Apr 17 2008

Catching Preconceptions about Students

Published by at 3:13 pm under Advice

Thursday, April 17, 2008, 01:11 PM –
Posted by Sophie Sparrow

Over the past few years I have visited 2L and 3L students doing full-time externships. Most of these 2L and 3L externs I have never taught before. At each visit I have been impressed by the students’ professionalism and performance. The students are savvy about how their experience fills in the gaps left from classroom instruction. They notice where they need to improve; they realize how complex law practice is. In short, they learn many lessons that are taught, but not necessarily learned, in law school.

The supervising attorneys note areas where the student externs can improve, but they also almost always comment upon how much the students have contributed and grown over the course of the externship. Supervising attorneys praise externing students for their work-ethic, ability to take constructive criticism and interest in making the most of their externship experience.

When I return to the law school, I rave about how exciting and inspiring it is to see students on the cusp of their profession rising to the challenge and doing so well. I tell any colleague who will listen about how uplifting it is to see 2Ls and 3Ls engaged in their work and excited about their future opportunities.

Contrast this to the response I sometimes get: “You saw THAT student? THAT student is doing a good job?” followed by comments that in another course THAT student was unprofessional, unprepared, disengaged, etc.

As the parent of two teenagers, I take great comfort in the phrase that “the best indicator of who your children are is how they behave around others.” I realize it is a lesson I need to apply to students. Our students are who they are with others, not just in our class. The next time I get frustrated with a student who is unprepared or unprofessional, I am going to try not to fall into the trap of only seeing that side of the student, but instead to envision the student in a suit, working for a supervising attorney and doing a great job.

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