James B. Levy


There is an adage among doctors that “as a last resort, ask the patient.” It is a not so facetious reference to the observation that because doctors are so highly educated and trained, they can start to believe they know what’s best for their patients better than the patients themselves. Consequently, these doctors may discount, or altogether ignore, the opinions of the very people they are suppose to be helping. The same observation could be made about the law professor-student relationship. Unlike doctors, though, our relationship with students is hierarchical, and thus we may be even less inclined to “ask the patients” for their opinions about how best to help them. To be sure, a teacher’s job is to establish, often unilaterally, appropriate classroom rules and requirements. Indeed, if teachers gave students an equal voice in all such decisions, students might never show up for class or do the assigned work. At the other extreme, it is a serious mistake to exclude students from the dialogue about how best to teach them because their input can only serve to better inform our own judgment about how to improve the overall quality of classroom instruction.1 To that end, this article discusses the results of a student survey I conducted at two schools, the University of Colorado School of Law (CU) and William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV), during the spring and summer of 2002, respectively, that asked students to give their opinions about what makes someone an effective, and conversely an ineffective, law school teacher. In particular, the survey focused on asking students to identify the personality traits, personal characteristics, and classroom behaviors that make someone a good teacher. Students were asked to rate the importance of several characteristics generally associated with good teaching, such as respect for students, holding students to high standards, and teacher friendliness. The survey also included open-ended questions that asked students to explain in their own words what they believe makes someone a good, as well as a poor, teacher. This article, and the survey results discussed infra, are premised on the notion that teaching consists of two components. There is an instructional component which refers to the instructional techniques teachers use to facilitate learning, such as the Socratic method, syllabus design, and modes of performance assessment such as exams. The second component is the socio-emotional one, which refers to the teacher’s ability to influence learning through the emotional milieu she creates in the classroom based on her rapport and interaction with students. It is this aspect of law school teaching that this article explores. The purpose of the survey was to provide some feedback to law school teachers interested in improving their own classroom emotional intelligence skills.

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