What do students expect from their trademark professors?
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What do students expect from their trademark professors?

The tables were turned during an INTA Annual Meeting session yesterday morning, with students teaching professors. The speakers were five students from universities in the United States and UK, while the audience was largely made up of adjunct professors (lawyers teaching, or preparing to teach, part time).

A series of questions from chair Lawrence Nodine of Ballard Spahr probed the students for their experiences and advice for the audience.

“Adjunct professors have the best stories,” said David Mayer of Emory University. “They’re working on cases all the time, so their war stories are real and up to date.”

But like all the other students, Mayer didn’t pull his punches: “Sometimes adjunct professors aren’t as organized as the regular professors—the classes can be all over the place and you turn up not really knowing what to expect.”

Coincidentally, Nodine had been an adjunct professor to Mayer previously during his career. “So far, David has been very generous and not told any embarrassing stories about me,” said Nodine. “But we still have an hour left so there’s plenty of time.”

Irene Chang of Washington University in St. Louis advised adjuncts to be a bit more prepared.

“Full-time professors teach the same course a lot, so they know how it works best and they know how to manage the students through it,” she said. “Adjunct professors need to think about this in advance and anticipate reaction from the class.”

A similar theme ran through the discussion of guest lecturers invited in by the adjuncts. While the students said they can be very stimulating and entertaining, guest speakers tend to be even more disorganized and off topic—the adjunct professors need to help out and not just “consider it a day off.” Nodine added: “The question everyone will have in their head is: ‘will this be on the test?’”

Several members of the audience asked questions of the speakers, particularly regarding whether adjuncts need to have regular office hours and the practice of cold calling. The students were split on both issues.

On office hours, some said they had few expectations while others insisted the part-time professors needed to always be available at certain times. One audience member said he was about to start teaching, and was planning on having an informal “brown bag” session after each class, where he would reserve a table in a restaurant and students could bring their own sandwiches, giving everyone the chance to talk through things that had come up during class.

Nodine said: “In my experience, after two hours of being taught by me the students can’t get away fast enough. So don’t be disappointed if your take-up is a little small.”

Discussion of cold calling, where professors randomly ask questions to students, revealed a range of classroom practices. Some professors divide up the class by name, or split it into groups, so that only a few are “on call” at any point.

But David Mayer said “I think everyone should be called on, bring it on” which was echoed by members of the audience. Nick Hoeffler of Valparaiso University admitted that the fear of being called on made students do all of their reading “but it can sometimes distract them from other classes.”

The value of adjunct professors was underscored by Maria Tymofienko of Queen Mary’s College in London, who studied in the Ukraine before Belgium and London.

“We don’t have the concept of adjunct professors in the UK, but practitioners do teach sometimes and it is incredibly valuable. It’s something that is unheard of in many countries, including the Ukraine,” she said.

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