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  • Writer's pictureTommy Sangchompuphen

Reflections on Another Semester

As this semester was coming to a close, students asked me whether they were my favorite class.

I told them answering that question was like declaring who your favorite child is, and there’s nothing good that can come out of providing a response. (In my head, though, I was thinking that whatever class had the highest bar passage rates was my favorite. I was only mentally half-joking.)

Last Thursday marked the end of my 17th fall/spring semester of teaching. Since that time, I’ve taught hundreds of students at a few different law schools—first, at Appalachian School of Law (2008-2012), then Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law (2012-2017), and now University of Dayton School of Law. I’ve also guest lectured at other institutions like Birmingham School of Law.

I’ve taught students before they’ve enrolled in law school and seen them get sworn in as licensed attorneys several years later. It’s a joy to be able to witness, first-hand, the ride that many students took to fulfil their dreams of joining the legal profession.

But as I’m halfway through my eighth year of teaching academic success and bar preparation courses, I’m constantly reminded that every group of students I stand in front of each semester is very, very different.

And that’s why I love what I do.

Knowing that every semester brings a different crop of students (even the 1Ls I’ve taught previously have morphed into different students two short years later as 3Ls), I’m constantly re-evaluating my own teaching methods and developing new examples and hypotheticals to connect specifically with those in the classroom.

When I first started teaching in 2008, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears made up many of my examples and hypotheticals in class. After a while, however, both Miley and Brittany lost relevancy in pop culture and with the millennials in class, and Carly Rae Jepsen replaced them in class discussions (though Miley’s recent resurgence on “The Voice” may permit me to resuscitate some old practice problems).

Then, later in my teaching, non-traditional students primarily made up my classes. Star Wars become the point of reference for many of my examples.

This year, one of my classes took place from 3:50 pm to 5:20 pm. That’s a hard time to teach. It’s a harder time to learn. Students are usually tired after a full slate of classes or several hours at their externship or job. For other students, the 3:50 pm class may be their only class of the day, so they are usually resentful that they’re coming to campus at such a late hour just for one class.

So, I needed something to make the classes—dare I say—“fun” and “lively.”

This semester, I decided on using “The Simpsons” and its myriad of misfit characters as the basis of examples and illustrations. After all, who doesn’t like hypotheticals involving Bart negligently shooting a slingshot at Mr. Burns or Homer falling asleep at the controls of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Sure, “The Simpsons” may not provide the most respectable examples to use during class (I did use an image of Bart farting on a PowerPoint slide), but those examples do add life to a late-in-the-day class! And, more importantly, they unforgettable teaching moments.

As teachers, it’s important to remember that a one-size-fits-all-approach does not work. As legal education becomes more and more focused on formative assessments of students, teachers need to be reminded also to constantly assess, evaluate, and change the way they teach based on the changing students in front of them.

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