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.