This spring I co-taught an FCIL Research Class, my first since beginning as an FCIL librarian at Boston University in August of 2018. The best teachers I know engage in a good deal of self-reflection after teaching, and I’ve decided to share some of my self-reflection with you.
- Find a Mentor. I was lucky enough to be able to co-teach this class with my mentor, who has many years of FCIL and teaching experience. I know that isn’t an option for everyone, but I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to do this without guidance and support. It is always a good idea to find a mentor, if you can. If you can find a mentor or colleague who is willing to co-teach the course, even better!
- Have Patience with Yourself. Because this was my fourth year of teaching legal research, I had unrealistic expectations about my ability to teach FCIL research. Learning a new subject while also teaching it takes far longer than adapting to new methods of teaching citators or adapting to new database interfaces, for example. I wish I could go back and change my expectations, but I also wish I could make peace with my own pace.
- Preparation and Timing. My mentor and I had preparation meetings for each week of the class. We would talk about the objectives for the week and figure out which parts of the class would work best as in-class exercises. The class was scheduled for 4:30-6:30pm. Many people are not their best during these hours of the day, so we focused on making sure the class was broken into manageable chunks and made sure to give the students a break in the middle of class.
- Movement: We made as many exercises as possible group exercises or interactive exercises, with a focus on getting the students to move and speak. We took a lot of ideas from our Lawyering Class (the 1L Legal Research Component of the Legal Research and Writing Class). We used a relay-race format for an exercise in Lawyering, so we worked that format into the FCIL class as well. Students appreciated the competition, and some of them insisted on working through the break to complete the relay race. The movement exercises were one part of the class where it was very helpful to have two teachers. It can be hard to coordinate all the moving pieces of an exercise while also making sure no students are stuck or frustrated, but with two teachers, the exercise ran much more smoothly.
- The Structure of FCIL Law. I didn’t understand the importance of repeating the structure and grounding each class in the structure of foreign and international law. We focused on making sure students knew where each part of the class fits into the broader scheme. Most students coming into the class expect the class will be entirely about foreign law, so it was important to orient their focus to public and private international law as well.
- Don’t Focus on Foreign Law. Our students wanted to learn foreign law, but we aren’t qualified to practice law in foreign jurisdictions, and neither are they. We had to focus on what would be most useful to our students rather than what they thought would be the most useful.
- Something Will Go Wrong. In one class, an entire database unexpectedly wasn’t working. I might have been overwhelmed, but it was wonderful to watch my co-teacher keep her cool and move on to a different exercise. The students learned what they needed to learn, and we were able to show the database the next week.
I learned a lot from co-teaching FCIL research this spring, and I’ll be teaching the class again in the fall, without a co-teacher this time. Wish me luck!