Advice for New Law Professors

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3 Responses

  1. tim zinnecker says:

    Brannon (whose path, alas, did not cross mine when I had a wonderful two semesters as a visitor at Samford) offers sound advice that many newbies will find most helpful. I’ll comment on one of his suggestions and offer two of my own.

    Learning the names of students may not seem a high priority, but I agree with Brannon that it is quite important. First, taking the time to learn (and remember) a name is a sign of respect and reflects your (genuine) interest in that person. Second, knowing the names of your students may put both you and your students at ease and reduce some of the natural waryness, nervousness, and tension that exists between the podium and the seats. Third, the quicker you learn the names of your students (my goal: by the third class) the more impressed your students will be with your talents, particularly if you can recall names outside of class without the aid of a picture book or a seating chart. All of these benefits may encourage your students to work harder for you throughout the semester and perform better on your exams, resulting in a more enjoyable classroom experience for all.

    Two additional pieces of advice:

    1) Think about how you want to handle recitation (e.g., random, assigned, alphabetical, etc.) and attendance (yes or no), as well as any possible grade adjustments stemming from these or other matters, and state your policies on these matters in a first-day handout. Do not change oars in midstream. Students may or may not agree with your stated policies, but they’ll be very unforgiving if you fail to be consistent.

    2) Don’t be afraid to respond to a student’s question with “I don’t know.” Few of us know everything about our subject matter (not even those of us who have been annointed to teach UCC courses), and students may remind us of that fact on occasion. Those questions may send us in search of an answer before the next class meeting, and perhaps they will prompt some insightful and stimulating classroom discussion. If you’re lucky, those questions may be the genesis of your next article.

  2. H Lime says:

    Good advice, both Brannon and Tim. I recently completed my first semester as an adjunct law professor teaching military law, and although the requirements are somewhat different, yours are good learning points.

    I would add another one (looks like #8 now): talk to other professors from various schools who teach your topic. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and you may get much more than that. Teaching a course for the first time might present the seemingly insurmountable task of suddently coming up with a syllabus. That task shrinks suddenly when you tap the years of experience that some of the very fine professors in your field have out there.

    H Lime

  3. Frank says:

    All very sound advice–they should have you speak at the new professors conference!