From the AALS Workshop for New Law Teachers

Frank Valdes at the 2009 LatCrit Conference in Seattle
Frank Valdes at the 2009 LatCrit Conference in Seattle

Written by Hazel Weiser

I am sitting at a table along with some of the legal publishers at the AALS Workshop for New Law Teachers and the excitement in seeing candidates whom I’ve met at the SALT-LatCrit junior faculty development workshops, the People of Color programs, and the recent SALT “Breaking In” programs walk into the Mayflower Hotel as new law teachers is fantastic!

And this year the AALS moved the Workshops for New Law Teachers to the Mayflower so that no one has to endure the post traumatic stress memories of the AALS “meat” market at the Wardman Park!

When I became a law professor, there weren’t any books out there to help me organize a realistic syllabus, set goals, anticipate assessment, and help me become a good teacher.

Now there are.  I’ve been looking through Vernellia Randall’s Planning for Effective Legal Instruction: A Workbook (2011 Carolina Academic Press).  By asking some key questions right from the start, Professor Randall directs new teachers to a more thoughtful conception of how to teach, and especially how to teach the students at the law school where they have been appointed.  I recall my first classes in Federal Jurisdiction, the first course I ever taught.  Ephraim Margolin, a lion of the San Francisco civil rights and criminal defense bar, came  to evaluate my teaching; it might have been the fourth or fifth class I ever taught.  I was at New College of California, an experiment in a public interest law school so the students had remarkably individual backgrounds, few of which included a truly academic education.  But they had passion and the desire to change the world.

Ephraim took me aside after the class and sat very close to me.  He said something like this: Your observations about federal jurisdiction were quite astute, but your students had no idea what you were talking about.

Professor Randall informs new teachers (and reminds those of us who have been around for a long time, too) how to be intentional in planning a course syllabus that includes an understanding of the students, informs students of expectations, models those expectations with professional behavior and values in the classroom, anticipates the need for flexibility as the course progresses, and monitors and manages feedback.  When I was in grade school, I loved workbooks, and Professor Randall has captured the best part of using this organizing tool.  She offers alternative ways of classifying learning—how do we teach discrimination, concrete concepts, rule-using, problem solving, and cognitive strategy?  How do we develop a consistent vocabulary so that we are cuing students as to the category of concept?  Each chapter has its own bibliography so that a further understanding of the principles can be explored.  And being a workbook, it records your own development as a professor.

Teaching Law by Design by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie Sparrow, and Gerald F. Hess (2009 Carolina Academic Press) has been on the market since 2009 and in 2010, they published an abbreviated version Teaching Law by Design for Adjuncts (2010 Carolina Academic Press), both of which offer an intentional way of planning a syllabus and taking control of that first year of developing a course curriculum.  An entirely new book Techniques for Teaching Law 2 (2011 Carolina Academic Press) by Steven Friedland, Gerald Hess, Michael Hunter Schwartz and Sophie Sparrow has just been released (2011 Carolina Academic Press). These volumes, too, offer invaluable insights into the crafting of a syllabus, setting realistic goals, and include concrete ideas to implement their principles of teaching and learning.

Finally, SALT and Golden Gate University School of Law edited twenty-one essays that were developed from the “Vulnerable Populations and Economic Realities Teaching Conference,” March 2010.  The resulting book Vulnerable Populations and Transformative Law Teaching: A Critical Reader offers concrete ways in which to inspire law faculty, novice as well as experienced, to infuse their courses with an urgent call for access to justice.  SALT members are entitled to a 30% discount just through June 30; a 20% discount remains until December 31, 2011.  Just include “READER” in your order.

So many of us here at the AALS dreamed of the day when we would be the professor in the classroom, untangling the meaning of law, inciting students to question the analysis of subordination and the status quo, crafting a more just and caring civil society.  These new books offer the legal academy avenues for making sense of the law for this generation of law school students.