Monday, October 10, 2022
We all make mistakes. We have all made mistakes that have inadvertently or thoughtlessly hurt others and ourselves. In this season of atonement (Yom Kippur was on Wednesday), we are supposed to confess our misdeeds, ask for forgiveness, and most importantly forgive those who have apologized to us. Forgiveness is a power we all have, but unlike some other super-powers (like laser eyes and Hulk-like strength), it is one we should never use sparingly.
I spend a lot of time telling students to give themselves a little grace. I am guessing we have all told students that they need to stop beating themselves up over the circumstances (or actions-or omissions) that led them to academic distress. Owning whatever the issue was is a great first step but dwelling in the shame of it is not a productive way to achieve success. That being said, I also think that students who do not own their role in getting into academic distress--people who blame the professor, the administration, or anything else without taking on some of the accountability--are less likely, in my experience, to turn things around. We can only change what we control-and if the circumstances that led to academic distress are out of their control, they cannot plan to do better.
One of my favorite traditions of Yom Kippur is something called tashlich where we symbolically cast our transgressions of the past year (in the form of bread) into a body of water (for my family, the Muddy River in Boston). I always joke that our local geese are extremely cranky from having eaten all those sins. It is an exercise in physically controlling our errors and then not letting them take up space in our lives anymore. Does it mean that throwing bread into a river will change your life if you’ve, let’s say, committed murder? Absolutely not. But it does let you give yourself some grace from smaller errors-even where the person who was affected has not used their super-powers to forgive you.
To that end, I will throw my breadcrumbs of misdeeds out to you all and ask for forgiveness. And I will also engage my super-power to forgive others, even those who have not asked for it. I cannot control how others have behaved, but I can control whether or not I let it live in my head, so consider my forgiveness an eviction notice.
 I will also always answer the question of how my holidays were with, “Sho-far, sho-good.” You’ve been warned.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Today is Rosh Hashannah. Rosh Hashannah, as you may know, is the Jewish New Year and a holiday of thankfulness and promise. One of the traditions of the holiday is to dip apples in honey to have a sweet new year. As we speak, I have honey cookie dough chilling, waiting to be baked and apples ready to be called into play on the counter. I think apples and honey are also a good analogy for Academic Support.
Apples are often associated with teachers and we are --above anything else--teachers. Apples can mean wisdom and insight-think Sir Isaac Newton and his discoveries in physics all due to falling apples (or so the story goes). Academic Support people are also big thinkers and scholars-just look at the catalog of our collective work. Apples are also a sign of fall, like your friendly neighborhood ASP professional teaching at orientation. We are versatile and come in many varieties as well. We work well alone or with other ingredients.
However, we are also like the honey. We work incredibly hard (like bees) to make things a little sweeter for the people around us. We work together like a hive. We cooperate and collaborate to make structures that provide comfort to our students. In fact, as academics go, I think we are the most generous and willing to share. We do not hold back. And yet, like bees, sometimes we are not adequately valued.
So, to all of you who celebrate-and those of you who don’t-I wish you a sweet year ahead in every part of your personal and professional life.
Shana Tova. Happy 5783!!
 Just a warning that I will let this analogy play out beyond its logical conclusion.
Monday, December 6, 2021
Last night was the eighth and final night of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or even Hannukah). This year we had two different types of candles for our two menorahs. We had one box of artisanal long and graceful white to blue ombre candles. We also had a standard 99¢ little blue box of shorter, more colorful candles from the supermarket (or maybe a leftover box that one of our three kids brought home from Sunday school). We lit both menorahs each night: one with the pretty candles and one with the garish little blue box candles. The pretty candles burned and melted. The plain candles did as well. The bottom line was this: it was meaningful regardless of which candles we used.
Here comes the (possibly heavy handed) link to law school exams. If students have an exam answer where they spotted the issues, used the correct the rule, did both sides of analysis, and weighed the options before concluding, then it is meaningful even if it isn’t graceful (or long). There are all sorts of other holiday analogies I could make here…like remember to go one at a time when lighting your candles; remember that you need to light the helper candle first (that being the student’s knowledge and wellbeing); do not re-spin your answer to multiple choice questions, and, of course, the miracle of being asked eight multiple choice questions about one thing you know really, really well. Surely, miracles and light are what many students are asking for this time of year.
It is also important to remember, though, that like any ritual, exams have their traditions and practices. We should be sure to remind students that after each exam, they should scrape off the remnants of the last one and reload with one more point of light before moving on to the next one. Make this a tradition. Lamenting over what went wrong on the last exam is always going create a barrier to going forward-and moving on to the next exam is part of the ritual. Remembering what went well (this year, none of our cats lit themselves on fire!) will be more productive. Make this a practice. Afterall, you cannot light fewer candles as Hanukkah progresses because you cannot travel through time (yet).
Finally, when exams are all over, students should be sure to clean up before putting their exam self away. No one wants to deal with a December mess in May. And for what it is worth, the fancy candles were a bear to clean up.
Happy Holidays to all!