Teaching Philosophy

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY STATEMENT

My teaching philosophy begins with student engagement. If students aren’t present and paying attention, they aren’t listening and learning. Or as we say in the theater, it all starts with putting butts in the seats. My teaching philosophy is grounded in the legal discipline, and is based in process pedagogy. By way of example, I incorporate peer responses, methodology discussions, and a variety of writing exercises and invention work. Moreover, I aim to allow ample time for revision and polishing, reminding students at each step that their main goal should be to improve, not to perfect. Because legal writing is primarily a communication tool, audience-based rhetorical and argument philosophies are an essential component of my teaching philosophy. To this end, I explore audience, author, and tone with my students via a variety of genres. The content includes not only writing skills, but also critical thinking and analysis skills. The writing assignments anticipate multiple drafts to reinforce the need to revise and polish.

Beyond the foundation of process pedagogy, my pedagogical choices are informed by the rhetorical, feminist, and collaborative theories. The subject matter of legal writing is, of course, grounded in rhetoric. Rhetorical theory is evidenced by my use of invention as I ask students to perform legal research and fact-investigation by interviewing fictional witnesses or clients. Additionally, as much of the focus of rhetorical theory is arrangement-based, I concentrate on organization on macro and micro levels. Specifically, I explain how a large project must be broken down into sections, such as how the main body (argument) portion of a document should be a “sandwich” using CRExAC – Conclusion, Rule, Rule Explanation, Rule Application, and Conclusion again. I continue by addressing organization at increasingly smaller scales by allowing students to evaluate how sentences best fit in a paragraph, and how words best fit in a sentence depending on what the student wants to emphasize or convey.

My teaching philosophy also incorporates feminist theory. My philosophy overlaps with a feminist outlook in the following ways: I embrace conflict, teach with my whole self (spiritual, emotional, and intellectual), integrate theory and practice, engage students, bring passion, joy and fun to the classroom, and strive to maintain awareness of voices and silences in the classroom. I also bring my own unique touches to my classroom. In what is quite a divergence from the typical law school experience, I incorporate music, movement, laughter and pop-culture references to engage and entertain my students.

To continue my professional development, I stay abreast of the current trends in legal and writing studies’ scholarship by reviewing the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) Journal of Legal Education and The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI). Additionally, I follow the LWI list-servs, along with several legal and writing blogs.

It is my opinion that writing students should be required, of course, to write; not merely to learn theory or literature, but to spend extensive time writing. “People learn to write by writing.” National Council of Teachers of English, NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing. Specifically, students should write at least one draft of each major paper and papers should be sequenced throughout the semester. For example, the semester should begin with an outline of a major project to be written in small, discrete sections. The semester would then conclude by putting the smaller pieces together and supplementing based on revision and additional components, which would result in a complete, final paper. Moreover, students will experience peer reviews designed to assist not only the subject’s work product, but also the reviewer’s.

Beyond writing, I consider it to be part of my role – and obligation – to incorporate professionalism and ethics lessons into classes. Most opportunities occur organically, in that I am reminded of a “war story” or read a story in the newspaper that is related to the classroom topic at hand. I use those real-life lessons to reinforce the professionalism and ethics training they receive in other classes.  The learning outcomes for my students, on a very general level, are to assist them in becoming “practice-ready” lawyers. Before graduation, students should be exposed to as many different genres of legal writing as practical: letters, emails, memos, motions and related briefs, deposition summaries, contracts, agreements, and real estate documents such as deeds, and purchase and sale agreements. While it is not possible to thoroughly examine each of these documents in a single introductory writing class, a minimum level of familiarity is vital. Then, a few key documents can be the focus of each semester.

Moreover, students should have experience with a variety of audiences: clients (each with their varied requisite levels of sophistication and knowledge), opposing counsel, judges, jurors, witnesses, the press, and other third parties. Students should be comfortable with their own professional persona and tone. The learning outcomes and objectives of each specific assignment are based on the audience and genre of each piece.
My role in the classroom is to prepare students to be professional and practice-ready lawyers: lawyers who are able to communicate effectively orally and in writing.