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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cohen: Five Teaching Tips After Five Years on the Harvard Law School Faculty

Glenn Cohen (Harvard), 5 Lessons From 5 Years in the Legal Academy (With Credit Where It Is Due):

I thought I'd take the opportunity to reflect on a few lessons I have learned that might be useful to others starting out, and to give credit to those who taught them to me:

  1. Office location matters: Especially in a big school where all the faculty are not together, where you locate your office matters. ... Think about what you need and want because there may only be a limited number of people with whom you can have a “water cooler talk” type of relationship.

  2. The optimal level of tenure anxiety is what you should aim for, neither the maximal nor the minimal. I worry about not getting tenure. I think this is just a fact of life in my home institution, and is true of all the juniors to some extent. What I did not immediately recognize is that this is a good thing…to a point… I would not push myself nearly as hard or be as entrepreneurial if I did not feel the need to distinguish myself in my field in order to maintain my job.

  3. Not everything you communicate has to be communicated verbally to your students. There are many things that your students need to learn, for which in-class time (be it lecture or socratic) is a total waste because it is just not suited for that format. ...

  4. Monitor your food intake. At least at Harvard, there is very often food provided at various meetings and times of the day. It is easy to get fat. At the same time, I have come to realize that I need some caffeine and sugar flowing into my system while teaching. ...

  5. Learning names matters to students. In my 1L contracts class, Christine Jolls (who taught me) memorized all 140 of our names by day one of the class. This stuck with me all these years, so I undertook to do the same... I combine it with a trick I picked up from Peter Hutt to get them to submit one page information sheets on themselves and then call them for particular cases or hypos based on things they had done. ...I had thought this would be a good parlor trick of sorts, that it would make the students believe I was watching out for them and also that I took teaching seriously (both of which I do!) What I never anticipated was how much of a difference it made to them. They routinely tell me in person and on evaluations that it made them feel as though someone in the law school really knew and cared about them. So even though it is a pain every year to do it, I have kept doing it and recommend it to anyone.

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