Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Emily Grant (Washburn), Beyond Best Practices: Lessons From Tina Stark About the First Day of Class, 95 Or. L. Rev. 397 (2017):
This Article reviews and expands the literature on best practices in a narrow subset — the first day of class. At the same time, it seeks to convey words of wisdom from one of the most well-known and highly-regarded legal educators: Tina Stark, a giant in transactional drafting. The first day of any law school class can be fraught with tension and nerves, even for professors. This Article presents advice from Professor Stark, supplemented with guidance from best practices research, so that professors can take advantage of the opportunities that the first day of class offers to set the tone for a successful semester.
The first class meeting can be nerve-wracking for law professors and students alike. The fear and nervous energy are present whether one has been teaching for a day or a decade. Teachers must set the tone and expectations of the classroom, yet accommodate the organic development of a unique class identity and encourage collaboration among students. With these high stakes, it is no small wonder that professors can devote an inordinate and seemingly disproportionate time preparing for that first day. The first class sets the stage. It serves as the opening act that foretells almost all about how the play ends.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for establishing rapport and student engagement in the classroom. Experienced professors often pass on tricks of the trade, and best practices research can provide additional guidance. But all professors must find their own delivery, pace, structures, and methods that allow them to effectively and comfortably communicate with their students. Tina’s suggestions, accumulated over years of teaching, provide a template for structuring the first class. Naturally, it is a highly individual process that involves personal honing over time. As with most things in law teaching, being deliberate and methodical about what to accomplish in the first class period can pay dividends throughout the semester.