This law exam time, be patient

This law exam time, be patient

As the Christmas decorations start to go up in shops and malls, it’s also time for another biannual ritual; law exams. Over on Best Practices for Legal Education, there’s a timely reminder about the strange year we’ve had. And the need for compassion. While the focus of the post is on compassion for students, it’s also a good time to take stock and be a little compassionate for everyone. This law exam time, be patient with everyone, including yourself.

The political climate and enduring pandemic

Professor Carrie Sperling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison points out that, as we go into this year’s final exams:

This November, the political climate and an enduring pandemic will add to the high baseline of anxiety and depression that law students experience.

Its election day in the US when this blog post appeared. Passions are running high. But that doesn’t mean students aren’t affected all over the world. The news everywhere is full of speculation about whether America is headed for a change in leadership. Regardless of whether there is a change or not, the US election results will have significant ramifications for at least the next four years. But that doesn’t affect just our students. It’s a good time to acknowledge that the peer in the next office and you are reading the same headlines.

And then there’s the enduring pandemic. For some students, it is enduring. For others, it looked like it had eased off until the ‘second wave’ hit. Lots of significant family events happened remotely, or simply got postponed. And of course, there is the ongoing effect on university budgets and the knock-on effects on student support and workloads. But the effect isn’t just on students. It affects law teachers.

A sense of loss?

There is also an echo in some discussions about online teaching of a sense of loss among academics. There are lots of tips and tricks about how to build relationships with students remotely. But for law teachers passionate about teaching, staring at black boxes can be depressing. While we all managed with ’emergency remote teaching’ at the start of 2020, there was a sense of it being ‘just for now’.  As we look to 2021, we might need to delete the ‘just for’.

I’ve also spoken to law students and law teachers feeling a sense of loss about that other ritual; graduation. Even successfully negotiating the final exams may not mean being able to celebrate that success. And although students might be surprised, celebrating that success is just as exciting for law teachers.

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. As we go into a traditionally stressful time, remember that the same environmental pressures are working on your students, your peers and you.

This law exam time, be patient with everyone, including yourself.

About Andrew Henderson

I am a law school teacher in Canberra and a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, researching the 'hidden' or informal curriculum of law school. I am passionate about developing engaging and authentic educational experiences for law students.

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