Reflections on What I’ve Learned about Teaching | Picture Book Professor

Reflections on What I’ve Learned about Teaching

by Jim Holbrook
In 1990, when I was asked to teach the ADR Course at the University’s College of Law as an adjunct professor (1990-2002), I learned I was not a naturally gifted teacher. In fact, I learned I was a terrible teacher. I’ve spent the past 25 years learning how to teach.
Because my students are adults, they are adult learners. They want their education to provide something useful to them that relates to their life experience, personal relationships, and professional competence. They want to have fun in class. They are surprised and appreciative when I am funny. They want to interact with each other and learn from each other. They want to be treated with respect for the wealth and diversity of their life experience they bring with them to law school. They want to learn concepts and skills they will use in their personal lives and in their law practice when they graduate.

Over the years, I’ve perfected a “student-centric” teaching methodology, which includes:

• assigned readings that are personally interesting and professionally useful;
• handouts that distill course concepts and skills into the most salient points;
• individual exercises which require reflection about and analysis of personal experiences;
• small-group discussions of the handouts and exercises to share what they’ve learned;
• whole-class debriefings to review teaching points and learning objectives; and
• multiple critiqued papers (instead of one end-of-semester exam) for assessments.

I tell my students that, over the course of a semester, they are going to learn more from each other than they learn from me. I request students to sit in each class period with people they do not know, so by the end of the semester they will know and value all their classmates.

I give students three to five new useful things to learn in each class period. However, I’ve learned that “less is more,” so I no longer rush through everything I planned to cover and, instead, let each class move at its own pace.

I still serve as a negotiator, mediator, and arbitrator in the “real world,” which enables me to develop and test new ideas and techniques. I then write about these and share them with my students.

My relationship with my students requires humility, courage, trustworthiness, curiosity, and open-mindedness. I try to be the teacher my students need when they entrust themselves into my care and safekeeping. I am blessed to touch their lives and have my life touched by them.

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