Thursday, September 01, 2005
Reflections on the First Two Weeks of Classes
To blog about more fruity fare in the wake of all the devastation and death of yesterday seems odd, but life must go on, and people don't read this blog merely to be morose. I've been meaning to write lots lately but time kept slipping away in the first two weeks of classes. Happily, I have a moment or two now to share some quick thoughts. In future posts, I hope to weigh in on some of the other things my co-bloggers have brought up, especially the internet shaming issues.
With respect to teaching, life is surprising. Even though I had taught for four years when I was in graduate school, it was to undergraduates in sections, and so I thought teaching law students was going to be very very different. Turns out, not so much really.
Still, I was entirely petrified the first day for my bail to jail crim pro class. I skipped eating to minimize the chances of puking; that I didn't puke, I view as a signal triumph of the week. Indeed, once the class started, all was calm and fun.
Unsurprisingly for a rookie, I made a few important mistakes and one discovery, all of which may be of some interest or use to current/future prawfs. First, to my chagrin (and that of my students), I was radically over-ambitious about the amount of material I could cover in my 100 minute classes. (Dan Solove, you were right of course!) I realized that 25 pages of casebook reading was more or less enough for a class that length, and that aiming for more would be a burden on not only my students but also on me. I rationalized this decision by realizing that it's much more fun (and educationally beneficial) to dig more deeply into the reading and develop the skills of students through role-plays and more socratic method than it is to simply try to cover more material over the course of the semester by lecturing or moving quickly.
Second, I could tell my (upper-level) students were not thrilled with being cold-called, even though they recognized the incentive to prepare that created, and the differential benefit of a class for which they prepared from one for which they did not. Sure enough, with these issues alone, a bunch of students voted with their feet the next day, and enrollment dipped--notwithstanding my apology to the class over email that first night, which stated bluntly that I assigned too much reading and would imminently adjust the syllabus, and that I would henceforth split the class into two groups and would only call on one side each day.
Seeing the dip was not a great feeling, especially as one begins, but the brave souls I have now in my class are a joy to teach--they are motivated, bright, and on fire. I can't imagine a better group with which to begin my law teaching career. The seminar that I'm teaching in tort theory and punitive damages has had a similar dynamic. Strangely, I've realized, seminars can take substantially more work to plan than courses.
One last point. I never much cared for powerpoint or used it before, but I decided to take a chance and I now use it for the crim pro course. I have to say: I love it. The authors of the excellent casebook I use (Miller and Wright) have some barebones powerpoint slides that they make available to prawfs, and I have altered and added various slides too. What's best is how powerpoint totally liberates me from the podium and the stage. I simply post the questions that would be my lecture notes on the slides, and have them video projected onto a big screen. With a remote clicker, I can freely wander around the classroom and make sure my no-Internet rule is being enforced, and more importantly, I can go up to a student and listen carefully to her answer. (Looking back in hindsight, I wish I had used powerpoints during my job-talks; again, not to flash answers, but just to use as outlines or guideposts for my own ideas or for facilitating discussion. Powerpoint is an invisible crutch (that happens to be visibile and that doesn't really appear like a crutch).)
The strangest thing is that as I wander around and ask questions in the class, I feel as if I'm somehow channeling Dan Kahan, my former evidence prof. Weird. And for what it's worth, Ethan, I haven't yet worn jeans, but I have ratcheted down the wardrobe from suit and tie the first day to shirt with no tie by day 3. But I still wear pants.
I'm off to NYC for the weekend tomorrow for a good friend's wedding, so light blogging (again) until later in the weekend. There'll be some good stuff coming up here at Prawfs: we'll be doing a group reaction to Akhil Amar's new book, as Paul will explain in a forthcoming post, and Akhil will be responding. And who knows, maybe Justice Breyer will be
discoursing on flakking his forthcoming book, Active Liberty. Future guestbloggers this month include Mark Fenster from Florida and Doug Lichtman from Chicago. Next month, the inimitable Kate Litvak from Texas will be joining us for a stint.
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Tracked on Sep 13, 2005 12:55:10 AM
I taught my first law school course earlier this week and found myself far more nervous than anticipated. I really enjoyed reading your post afterward. It felt good to hear I wasn't the only one having panic attacks. Thanks!
Posted by: David G | Sep 2, 2005 1:58:48 AM
"Next month, the inimitable Kate Litvak from Texas will be joining us for a stint."
Good. Stylistically, she is the Brian Leiter of the Right. That's the highest compliment I can think of.
Posted by: Mike | Sep 2, 2005 2:24:22 AM
I look forward to Kate's stint. I loved this comment from her a couple of weeks back on Conglomerate:I thought “gender equality” meant “equal pay for equal work.” I didn’t think it meant “equal pay to an employee who routinely takes afternoons off to attend soccer practices and to an employee who puts in 60 hours a week, so long as the former happens to be a woman who really, really wants to attend soccer practices.”Never mind Brian, that's worthy of Nino. ;)
Posted by: Simon | Sep 2, 2005 9:52:22 AM
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