Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part IV)

The penultimate post in this exciting series!

One thing that took me a while to get used to while being a professor was the feeling of being under constant observation--and I don't just mean at the law school. I seemed to constantly run into my students at restaurants, on the train, walking down the street, etc. (even though the Detroit-Windsor metropolitan area is pretty sizable). Because Detroit Mercy faculty (unlike most laws schools I've been in) have an unspoken shirt-and-tie dress code, I always felt a bit weird encountering my students outside of the school while I was out for a jog or wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Similarly, it made me far more conscious of all the stuff about comic books or Buffy on my website and those old newspaper columns I wrote for the student newspaper. There's a 99.99% chance nobody gave a damn, but it was always in the back of my mind--"what will people think?"

One of the highlights for me at Detroit Mercy was when the moot court team I coached won the Niagara International law competition, the first time a team from UDM had ever won first place in that tournament. Coaching the team was an unusual experience because I had no idea how much control I should try to exert over the team. The fact that it was my first experience with a formal competition and that I lived in Windsor (and so couldn't attend some late-evening practices) led me to choose a mostly hands-off approach (trusting the team to come up with the substance of their arguments, with my role as offering feedback and critiques every few practices), which then got me in trouble with another faculty member (who I had had run-ins with before) who stepped in to provide much more direction. Still, I was the one who went to the competition with the team and advised them from round-to-round. In the end, I have no idea how much of a contribution I made compared to other faculty members, but I am certain that any responsibility for the victory ultimately lies with the students.

The last thing I want to mention in this post is the astounding difference in workload I found between teaching legal writing and constitutional law. Each course required preparation before class, but the constant reading of drafts and papers for the legal writing course consumed far, far more time than grading a single paper and exam for the constitutional law course. It certainly made me sympathetic for the Legal Writing Insititute and other associations of legal writing profs around the country whose members do a lot more work for a lot less money. (Not surprisingly, it also helped cement my decision to be a "doctrinal" professor instead of a legal writing prof).

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