I have never taught a full semester course. I’m not even Dr. Meg, it’s just what my friends in my AP US Government class called me in high school. But, I have gone to school a few times. From my consumer perspective, here are some pro tips on professorship.
Course Design and Syllabus
- Order of operations: If you’re teaching skills that build on one another, be mindful of that fact when ordering your lessons. International Shoe doesn’t make much sense without understanding jurisdiction; the contents of the U.S. Code don’t make much sense without understanding the legislative process. Timing matters.
- The virtue of snow days: Don’t forget to leave wiggle room in your course outline. One lesson might take longer than anticipated to sink in, the weather might not cooperate, you might want to include a review session for an exam. No amount of careful planning can change the randomness of life.
- Get a copy editor: Few things are more disheartening than typos and grammatical errors in a syllabus. It shows your disregard for value, or worse, makes you look incompetent.
Conducting the Class
- Know your stuff: Like typos, inaccuracies in lectures and course materials make you look like an idiot. They might be honest mistakes, but there’s nothing worse for a student than feeling like they wasted hard-earned money on an expensive course taught by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.
- Students are adult humans, not children, or animals: adjust your tone and inflection accordingly. Parents of infants and toddlers, take note: it’s an easy mistake to make.
- The Army way: “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you, tell you, and then tell you what I told you.” One of my favorite professors in law school was a retired soldier, who had also taught at JAG school, and his method was very effective (especially for property, yeesh).
- Grade and time: If your course will evaluate student performance with something more than a final exam, grade that work in a timely manner. If you can’t do so, ask yourself why you’re assigning it.
- True results: The way a course is conducted should match the evaluation. Skills classes like trial advocacy, legislative history, might only need short answer questions, or hands-on take-home demonstrations. Big idea classes like gender theory in American law might be better suited to long form essay questions.
- False positives for law school courses: Lest we forget, at the end of law school, one takes the bar. If you are teaching bar tested stuff, a bar style test will be disfavored in the moment, but probably really appreciated a few years later.
What was your favorite thing about your favorite professor?