When Professors Get in Their Own Way: Law Teaching and Academic Perfectionism
Journal of Legal Education, Forthcoming.
53 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 2, 2019
This article recounts how the author recovered from disillusionment and decreasing effectiveness as a law professor by diagnosing and overcoming her academic perfectionism. Perfectionism is the self-defeating tendency to have unrealistic goals and expectations of oneself. For many, it can cause loss of confidence, frustration with others, and, eventually, worsening performance. In short, perfectionism can lead a law professor to get in her own way, taking things students say personally and failing to recognize the pedagogical (and emotional) needs of the class. Focusing on the author’s experience teaching large, 1L courses, the article describes how letting go of the desire to impress or entertain students can lead to a more confident, comfortable, and effective approach to teaching. It also discusses how viewing teaching as performance can resolve apparent tensions between one’s own personal identity and student preconceptions about what law professors are and should be like. For this author, focusing less on gaining student approval and more on increasing and facilitating student learning produced many salutary changes in her teaching style, as well as leading her to enjoy teaching as she never had before.
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