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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Using teaching assistants

I am considering hiring a teaching assistant for Civil Procedure next year, picking one of the top performers from this year’s class. My vision is for someone who can hold weekly office hours/review sessions to answer questions, particularly questions some students may feel to shy to ask me directly. I would like them to provide a “student perspective” on the material—how they should be studying and preparing (for class and for the exam), what they should be getting out of the material, what I am looking for (on exams, on class participation), how to respond to my particular class and my particular teaching style. All of this is stuff I could do and will continue to be available to do for students. But I am starting to believe it might resonate more, at times, coming from a student who just a year ago was sitting where these students are and who did very well.

We had TAs for first-semester 1L classes when I was in law school and I found it helpful. Do other folks use TAs? How? What do you have them do? Have you found it beneficial? Have students found it beneficial?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 1, 2010 at 08:28 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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I was a Civil Procedure TA for two years at UNC Law School. We have a program called LEAP - Legal Education Advancement Program, which starts at pre-orientation and then offers support classes through 1L year. It's directed at returning students and students who feel they have other particular concerns with their ability to handle law school (i.e. not everyone applies for/needs/wants to be in LEAP, although the program expands every year). First semester, LEAP offers substantive review (Civ Pro, Torts, Property); 2nd semester are technique classes (e.g. how to get the most out of reading a casebook). 2L and 3L Graduates of the LEAP program can apply to be TAs for the 1L classes.

Though I was not a TA directly through the Civ Pro professors, I met with them and coordinated my substantive review sessions with their lesson plans and teaching techniques (one of them was actually the professor I had for Civ Pro, so that was helpful). The classes were excellent both for the students and for myself. Each 1 hour, once-a-week class was devoted to one major issue - Venue, Erie, Supplemental Jurisdiction, etc. I just went over the basics, working from my own outline, to help them develop a skeleton of what they had just finished in class. We also worked on reading and study skills, exam skills, and outline methods later on in the semester. They came to me with basic questions, and I always encouraged them to talk to the professors themselves as well to build that connection.

My supervisor and the students told me later that these classes were very helpful in condensing what is a very daunting amount of material for entering 1Ls. (And for me, it was two years of Civ Pro bar preparation). I think TAs for at least the first semester of classes can be very helpful for the students - not just for substantive review but for helping them develop the skills to make them more successful in law school. I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Taiyyaba Qureshi | Jun 4, 2010 10:04:11 PM

At the law school where I teach, all 1L profs have the option of having a student TA. Because I was in my first year of teaching, I hired someone that another professor recommended. He attended all of the lectures, and every other week prepared a powerpoint review session where he went over issues covered in class. He also held office hours in the student lounge.

I talked to him toward the end of the semester and found that students weren't really utilizing his expertise. This may have been in part because he hadn't taken *my* 1L class before (since I was new) and thus they didn't feel he was of much use for exam prep. The students who did go to office hours with the TA were the ones who already understood the material and really didn't need to.

Note: Some professors had strict restrictions about their TAs "reteaching" the material; they limited their TAs to answering questions. I didn't care if my TA summarized what I taught.

Posted by: first-year prof | Jun 2, 2010 11:20:58 PM

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