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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Awkward Endings at Semester's End

As I continue to prep for classes, I am somewhat comforted by the thought that inevitably even the longest semester draws to a close.  And thinking on that last day of class, I remember that I always seem to face a quandary on that day: do I just teach a normal substantive class or do I try to sum up to some degree the whole semester?

Interestingly, the different choice of endings has led to diametrically opposed reactions from the students.  Here's what I mean: when I end class with a normal class, I say something like: "And that is how the general duty clause of OSHA operates.  Any questions?  Great, well I hope you enjoyed the class, and good luck on your exam next Wednesday."   The students shrug and then immediately leave the classroom without further ado.

On the other hand, when I have attempted to sum up the major themes of the class in the last 15-20 minutes of lecture and Dead Poet Society-like  urge  them to seize the day (here you should have images of me (maniacally laughing) being carried off on the shoulders of my students who are running through a beautiful field), I usually get a round of applause (not thunderous mind you, but polite).

Have others had similar experiences with the end of classes - that is applause versus students just walking out? (of course, the lack of applause can certainly be related to such things as irrelavant as quality of teaching, but put that aside for a second since all readers of Prawfs are certainly top-notch professors in their own right).  And is there a connection between student response to the end of the last class and the way one decides to adjourn for the semester?

Posted by Workplace Prof on August 15, 2006 at 11:16 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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In first year I'd say 4 or 5 out of 7 classes ended with clapping. It was certainly withheld purposefully at least once. I'm not sure I feel bad about that or not.

Posted by: canada | Aug 15, 2006 10:10:52 PM

Put me down with those who oppose the clapping. It was, in my experience, quite common in larger classes at Penn (and uncommon, thank god, in seminars.) I never liked it. The professor wasn't some sort of trained bear doing tricks the whole semester, or at least should not have been. If you liked the class or thought it especially good just tell him or her either in person or an email. It will mean more and won't be so silly.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 15, 2006 7:49:57 PM

(Er, "their" shoulders).

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Aug 15, 2006 7:12:30 PM

Paul -- You've met me. How many students would it take to carry me off on my shoulders?

The reaction was quite warm in both classes.

I have to confess some solidarity with Eh Nonymous and nonclapper -- in law school, I hated clapping for classes ending. Kind of like planes landing. But for some classes -- for professors I really liked or enjoyed -- I didn't mind at all. That, maybe, should be the litmus test.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Aug 15, 2006 7:10:47 PM

Most of y'all are missing the point.

A prawf is not a conductor, to be solemnly applauded for his virtuouso performance.

A prawf is a lecturer, at least when she has successfully brought a classful of recalcitrant 1Ls (or 2Ls or...) through the thicket of con law (or contracts or...).

At the end, the proper response for a good prawf is to lead the applause - for the students. If the students appreciate that, they should applaud, for themselves, in relief, as a valediction, and maybe if necessary as a thank-you to the prawf, whom many will never see again, take out to lunch, send flowery e-mails to, or if necessary woo and wed.

We applauded as a matter of course in law school, but there were times when it was undeserved - and undelivered. Other times, we'd routinely break out into spontaneous standing ovations during a lecture on the dormant commerce clause. And yes, money did change hands.

/inventing wildly

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Aug 15, 2006 4:05:15 PM

If I may add to "nonclapper's" comment, we also welcome gifts. Although I'm not sure what it meant, exactly, when my students one year gave me a bottle of vodka with a scorpion at the bottom of the bottle -- other than that I had some extremely fun students.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 15, 2006 3:55:10 PM

I'm glad to see that most law profs have a sense of humor about this clapping thing. When I was a student I hated it. It was extremely pro forma and very few teachers really deserved it. Not to mention the awkwardness when there wasn't clapping, given that it almost never happened. It seems to me that a much better thing to do is to personally drop by the prof's office (after the grades are in) and tell him/her that you really liked the class. If there's a movement away from clapping at the end of a class, then I'm all for it.

Posted by: nonclapper | Aug 15, 2006 3:44:59 PM

If you can find a way to land a slow clap and a "We Are The Champions" backing track, you'd be golden.

Posted by: Adam | Aug 15, 2006 2:33:38 PM

How 'bout encouraging that "slow clap that builds to a crescendo" thing they do in movies?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 15, 2006 1:59:09 PM

I'm thinking maybe a plant next time. If you've ever been in a "should we applaud?" setting, it only takes that first person to start it. I'm not above paying somebody off.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 15, 2006 1:50:46 PM

Imagine if you tried "Thanks For The Memories."

Posted by: Belle Lettre | Aug 15, 2006 1:42:05 PM

Some schools just never got into the applause at the end of the semester tradition. It was always done at my undergrad, law school, and even grad school. When I didn't get applause after my first semester teaching, I thought, "gosh, they must have hated me." But my evaluations said otherwise, and I later found out students don't applaud for anyone here (heck, I actually won Outstanding Professor of the Year from last year's graduating class, and I never got any applause). Too bad: I think it's a nice tradition.

As to Paul's original question, I can never think of anything that sums up the semester/area of law in a pithy enough way, and plus I think the students are too fried and anxious at the point to soak in any deep philosphy I could unearth. Once or twice, I tried singing the old song that Carol Burnett used to end her show on ("I loved the time I spent with you/ To share a song and a laugh or two ..."), but I think that reference is way too dated for anyone to get.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 15, 2006 1:38:46 PM

Steve: Auden, huh? But did they applaud or carry you out on their shoulders? Different ending in the upper level classes when you did not read poetry?

Posted by: Paul M. Secunda | Aug 15, 2006 1:21:46 PM

For some reason (I never had a good explanation for it), I ended my 1L classes and my upper-level classes differently last year. For Federal Courts and my seminar, I just basically ended at the end of the last day, without much in the way of fanfare. But for civ pro, I read them a poem -- Auden's "Law Like Love" -- which, so far as I could tell, went over pretty well. I guess I just saw a first-semester 1L class as being a horse of a slightly different feather (and it didn't hurt that it was my first class too); sort of like, we're embarking on this journey together...

I'm a big sap, though, so what do I know?

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Aug 15, 2006 1:07:19 PM

I have to say I'm appalled that both of you have had classes in which the students did not applaud you. In every class at my law school, even if we _hated_ the professor (not that I'm saying you were hated) there was applause for the professor. It's just the traditional, collegial, nice thing to do.

I know I'm young and that it is thus hypocritical to say this, but I would blame it on the youth culture of the students. Or that students-as-consumers thing that everyone likes to blame. Perhaps the students are too young, lack manners, etc. to know that you should acknowledge the intellectual contribution of this professor to your learning. Perhaps they have been recently conditioned (thanks in part to the rising tuition costs) to offer praise and appreciation only when they feel like they're "getting their money's worth" or when the professor has made some ending gesture.

In my personal experience, everyone is prepared to applaud at the end of a class, small or large. Sometimes class ends abruptly, still we applaud though disappointed a bit that there is no "O Captain, My Captain" speech. But the classes where we left with a warm and fuzzy feeling and clapped the loudest were the ones in which the professors said that we were his favorite class, or at least that _s/he_ enjoyed teaching us and appreciated our contributions to the discussions, etc. etc.

Perhaps it's a mutual appreciation thing.

Posted by: Belle Lettre | Aug 15, 2006 12:55:31 PM

To prepare for getting back in the saddle a year ago, I read One L by Scott Turow for the first time, in which all the professors were applauded.

Thus, full of expectation, I gave the carpe diem speech, and still got no applause (but the evaluations were good in one class and bi-modal in the other). It was a good excuse to consume a full bottle of wine that night, and drown my sorrows. But several students took me out to dinner the night before I left town.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 15, 2006 11:50:09 AM

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