November 6, 2007
Do law profs have a duty to help student deal with disappointing grades?
I just saw via SSRN this new paper by Grant Morris, entitled "Preparing Law Students for Disappointing Exam Results: Lessons from Casey at the Bat," which asserts that law professors have a duty to help students deal with disappointing grades. Here is the paper's abstract:
It is a statistical fact of life that two-thirds of the law students who enter law school will not graduate in the upper one-third of their law school class. Typically, those students are disappointed in their examination grade results and in their class standing. Nowhere does this disappointment manifest itself more than in their attitude toward their classes. In the fall semester of their first year, students are eager, excited, and willing to participate in class discussion. But after they receive their first semester grade results, many students withdraw from the learning process — they are depressed and disengaged. They suffer a significant loss of self-esteem.
This article considers whether law professors should prepare their students for the disappointing results — the poor grades — that many are certain to receive. I assert that professors do indeed have a role to play — in fact, a duty to their students — to confront this problem. I offer a strategy by which professors can acknowledge students' pre-examination anxiety and deal constructively with their impending disappointment. There are lessons to be learned from Casey at the Bat, Ernest Lawrence Thayer's immortal poem about failure.
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Absolutely! Under my teaching philosophy, we are here to help students cope with the emotional impact of disappointing grades.
While we have to enforce the curve if school policy dictates doing so (and students almost always fall into a natural curve), I tell my students that my job from day one is to teach them so well and provide learning opportunities for them so that I have to argue with the administration that applying the curve to this group of students would be unjust based on their performance. And I let them know that when the semester is over, my duty to them continues to continue teaching them the information they missed in class (so few students take me up on this offer) as well as teach them how to study better and learn from the mistakes they made in my class.
In some ways, I think that if we move from "teaching" to "providing learning opportunities" some of the harshness of the grading system will naturally diminish as it becomes incumbent upon the student to take advantage of the learning opportunities instead of the professor to provide good lectures.
Then, our job becomes teaching students how to be good students and simply guiding their learning. Teach a man to fish...
Just some thoughts,
Posted by: Hillary Burgess | Nov 8, 2007 1:08:14 AM
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