Friday, June 14, 2019
With the thought that more than a few of you reading this post may be starting off in a law teaching job for the first time in just a few short months, several of us on the BLPB have decided to offer some tips and general advice to you as you prepare. Since I have recently spoken to a few new folks who are still in the process of choosing textbooks, I will start there.
Set forth below are my reflections on important matters related to choosing an appropriate textbook. If anything I say here does not make sense to you (or, of course, if you have additional or different thoughts), please leave a comment. And if you already have ordered your textbook and started planning your course, please don’t rethink everything because of this post!
First and foremost, it is important to know the institutional teaching objectives at your law school. How does the business law course you are teaching contribute to the school’s program of legal education? What attributes of your course may help build the law school's infrastructure for institutional success?
Then, consider the learning objectives you have for your students—taking care to meet institutional objectives, but adding more scaffolding. Apart from what the institution needs, what do you want to make sure you effectively impart to your students? Consider theory, policy, and skills, as well as the scope and depth of substantive legal doctrine.
Those general matters aside, I next work from the premise that one should teach from his or her strengths. So, engage in self-assessment to pinpoint those strengths. My core advice? Do not try to be someone you are not through the choice of your textbook (or in any other aspect of your teaching, btw). If you are not a law and economics expert or disciple, a casebook founded on economic theory is likely not a good choice for you . . . . Be yourself. Isolate factors to look for in textbooks that will help you to teach from your knowledge, experience, and overall comfort zone.
Consult with colleagues in and outside your law school. If you are teaching a course that others in your institution also teach, find out what books they use and why. If you are teaching a course that is part of a sequence (e.g., Business Associations and Advanced Business Associations), find out what books are used by others in your institution who teach the other course(s) in the sequence. Ask a number of folks what their recommendations are, but understand that you can go your own way (as long as you work with colleagues in your school to help ensure that transitions among related courses will be smooth).
Having ordered review copies of books that take into account information gained from the foregoing, pick up the books and read them. Not the whole of each, of course. I start with the table of contents, if I haven’t already looked at that online. I then read the first chapter. Does this chapter set the tone for myfirst class? Does it establish the core values of my course? Finally, I pick a few key chapters—maybe one that covers a weak point in my knowledge of the subject matter, one that covers a particularly difficult aspect of the doctrine, one that covers a favorite topic, etc. I use these readings to find the book that has the best vibe, all in.
Then, make your choice! Know that it is not irrevocable. Sure, it is a pain in the neck to organize a syllabus around a book and then give all that up and draft a syllabus incorporating readings from a new book. Students seem to know if I am teaching from a suboptimal book. That distraction can affect the learning process as well as the overall student-teacher relationship.
However you choose your textbook, make sure you have at least one copy in hand in plenty of time to create your syllabus. Generating a syllabus is an entirely different—but related—process. Perhaps one of us will write about that in a future post . . . .