice problems. This might in part be because they work in schools, which are really just giant Petri dishes for the cultivation of upper respiratory infections. But the biggest threat to our voices could merely be overuse. Vocal cords are really just small, thin muscles, and we make them work to produce sound by forcing air between them until they vibrate audibly. Every syllable we utter arises from a bit of violence we do to our selves. Too much violence can damage the vocal cords, sometimes even permanently.
So it makes sense to try to find ways to treat our vocal cords more kindly. There are many things you can do to ease the strain you impose on your voice box. Some might become permanent habits; others you can use when you start to feel a little raspy, or maybe even just before a garrulously busy week starts:
- Keep your vocal cords moist. When vocal cords become dehydrated, they are more easily irritated. So drink plenty of water -- keep a cup or bottle on hand in the office or wherever you might expect to have to speak at any length. Also, certain chemicals, like alcohol, caffeine, and some cold medicines, can dry out your vocal cords. All things in moderation, generally, of course, but when you know you've got a talk-heavy week coming up, you might want to take a pass on coffee in the morning and wine in the evening. (Or vice versa, for that matter.)
- Avoid irritants. The effects of too much talking can be intensified by agents that make the vocal cords more sensitive. Cigarette smoke, both first- and second-hand, is an obvious example. But in addition to thinking about what you breathe, you should also consider what you eat. Aromatic and spicy foods carry the risks not only of irritating the throat on the way down, but also causing stomach upset and reflux that might also irritate the throat on the way out. Of course, food is not supposed to go down the windpipe, so direct irritation of the vocal cords is less common (though possible). A bigger issue is irritation of the throat above the larynx, which can lead to coughing, which directly assaults the vocal cords. Similarly, it is a good idea to avoid milk and dairy products, not because they are directly harmful, but because they can coat the throat, prompting you to try to clear it, which can also irritate the vocal cords. (If you ever feel the urge to clear your throat with a rumbling bark, hold off, and instead see if you can clear the irritation by opening your mouth wide and alternately breathing deeply through your nose and then exhaling, steadily and forcefully but not explosively, through your mouth, making the "h" sound as you do.) Of course, try not to get sick, too, because illness can be an irritant.
- Rest your vocal cords. It is often right to remain silent, but during busy times, it may not always be possible. Still, what you do outside the office can help rest your voice as well. When work is vocally busy, try to avoid scheduling other responsibilities that might require extensive speaking. Get rest at home -- minimize conversation and get good sleep. In the long term, regular exercise can help develop stamina, even in the vocal cords, so that you can talk longer before your throat starts to feel irritated.
- Soothe your throat. Along with having water at hand, keep some cough drops, mints, or even certain fruits at hand. Eating or sucking on these will stimulate the production of saliva, which keeps the vocal cords moist. Also, consider drinking herbal teas with soothing ingredients like chamomile or slippery elm bark. Traditional Medicinals "Throat Coat" is a pleasant choice.
- Use healthy speaking techniques. Since in many cases we are not going to be able to avoid frequent speaking, it's a good idea to learn how to speak in the least irritating way for your vocal cords. Sit up straight and don't slouch; good posture opens up the airway and relieves pressure on the larynx. Avoid yelling, and avoid whispering -- both put unnecessary stress on your vocal cords. Instead, try always to speak in a conversational tone of voice, but try to take deep breaths and to exhale using your diaphragm and your chest to produce sound, not just your throat. This takes some of the strain off your vocal cords. Finally, if you do lecture, don't eschew the use of a microphone, when available. Yes, your stentorian voice can reach the back of the lecture hall, but you may pay for it later when you are trying to reach to person seated across the desk.
Monday, April 29, 2019
It is the time in the semester when I give many, many pep talks. The time when I urge students to stay positive. The time when I suggest students need to rebut their negative self-talk.
We all have experienced a litany of negative statements that we say, often silently, to ourselves at one time or another. As the pressure of upcoming exams increases, I am hearing more and more negative comments verbalizing negative thoughts from students. The statements might be self-critical ("Oh, that was a stupid mistake!") or negative comparisons ("You just aren't as smart as they are.") or pessimistic ("No matter how hard you try, you won't be able to do this.). Whatever the form of the negativity, it deflates self-esteem, discourages further hard work, and waves the white flag of defeat.
I often point out to my students that one of the skills that every attorney needs is being able to plausibly rebut arguments presented by the opposing side. The skilled attorney can listen to the negative statement about their client's case, and then adroitly respond with the positive argument for the client's case. In fact, in preparation of the case, an attorney should consider the opponent's arguments and be ready to rebut those points. Whether by distinguishing facts, interpreting statutory language differently, mentioning an authority with the opposite outcome, or showing flawed logic, attorneys present their advocacy for the client's position.
Law students need to practice the same rebuttal skill when the negative self-talk in their heads starts to undermine their confidence and cause them to doubt their abilities. Here is an exercise that I suggest to my students to help them rebut the negative self-talk that stalks them:
- Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns.
- Head the left-hand column "Negative Self-Talk" and the right-hand column "Positive Self-Talk"
- In the negative column, list the negative statements that the little voice in your head says to discourage you.
- In the positive column, write out a positive rebuttal that tells the negative voice it is wrong and why.
- For example: negative side - "You will never learn Property in time for the exam!" positive side - "I can learn this. I just need to learn one subtopic at a time and then move on to the next subtopic."
- Add any new negative self-talk and the rebuttals to the list whenever you catch yourself stating something negative that you have not dealt with already.
How do you use the list? Practice your rebuttals and use them every time you state the corresponding negative self-talk. Some students tell me that after a few times, they start laughing at the negative voice. Other students tell me that after a few times, the negative voice has no power over them because they now believe the rebuttal. There are students who post the paper on the bathroom mirror and read the positive self-talk every time they brush their teeth or comb their hair. Other students tell me they carry it around in a notebook to reread the positive statements regularly.
We can be our own harshest critics. But we can also be our own greatest cheerleaders! Aim for the skill of rebuttal and stay positive. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 13, 2019
We are getting ready to register for courses for the next academic year's two semesters. Rising 2L advisees are meeting with their academic advisors to plan their course selections (and alternate courses in case they get waitlisted). As always, the rumor mill is generating a lot of static that has this group of newbies to registration somewhat perplexed.
There are some advisees who ignore the rumor mill entirely. There are other advisees who take every word as gospel and stress. Here are some tips to sort the wheat from the chaff during the course registration process:
- Be cognizant of the actual academic policies and procedures at the law school. What are the graduation requirements that must be met? What are the credit-hour ranges allowed each semester? What are the prerequisites for advanced courses, clinics, externships, etc.?
- Remember that each student learns differently from other students. You have preferences for subject matter, teaching styles, course formats, test formats, and more. Ask multiple upper-division students about courses/professors to get a variety of perspectives. A professor/course that would be perfect for you may not be another student's choice.
- Use the resources you have available to learn more about the courses. The professor teaching the course is your best source if you want to know more beyond the catalog description. Ask about topics that will be covered, types of readings/exercises for class, assessments in the course, and more. Talk to concentration and dual-degree advisors if you want more specifics on those options. Attend meetings regarding clinics, externships, journals, internal/national competition teams, and other options. Talk to your career development office about coursework/experiences for career paths you want to consider.
- Balance your course schedule wisely for your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. If you are not good at business/math oriented courses, then income tax and commercial law in the same semester may be a killer. Two major paper courses may be fine if you are a very strong writer. If you are weak in legal research, then you may want to take an extra legal research seminar before you take your capstone/advanced writing course.
- Balance elective and required courses. Explore legal topics that you are curious about or may be interested in practicing. Take required courses 2L year that are needed as prerequisites for interesting advanced elective courses. If you have specific career goals, also consider concentrations or dual-degrees as you register.
- If you are registering for 2L year, think about what requirements and electives will be left for 3L year. Will that give you a balanced schedule for those last two semesters? If you are a rising 3L, think about the balance between your final fall and spring semesters.Will you have extra job-hunt or part-time-job commitments to balance in?
- Consider your commitments outside of class when choosing a balanced schedule. Do you commute a long distance each day? Will you be working? Do you have family commitments? Will you be an organization officer? Will you try out for competition teams or write-on for a journal?
- Be true to yourself in your selections. Test the "everyone should aspire to" advice against your own values, goals, and gut. If you know you want to be a transactional lawyer and do not want to litigate, then ignore pressure to take elective litigation courses and instead focus on courses that will benefit your goals. If you really do not have any desire to write on to a journal and would turn down the opportunity if offered, then do not force yourself to enter the write-on competition. If working at Big Law is your idea of a total nightmare, then pursue coursework that will be beneficial to a small or mid-sized firm in the geographical area you want. If you are set on solo practice, then take electives in law office management, law practice technology, and other practical areas.
- Remember that no course you take will be a total waste of time. You hone your legal reasoning skills in every course. If you take a course you think you want to practice in and ultimately decide you despise it, then you have gained insight into what not to practice. If you take a course you are unsure of and fall in love with the content area, then you have discovered an interest that may point to advanced coursework and a career.
- It is okay if you do not have any idea what you want to do after your J.D. degree. There are areas of law to explore and find out. Many law students discover their passions during 2L and 3L year. So take required and elective courses with an open mind!
- Do not despair if you do not get your "perfect" schedule. Through waitlists and add/drop period, you may get to tweak your schedule over the summer and into early fall semester.
I went to law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my law degree - I changed my mind. By the end of 1L summer I had discovered a new passion in a previously overlooked area of law. During 2L and 3L years, I discovered other potential areas of interest. The law is so expansive that the options are almost endless! (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, April 12, 2019
It has been an exciting time in Red Raider Land! Our basketball team returned home Tuesday afternoon to a warm welcome. Although they lost in the NCAA final against Virginia, they have set school history. In fact our TTU President cancelled evening classes Monday night and all classes for Tuesday.
I will admit that I was glued to my television for both the Final Four and the Final. The first of those games was such a joyous victory. The team was amazing. The loss to Virginia was heart-breaking, especially because of the OT call giving the ball to Virginia after the replay. The team played well and gave it every ounce of effort. Chris Beard has helped these young men become a family that supports one another at all times. In true Lubbock fashion the team was given a wonderful welcome home. This NCAA championship season will be remembered forever.
In many ways the NCAA tournament is a lot like final exams for law students. The hard work to get there, the high stakes, the pressure. Each exam feels like a "will I be victorious or go down in defeat" moment for some students. Here are some exam tips we can learn from the NCAA tournament:
- Daily preparation and hard work pay off in the big game. The road to success is built day by day.
- Practice, practice, and more practice is essential to honing skills for exams. You will never practice too much.
- A team to help you reach your game-day potential can be important - a study group, a study partner, teaching assistants/tutors, professors.
- People who believe in you and your abilities - friends, family, and mentors - should surround you in pre- and post-game times.
- Staying calm under pressure allows you to stay in the game and focus on every point you can get. Breathe deeply, and calm those jitters.
- Mistakes happen. Instant (or continual) replay after a disappointing exam performance is not helpful. Move on to the next exam in the series.
- Whether you win or lose, you are still a winner if you did your best on the day. All you can ask of yourself is to do your best.
- All of us can use victories or defeats to become better players in the future. Exam review later and new strategies can show us how to improve our scores.
For all of our students who are on the downward slope of classes to exams, keep up the hard work and show them what you can do! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 6, 2019
It's the spring recruiting season for ASP/bar prep! The Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) encourages all law schools to use the AASE disclosure form as part of the position advertisements for ASP/bar jobs at their law schools. The form provides additional information to applicants that is often missing from announcements, but is very helpful to the applicants. The AASE disclosure form is given below if you are unfamiliar with it. The Word document is also here: Download Aase_questions_job_postings_to_asp_listserv .
Posting - ASP Job Opportunity
Members of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) strongly encourage prospective employers to answer the below list of questions when posting a job opening to the academic support listserv. When answering these questions, please note the following:
- Where appropriate, more than one option may be checked when responding to an individual question.
- Information regarding salary is particularly important to applicants and to the broader ASP community, and AASE strongly encourages the inclusion of this information whenever possible.
- Employers may include additional explanatory information immediately after each respective question. Larger amounts of information, such as a position description, may be included at the end of the form or as an additional attachment.
It is our hope that the answers to these questions will provide applicants with a baseline for comparing different job opportunities. Also, completed questionnaires can give prospective employers insights into the various factors that impact the job market for academic support professionals.
- The position advertised:
___ a. is a full-time appointment.
___ b. is a part-time appointment.
Other, please specify:
- The position advertised:
___ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
___ b. may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
___ c. may lead to successive short-term contracts of one to four years. (Full Time Position)
___ d. has an upper-limit on the number of years a teacher may be appointed.
___ e. is part of a fellowship program for one or two years.
___ f. is an adjunct appointment.
___ g. is a year-to-year appointment.
___ h. is a one-year visitorship.
___ i. is for at will employment.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 2:
- The person hired:
___ a. will be permitted to vote on all matters at faculty meetings.
___ b. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings on matters except those pertaining to hiring, tenure, and promotion.
___ c. will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 3:
The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base compensation in the range checked below. (A base compensation does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams, teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base compensation does not include conference travel or other professional development funds.)
___ a. over $120,000
___ b. $110,000 - $119,999
___ c. $100,000 - $109,999
___ d. $90,000 - $99,999
___ e. $80,000 - $89,999
___ f. $70,000 - $79,999
___ g. $60,000 - $69,999
___ h. $50,000 - $59,999
___ i. $40, 000-49,999
___ j. $10,000 - $39,000.
___ k. less than $10,000.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 4:
- The person hired will have the title of:
___ a. Associate Dean (including Dean of Students).
___ b. Assistant Dean.
___ c. Director.
___ d. Associate Director.
___ e. Assistant Director.
___ f. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (tenure track).
___ g. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (clinical tenure track or its equivalent).
___ h. Professor – Full, Associate, or Assistant (neither tenure track nor clinical tenure track).
___ i. no title.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 5:
- Job responsibilities include (please check all that apply):
___ a. working with students whose predicators (LSAT and University GPA) suggest they will struggle to excel in law school.
___ b. working with students who performed relatively poorly on their law school examinations or other assessments.
___ c. working with diverse students.
___ d. managing orientation.
___ e. teaching ASP-related classes (case briefing, synthesis, analysis, etc.).
___ f. teaching bar-exam related classes.
___ g. working with students on an individual basis.
___ h. teaching other law school courses.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 6:
- The person hired will be present in the office:
___ a. 9-10 month appointment.
___ b. Year round appointment (works regularly in the summer months).
Additional information, question 7:
- The person hired is required to publish, in some form, in order to maintain employment.
___ a. Yes.
___ b. No.
Additional information, question 8:
- The person hired will report to:
___ a. the Dean of the Law School.
___ b. an Associate Dean.
___ c. the Director of the Academic Support Department.
___ d. a Faculty Committee.
Other, please specify:
Additional information, question 9:
Note: AASE strongly recommends that this disclosure form accompany all E-mail postings for academic support positions sent to subscribers of the ASP listserv (email@example.com).
Sunday, March 31, 2019
We have four weeks of classes left in our semester. Midterm exams, quizzes, paper draft deadlines, presentations, group projects, and many other law school assignments have clustered in the last several weeks with more of the same to come. Grades on that myriad of items are now emerging - for many law students, not as high as they had hoped.
The level of stress and anxiety among the students has risen along with these events and deadlines. Many students are worried about how much they still need to do before the end of classes and start of exams. A number of students are focused on self-negatives: "I should have outlined sooner." "I didn't work hard enough over Spring Break." "I didn't complete enough practice questions." "I didn't study enough for the midterm." Some students are focused on other-negatives: "The prof didn't allow enough time for that quiz." "The midterm wasn't fair." "The multiple-choice questions were too picky." "The prof took off too many points for citation errors." In either version, the negativity abounds.
It is easy for stressed students to become totally self-focused and intense during this point in the semester. People irritate one another, become curt in conversations, and behave rudely perhaps without realizing it. Tempers flare. Hurt feelings increase. Anxiety and stress escalate. Before long, the environment becomes toxic.
Each student has the capacity to de-escalate the tension around the law school. Each individual can nurture a calmer law school environment through words and deeds. To do so, it requires focusing on community instead of self. It requires focusing on the positive instead of moaning. It requires kindness instead of conflict.
Small acts of kindness not only make the recipient feel better, but also make the actor feel better. Here are easy ways for an individual to impact the law school environment through random acts of kindness:
- Make eye contact and smile at others. Your smile may be the only one a person sees today.
- Say "please" and "thank you" more often than you might normally remember. You will acknowledge others' help, and notice your blessings more.
- Hold open the door, offer to carry a box, or help pick up dropped books for someone. Etiquette is never out of fashion.
- Compliment another student on the good answer given in class today. Everyone can use a boost after dealing with the Socratic Method.
- Offer a copy of your class notes to a fellow student just back to class after an illness. Or suggest you meet with them to go over missed material.
- Take time to say an encouraging word to a classmate who is obviously working hard, but struggling. Better yet, offer to chat about the current class topic.
- Tell your study group members that you appreciate them and why they are important to your law school success.
- Share your personal study aid copy with a fellow student who cannot afford one. It's not very hard to agree a sharing schedule.
- Refuse to participate in or pass on gossip about a fellow student. Gossip hurts.
- Buy a soda or a bag of chips for the person behind you in line at the law school canteen - whether or not you know them.
- Unexpectedly offer to share your law school pizza delivery with a fellow law student without dinner. Free food is always appreciated.
- Bake cookies on the weekend, and share your goodies with those who are studying nearby - even if you do not know them.
- Write a thank-you note (not an email or text) to a classmate who did something nice for you recently or who needs encouragement.
There are many other ways to show kindness. Most of them will cost you nothing - except your heartfelt gesture and a bit of time. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 17, 2019
It is time for spring cleaning. Not just dusting my desk and bookshelves though.
I have finally waded through the copious university operations document on records retention to determine what in the office filing cabinets needs to be retained. After reading pages of fine print to determine the proper category of records in my office, I am happy to say that I have the answer. All academic advisement records must be retained for five years after the student's final enrollment, graduation, etc.
Given that I have accumulated 15 years of records, there is a lot of glorious shredding going on for the requisite, permissible years. (Of course, we are recycling papers that do not need to be shredded. One day recently we had to borrow a second blue tub to accommodate our dutiful recycling.)
There is finally room in the office filing cabinets and my desk file drawers to accommodate new files and new records! And each subsequent year, we will be able to shred another year's worth of the requisite, permissible papers!
So much freed up space! So much unburdening of stuff! Such jubilation at crawling out from under so much paper!
Now if I can only get myself to do the same thing at home. . . .
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
In the mid-1950s, my father entered the heady field of computing. The astounding MOBIDIC, a mobile computer so small it could fit into the trailer of a semi, was his first major project; over the next three decades, he went on to teach computing to generations of West Point cadets and to write What's Where in the Apple, a book some called the "Bible" for the powerful (64K!) personal computer, the Apple II. Immersed as he was in computing, though, he struggled in teaching its fundamentals to his daughter. Patiently he would teach me what it meant to "boot" and the difference between ROM and RAM. Then just when I was congratulating myself on having achieved the intellectual equivalent of a breakneck 5 mph, he would accelerate up to Warp Factor 2 into ASCII and BASIC and FORTRAN and COBOL. Alas, this felt to me like being asked to do differential calculus right after mastering the times tables. Ironically, because his subject was so familiar to him, the skilled educator who introduced me to the old chestnut "When you assume you make an ass out of "u" and "me" himself assumed that any bright person could make the same intellectual leaps he had made.
Much of the time, we take the knowledge or experience of others for granted. In yesterday's blog post "Consider the Inconceivable," Bill MacDonald talked about the prevalence of the incredulous response of How can people not know that? When we're steeped in the midst of a culture (whether something as specific as a particular government office or university department, or something as diffuse as upper-middle class culture), matters that are opaque to others seem obvious to us. Administrators assume that faculty and students will know unwritten procedures like which committee to go to for different types of appeals. Instructors assume that students will know how to upload assignments on course management software, or even more fundamentally, that they understand that if they need help they can ask for it. But with all the differences between people -- cultural, generational, educational, social -- it's vital for us to continually test our assumptions and to modify our spoken and unspoken messages as needed.
Here's a wee, out-of-the-classroom example of how even minor assumptions can impinge on law student success. Last semester I had practically identical conversations with two different students several weeks apart. Both told me they were having difficulty finding a time to meet with me. I was surprised, not in the least because one of them regularly walked by my office several times a day. Not only was I scrupulous about keeping office hours, but my door (opening onto the main faculty hallway) was literally wide open most hours of the day. In fact, because my new office seemed so accessible, I had reduced the number of fixed appointment times on the somewhat cumbersome appointment system to accommodate more drop-in opportunities. It turned out, however, that the students and I had conflicting assumptions about my availability: I assumed the open door would make them feel free to walk in; these deferential students, on the other hand, assumed instructors would not want to be bothered outside of fixed office hours and appointment times. The first conversation I thought was a fluke, but after the second conversation I realized my assumption that "wide open door means students are welcome" was not shared by all my students. I had to move past thinking something was obvious to bridge the communication gap. Only by stopping and really listening could I discover the problem and take steps to communicate my availability in additional ways, both implicit and explicit.
The longer I'm an educator, the more my empathy has increased for my dad's attempts to teach me about his life's passion. Even for an ASPer, it's not easy to restrain myself from accelerating to Warp Factor 2 when teaching intelligent, motivated students. To best help them, though, every day I need to mindfully practice slowing down, listening, testing the verbal and non-verbal messages I convey, and correcting those messages that indicate I'm straying in the direction of becoming a long-eared equine.
Sunday, March 3, 2019
I attended the Houston session of the 2019 AccessLex Institute Regional Workshops for Law School Administrators. The workshop title was "The More You Know: Delivering Student Success." The one-day workshop was very interesting and worth attending.
This workshop topic is being repeated three more times in different locations: March 19 (Boston), March 21 (New York City), March 26 (Chicago). You can find out more about these events at the AccessLex website under the events tab: www.accesslex.org.
The workshop covered a variety of topics - some directly related to academic support and bar while others gave interesting information that provided institutional and higher education context. The workshop was attended by a diverse group of law school administrators from academic affairs, admissions, financial aid, academic support, bar preparation, career services, and more. The speakers from AccessLex Institute were very knowledgeable and well-prepared. There was plenty of time to ask questions and for members of the audience to comment and share.
The first session presented by Keinan Thompson updated us on the political landscape and legislative proposals. It gave a big picture context to our discussions for the remainder of the day. I had not been following the Prosper and Aim proposals at all closely, so this session gave an interesting background on the Congressional hot spots.
Laura McGhee then discussed the diversity pipeline and its impact on legal education. As the coordinator for my law school's pipeline program with a local high school, some of the data in this session was familiar, but the LSAT and merit scholarship information was particularly interesting. Also some of the resources on the AccessLex website may be helpful to readers: Roadmap to Enrolling Diverse Law School Classes; Diversity Pipeline Research Grant information.
The third session led by Tiffane Cochran was on the importance of data (even for non-data persons) was good information on sources. The Technology Tour over the lunch period also provided addition information on websites that could be helpful for data. AccessLex's Analytix is just one of the databases discussed.
Rob Hunter's session on Raising the Bar was a good reminder for those of us in academic support and bar preparation and a good primer on the challenges for others in attendance. Remember that AccessLex is now providing the Raising the Bar newsletter that is a good resource for ASP/bar professionals.
The financial aid session that Lyssa Thaden presented was informative for context regarding our students' financial challenges. Although I had worked in financial aid a number of years ago, the landscape has changed greatly. I benefited from the information about the student loan ins and outs. You may want to visit the website to learn about the Max financial education program and its resources if you are unfamiliar with that extensive information and partnership.
If you have a chance, make sure you check out resources and events from AccessLex. Many of you will remember Sara Berman, our ASP/bar prep colleague for many years, who is now the Director for Programs for Academic and Bar Success at AccessLex. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, March 1, 2019
All of us in academic support spend a large portion of our time helping law students learn how to learn. We offer orientation sessions, workshops, and entire courses to help students. Students confide regularly that they received A and B grades in prior education without having to study. For many of them cramming and memorization were the main staples of those study hours. So, it is good news that some colleges and universities are beginning to focus on the science of learning and making sure their students learn how to learn. The post on Inside Higher Ed is Teaching the Skill of Learning to Learn.
Friday, February 22, 2019
Students using their electronics to multitask in the classroom has been discussed regularly. Everyone has stories about students surfing the Web, instant messaging, and more during class. Many professors have banned laptops because of the distractions to individual learning and to others.
With the move for more online law courses, multitasking may reach new frontiers. Inside Higher Ed posted this week regarding a recent study on multi-tasking during undergraduate online courses. As we often see, there is dispute as to the methodology of the study and comparability of the groups studied. The post is Online Students Multitask.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday made me think of my students. By no means am I implying any similarity between football and the legal profession. After all, one is a grueling slugfest, featuring breathlessly intense clashes between aggressive competitors on behalf of highly partisan, sometimes even fanatically tribal, stakeholders, with pride and sometimes lots of money at stake. The other is just an athletic contest.
No, the reason I thought of my students was the sudden shift in the game in the fourth quarter. Through the first 50 minutes or so of play, the scores remained unusually low and very close. Neither team could gain a clear advantage, and with less than ten minutes remaining, the score was still only 3 to 3. Across the country, spectators were complaining about how stagnant and boring the game seemed.
Suddenly, within a minute or so of game time, everything changed. The Patriots called a play in which a receiver wound up open in the middle of the field, just beyond the Rams' defensive line, and Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady deftly passed the ball to him and gained several yards. By itself, the play was only mildly exciting, and then only because it provided comparatively more action than most of the preceding gameplay. But the Patriots realized right away that the Rams' defense, which up until that time had been pretty successful at confining the Patriots' forward motion, had not had anything in place to keep that lone receiver from appearing unguarded behind the defensive line. So for the next few plays, the Patriots ran essentially the same play, except for choosing a different receiver to run up the field each time. In the space of four plays, the team moved all the way down the field and set up the winning touchdown run.
From the Rams' point of view, everything was fine, until suddenly it wasn't. They were basically evenly matched with their opponents, in a game that looked like it might go into overtime -- and then, in less than a minute, everything fell apart. One weakness was exposed -- one play that they had no planned defense for -- and before they could adjust to it, the other side had taken advantage of that weakness and taken a significant lead. And the fact that they were in that distressing position left the team vulnerable to more trouble. They rushed and ran riskier plays, hoping to score their own tying touchdown in the short time they had left, and under this pressure the Rams' quarterback Jared Goff accidentally threw the ball into the hands of a Patriots defender, leading the Patriots to score an additional three points. The Rams went from having an even chance of winning to having no chance, all because of one weakness that wasn't addressed quickly enough.
In his fascinating book How We Die, the physician Sherwin B. Nuland explained that human death often follows a similar trajectory. Laypeople often imagine that those suffering from serious injury or illness usually experience a long but steady decline until they pass away. However, Nuland pointed out that at least as often, if not more so, the afflicted person manages the illness (or injury, if it is not so catastrophic that it simply kills them right away) fairly handily, with only slight decline or sometimes even with improvement, for days or even weeks. If nothing bad happens, then they might even make a full recovery. But if one thing goes wrong and isn't corrected quickly enough, it can cause significant damage, which itself leads to additional life-threatening complications, and in a short time the patient may spiral down past the point where any medical intervention will be enough to save him. An infected wound, for example, if not treated quickly enough, can lead to a generalized blood infection, which can cause a patient's kidneys, liver, and other organs to stop working properly, and the patient, who otherwise might have almost completely recovered from his initial injury, will die of multiple organ failure.
We see the same phenomenon in other realms than just sports and medicine, such as business and politics. In any complicated system, there can be long, steady declines, but the sudden drastic reversal, attributable to one or a small number of neglected infirmities, is often more likely.
And the life of a law student is pretty complicated. New information to learn, new ways to think about it, new tasks to perform, all while juggling stress and ambition and self-doubt and mountains of practicalities like housing and relationships and (painfully often) finances. We all know that a few students struggle right from the start, but very often students will be managing -- holding their own, even if not excelling -- and then they run into one tribulation they can't fix, and they can't handle. A course they can't wrap their head around. A romantic breakup. Lack of funds to buy textbooks. A death in the family. An extracurricular activity that takes up too much time.
It almost doesn't matter what the problem is, because it's just the trigger. It starts the landslide that could pull the student down. Struggling in one course, for example, could pull the student's attention away from his other courses, leading to anxiety about not maintaining his GPA . . . and what started as one problem spirals into multiple problems.
The response, from an Academic Success perspective, has to be twofold. First, we need to be able to detect these kinds of issues as early as possible, before they turn into the equivalent of a touchdown by the other team or a raging blood infection. We need to have direct interaction with the students most at risk (incoming students, first-generation students, those in danger of financial difficulty, etc.), so we get to know them and encourage them to be forthcoming. We also need to develop strong networks among those in the faculty and student services who might pass along observations of possible distress.
Second, we need to have systems in place to help these students address these issues quickly, before they do become intractable. We are expected, of course, to handle purely academic issues on a moment's notice. But we should also be familiar with other means of support on campus and in the community, to be able to quickly refer students who need help in financial, psychological, spiritual, and other realms.
Time sometimes really is of the essence. None of us want to end up being Monday-morning quarterbacks, lamenting that if we had just changed our defense one play sooner, we could have saved the game.
Monday, January 28, 2019
Another semester begins, and I proclaim the benefits of physically going to bar review lectures and taking notes with a pen on the handouts. Students' eyes roll, unless they are already transfixed on their computer screen they didn't hear my speech. Some will pretend to agree, but by the summer, less than 20% of our students show up for the on campus bar review course. I groan and start thinking of new strategies to get students into seats.
Many of you have similar discussions with similar results. I don't think I am a Luddite, but my mind wanders some days to creating a new law school called Luddite Law where wi-fi, screens, and technology are banned. Then the next student meeting knocks on my door, sits down in my office, and proceeds to spend a couple minutes turning off the 35 different noise making devices before being able to start our meeting. Of course, I then look at "The Facebook" on my iPhone after the meeting because those devices are addictive.
Low-tech law school is definitely a dream. At my law school, every class that allows laptops has over 95% of students typing notes. Less than 3-4 students hand-write exams in any given class. The NCBE even announced they plan to move the MBE to online testing. Technology is pervasive throughout law school buildings.
Many would agree that law school teaching has not accounted for new students and their technology. Many professors are slow to integrate tech into the classroom, and instead of embracing the tech revolution, some merely ban laptops (which I am guilty of). Students entering law school right now have not known a world without the internet, and they owned cell phones most of their lives. Even if they started with a Nokia, they had the ability to instantly call someone. They could even play the best phone game ever, snake. Students today are engrossed in technology, and some of our teaching is behind.
Teaching is not evolving as fast as tech is progressing, and we may start falling even farther behind. A recent Education Week Article discussed new classrooms from elementary school through high school. The author said the environments looked more like video game arcades than classrooms. Students learn reading comprehension and math on the computer with games that provide immediate feedback. Studies discussed in the article did not find standardized test score improvement, but the schools utilizing the methods found "soft skill" improvement. If the movement continues, law schools will start enrolling students in 5-10 years who learned primarily online in school. Will we be able to teach these students with our current methods? Should we change our methods or teach students how to succeed in our classrooms? While Personal Jurisdiction would be fun in a computer game, would it work?
I know my Luddite Law thought is a dream, but I am concerned about the numerous different directions technology is going in legal education. The NCBE is using more, professors are restricting use, and students enter with more tech skills. Problems will arise, but I also trust this community to start building solutions. I hope to be a part of the solutions eventually instead of just complaining about that new fangled technology.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Do we say "thank you" enough each day?
Those two tiny words recognize the other person's help.
Those two tiny words recognize the other person's worth.
Those two tiny words express our gratitude.
Those two tiny words can make someone else feel appreciated.
Those two tiny words may be the bright spot in that other person's day.
It does not matter if we are tired, grumpy, rushed, or overwhelmed.
The excuses can be many for not taking the time to say the two tiny words.
But the excuses are not enough to excuse our overlooking the thanks.
And while we are at it, we want to also remember the precursor "please" before we ever even get to "thank you."