My Interview with Shon Hopwood at the Cockle Bur

October 5th, 2013

My good pal Shon Hopwood asked me some great questions about teaching, technology, and Unprecedented in this interview.

Here is an excerpt, which some may find useful about being a new teacher:

Q: You aren’t too removed from attending law school yourself. Do you find that being a recent law school grad has helped you become a better law school professor?

A: Being a new professor offers some pros and cons. First, the cons. Teaching has a really steep learning curve. No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to know, and prepare for class. And there is a big difference between knowing something, and being able to understand it yourself, and being able to teach it. You have a very short period of time to master all the material for a course. And I had to develop and refine, in quick succession, approaches to teaching. In the past, I had taught a small 15-person seminar class. There, I can get to know each student well, and adjust my teaching method for them. Teaching an 85-person lecture, where every student has an idiosyncratic (and unknown) learning style offers very different dynamics.

But newness does have its advantages. Perhaps most importantly—and I stress this with my students—is that I’m not set in my ways. At several points during the semester, I solicit anonymous feedback (both good and bad) to see how I’m doing. If the students tell me that something is not working, I can fix it (or at least try to fix it) right away. If something is working well, I’ll do more of it. If other things aren’t efficient, I may scrap it. I’ve found that each class has its own persona, and quirks, so I try to customize the class accordingly. Some react better to lecturing, other react better to questioning, others like interesting stories, some don’t. So I switch it up based on what works. Last year I taught the same class twice in a day. The two classes, though they covered the same material, were always structured totally differently. Flexibility is the key.

In addition, I think my proximity to law school helps me put myself back into the mindset of a bewildered 1L. When I arrived at law school as a law student, I had no clue what I was doing (see this essay about my first year of law school). Whenever I teach a case, I re-read it from the perspective of a 1L who has no idea what is going on. I try to strip myself of any knowledge I’ve learned, or even the fact that I’ve read the case several times before. I re-read it as if I just got out of 1L orientation. This helps. So if there’s a phrase I didn’t know back in law school, or a concept the book glosses over, but is essential to understanding the case, I’ll be sure to focus on it in class. I try to build all concepts from the ground up, in discrete steps that are easy to follow. Perhaps this will fade over time. I hope not.

Also, at least for the present moments, my pop-culture references are current. I suspect those will also fade over time.

Shon interviewed me once before in 2011. I’ve interviewed Shon twice in 2012 and in 2011.