The Scariest Moments in Law Teaching

Jay Wexler suggests that The Scariest Moment of any Class Meeting “is always the very first one”.

That's absolutely not my experience — the moment before the first class, open with infinite possibility, is anything but scary. Exciting and hopeful, yes. The only sour note is if any of the students seem scared — I hate that, as I want the freedom to push them to be rigorous and feel constrained in doing that if I am finding that they experience it as scary as opposed to educational. (Now, the second class, after everyone runs away…) And, kidding aside, the same is true more generally of every class — I'm always psyched to get going at the start, to the point where I often forget about any admnistrivia and announcements because my mind is on the substance. Conversely, I am usually loath to stop, as I have so much more I'd love to say…

No, for me the fourth-scariest moment in law teaching is the pre-exam review session, when students come in with their (sometimes surprisingly picky) questions — the one time in the semester I don't have my security blanket of notes in case my mind goes blank. It hasn't yet, but what if it did?

The third-scariest moment is right after I send in my grades. How will the students who did poorly react? So far the worst experience has been with the ones who come to my office and cry, which can be very wrenching. But in the past I've also had someone (a visiting student; I trust ours would know better) call me at home and harangue me to change a grade (which our rules forbid). I even had one person, long ago, come to my office and threaten me — not, I hasten to add, with physical harm, but with an implausible claim that I'd suffer professional retaliation because the one of the student's relatives was Very Important.

And the second-scariest moment is just before I send in my exam. Exam design is very difficult, and I continually wish I could find someone to train me in it. There are so many ways things can go wrong: creation of unintentional distractions; writing questions that are too easy or too hard; writing questions destined to produce results that are hard to grade (either because there are too many minor issues or because the students all fixate on too few); and, most likely, writing questions that produce answers that are basically all alike and hence very very boring to read.

But the very scariest moment — without question — is that moment right before I open the blue books. What if I did a bad job and they didn't learn anything?

So unlike Jay Wexler, for me, all the scariest stuff is at the end.

That would be … right about now.

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One Response to The Scariest Moments in Law Teaching

  1. NSK says:

    This post is outstanding in its relevance, honesty, and illumination of a law professor’s experience.

    Thanks for posting.

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