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2 Law Tchr. 1 (1994-1995)

handle is hein.journals/lawteaer2 and id is 1 raw text is: THE LAW


Institute for Law School Teaching

Fall 1994

Teaching law, learning French
By Susan B. Apel
've been teaching law for twelve years. In struggling to  language, and want an answer. While I had never seen
keep myself and my students interested, I have read,  myself as being stingy with positive reinforcement, I gained
eflected, and experimented, diagnosed, and evaluated.  a heightened awareness of how powerful a simple nod of the
I've talked with students, practitioners, other professors,  head can be. Moreover, I experienced that awful, difficult-
and, on occasion, myself. All of these activities have been to-admit-to comparison of myself to others, who, it seemed
useful. Quite fortuitously, however, the best thing I've done  to me, probably dreamed in French and had the conditional
was to audit a course in introductory French.           and imperfect tenses for breakfast.
For the teacher like myself whose own law school        A couple of things saved me. One was that nothing
memories have begun to dim, who (finally) has gotten to the  important rode on the quality of my performance. I was,
point where she feels she has mastered her subject matter  thank God, already happily employed. I was there in the
and technique, and for whom the classroom has become a  most voluntary of senses, purely for the fun of it.
comfortable place that holds no terror, I recommend a      But I wondered: What if I   had been, like most of my
temporary exchange of roles.     French.andimpeeclassmates, 18 or even 21 years
Put aside the persona of the                                                   old? What ifme   felt as ifmy fate
confident professor, with years  Put aside the persona of the confident           were inextricably bound to
of teaching and practice      professor    and become, for three hours a         achieving in a course in which
experience, and become, for                 mee a         stvlnta    oy answers were more often
three hours a week, the student,            wek, the  s  tef                 wrong than right?

And not the dean's list student,
either. Study something that has always interested you, but
at which you don't excel. For me, speaking French was a
long-time dream. When I began to study it, I realized that a
thick tongue and a tin ear were not exactly assets.
Traveling between my professor and student roles gave
me a much greater insight into the feelings and behavior of
my students. I thought I understood, even sympathized, with
students who sit in the back row, avoid eye contact, want to
say the answer but aren't sure they understand the question.
In my French student role, I, the formerly A student
from kindergarten on, found myself dismayed when the
chairs in the room were arranged in a semi-circle so as to
eliminate the back row. I rehearsed my answers in my head
before I raised my hand and, when I didn't know the
answer, was relieved when the professor's eyes looked to
the other side of the room. Most of all, despite the fact that I
have come to think of myself as an adult person who does
not require approval to sustain her well-being, I was ecstatic
when the professor smiled, nodded, or, wonder of wonders,
said Good! after I uttered C'est moi.
Back in my own classroom, my sympathy turned into
empathy. Feeling ridiculously like Bill Clinton, I wanted to
say I feel your pain to the students who tried hard to look
elsewhere when I asked a question. I, too, knew what it was
like to be called on, have someone speak in a foreign

For those who would like to
skip the pain and, upon reading this, might say to
themselves that they can imagine all of these feelings
without signing on for the rigors of becoming an actual
student, I say I once thought so, too. Imagining the feelings
and experiencing them are two entirely different things,
however. Drawing from my insights from clinical teaching,
it's the difference between imagining how a lawyer might
feel conducting her first deposition and actually doing it.
My advice is that you don't cheat yourself out of the
authentic experience.
Susan B. Apel is a professor of law and assistant director
of the General Practice Program at Vermont Law School.
For more information, contact her at Vermont Law School,
RO. Box 96, Chelsea Street, South Royalton, VT 05068,
(802) 763-8303, FAX (802) 763-7159.
Coping with research seminars .       ......... 5
Cooperative learning ideas ............ 6
Working without a net      ............... 10
A puzzle worth solving .............. 12


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