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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Which Teachers Are You Channeling?

One of the enjoyable things about guesting on this blog is that I get to share space with Rob Howse, who has no particular reason to remember me.   I was one of any number of students who took a course with him at the University of Toronto's law faculty before he (and I) headed south.  (In my case, it was to warmer climes.  I'm not sure RH gets to make the same claim.)

This happy coincidence has me thinking about one of the great joys of entering teaching.   The law, in particular, is a backward-looking profession, in many respects, and one of the pleasures of teaching is that you get to keep faith with those who have taught you.  I take some pleasure when I teach Con Law in knowing that I took the course from Louis Henkin at Columbia, who in turn clerked for Frankfurter and Learned Hand, who in turn knew Holmes, who in his turn, when a child, if recollection serves, met at least one of the founding fathers.  So, in this way, we pass on to our students some connection, however reduced over time, to the past, and impress on them their place in one branch of the great chain of being.  (I also took constitutional law in Canada, and am thus, I suppose, related by far greater levels of propinquity to the framers of the Canada Act, 1982, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Funny that I'm not more struck by those connections.  It's not just a Canadian thing, I think; it's that the more distant our connection to the past, the more likely we are to overlook the petty flaws and say, "Those were giants.")

Similarly, in teaching one gets to pay tribute to one's own teachers by emulating them.  After all, what other training in teaching do most legal academics have?  In my case, the foremost examples are all from Columbia, and all exhibit different traits of the ideal teacher.  John Manning, who has since decamped for Harvard, taught me about enthusiasm, which is an essential tool in the large classroom (helped, in his case, by quarts of Mountain Dew).  Mike Dorf taught (and teaches) me much about generosity, the capacity not only to inspire by enthusiasm but to fulfill the duty to be enthusiastic in advising and championing one's students.  And Kent Greenawalt taught me a surprisingly difficult skill: that of listening.  Socratic lecturing and seminar teaching both count on interaction with students.  Yet, as new teachers find, often one is so focused on where the material is going next that Socratic lecturing is a mere dumb show, in which you take comments until someone says what you want to go where you need to be next.  A couple of years of teaching has taught me the difficulty of really simply listening to a student, and responding respectfully and thoughtfully, without regard for the direction of the class.  I think it's difficult to do this right until you've really road-tested your classes and mastered the material.  I hasten to say that these three graces did not embody only these individual virtues.  But on those rare occasions when I manage to do something right in or out of the classroom, it's pleasing to consider that I'm repaying a profound debt to them in one of the few ways I can. 


So, who do you intend to favor with the sincerest form of flattery when you hit the classroom next year?  This is one of those few times, I think, when shameless flattery is highly appropriate, and I am always curious to hear which scholars are also role models in the classroom.  (I'm doubly curious about the converse, but I won't ask...)

P.S.  Why are none of these models from Toronto, my alma mater?  Not the quality of the teaching, certainly; Toronto was a terrific school, and I had some wonderful teachers.  Perhaps because teaching there was even further from the Socratic model than at most American law schools.  Or perhaps because my own schema invariably associate America with a certain kind of energy.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on April 19, 2005 at 11:58 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I knew that the Dudes were over-represented. But just to be clear: Brett Dignam is a woman (though I admit she is clinical faculty).

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Apr 20, 2005 8:15:26 PM

Interesting question for me since I'm not a teacher. But I do hope to spend my career channeling my two law school mentors, Nancy Morawetz and Mike Wishnie, who teach the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU. They are two people who embody for me everything that is (can be) great about the legal profession. What I admire most about them is not their teaching but their work -- I mean, their litigation and community activism work. Nancy does a lot of work with deportation and "criminal aliens," (remember St. Cyr, Zadvydas?) and she has an unbelievable ability to make the true human story behind some horrible law come alive. Mike works with a lot of immigrant workers' rights groups and is also an incredibly smart and creative lawyer. I spent my third year of law school working more than full-time for these two in the clinic, which was much more of a job than it was a class. If my future work can be anywhere near as rewarding as the work they do all the time, I will be profoundly greatful.

I also really admired my Criminal Procedure prof, Andrew Schaffer, who was also a federal prosecutor. Prawfs take note! Schaffer gained the respect of every student in the room, including those of us who would later do Public Defender work, because of his integrity, his insistence on treating each student, defendant, and lawyer with honor, and his refusal to belittle students so that he could score points or come off as funny and sarcastic (the lack of last trait being an unfortunate flaw among many otherwise-ok law professors).

Posted by: Ariela | Apr 20, 2005 3:51:51 PM

Nuthin’ but dudes being channeled here. Perhaps this posting should be cited in the discussion about women in law teaching? I will break this all-male channeling streak with a most-sincere offering of my own: Pnina Lahav, my con law professor at Boston University. In addition to a stunning intellect, a kind and patient heart (even when I made lame errors while doing research for her) and a wonderful sense of humor (perhaps that's how she tolerated my errors), she has the rare ability as a teacher, in my experience, to challenge a student and yet make that student feel truly empowered and connected to the material. These teaching skills seem easily overlooked in the competitive tenure grind of publishing, conferences, blog postings, etc.

Posted by: Brooks | Apr 20, 2005 3:28:43 PM

I went to the same law school as Ethan and had many of the same professors. Some of them were good. But from most of them I learned that you don't have to be a good teacher to have tenure at a top law school. In fact, it doesn't matter a lick.

Posted by: Truly Anonymous--and for good reason | Apr 19, 2005 4:19:50 PM

I learned from Bruce Ackerman to be audacious and intellectually curious. I learned from Bill Eskridge that teaching is performance and that one has a responsibility to do it well. I learned from Rogers Smith that vigorous dissent in the classroom excites students -- and that the intellectual relationship between teachers and students should not end at the end of a term or at graduation. I learned from Owen Fiss to remain open-minded and intellectually honest even after you've figured it all out; he taught me that there is no end to the wonder that can be experienced when living the life of the mind. I learned from Brett Dignam that no legal education is complete without practicing in a clinic and constantly questioning the ethical dilemmas our profession presents. I learned from Akhil Amar that it is fun to argue with that annoying guy in the back of Fed Jur who seems to have actually done all the reading even though he's a 3L. And I learned from Jack Balkin to be as funny and as wickedly clever as you can be.

In short, I have had many mentors who have shaped the sort of person I'll be as a teacher and scholar. And I'm grateful to all of them.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Apr 19, 2005 4:00:14 PM

Paul, I find it odd that I share the same sense that energy is something that is just present here in the US in a way that seems somewhat absent in Canada. I wonder how one can measure the restlessness of a city. Certainly Toronto is one of the most attractive places on earth to live and raise a family, and many of our cohort across Canada end up emigrating to Toronto, the same way that so many Americans migrate to NYC. But something is different. I've often joked that colors seems more vivid here; maybe Toronto is just more gray-skied than DC, and i'd feel differently if I lived in Ohio...

As to your particular question the answer is unhesitatingly: David Charny, who embodied intellectual generosity, trenchant wit, and basic and unceasing interest in the ideas and lives of his students. David was ripped from us at the age of 44. May his memory be a continued blessing.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 19, 2005 12:32:53 PM

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