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Cassidy, R M --- "Why I Teach (A Prescription for Post-tenure Blues)" [2006] LegEdDig 42; (2006) 14(Spec Ed) Legal Education Digest 18

Why I Teach (A Prescription for the Post-Tenure Blues)

R M Cassidy

(2006) 14(Spec Ed) Legal Education Digest 18

55 J Legal Educ 3, 2005, pp 381–385

I found myself feeling rather down in the dumps lately about my job. Maybe it has something to do with the 184 bluebooks I am slogging through. Or the seeming pettiness (and futility) of certain recurring faculty squabbles. By all objective measures, this should be a joyous year for me — I received tenure last spring, and just published my first book. I am middle aged, in good health, and ostensibly ‘at the top of my game’ both intellectually and professionally. Yet I feel surprisingly discontented. Why am I correcting bluebooks rather than fighting important legal battles in courtrooms or boardrooms of America? Like the famous 1969 ballad by singer Peggy Lee, I find myself asking ‘Is that all there is [to law]?’

I shared my malaise (in hushed whispers) with one of my colleagues at the faculty lunch table. She assured me it was perfectly normal. ‘Don’t you know that everyone goes through a profound depression right after receiving tenure? It is completely natural.’ Unless lightning strikes (a plum judicial appointment? A choice position in university administration?), most of us will likely be performing the same job we are doing now for the rest of our careers — give or take a credit here or a sabbatical there. Who among us would not be slightly depressed, when faced with the growing realisation that, at least professionally, we may be near the top of the proverbial mountain — with no place left to hike but down? If law professors hope to keep their bearing when confronted with rough seas (and there will be rough seas, for all of us), we should remember why we chose this profession in the first place. So in the midst of my bluebook-induced, post-tenure malaise, I decided to make a list of all the reasons I love teaching.

First and foremost, I teach because I believe it is the highest and most productive use of my talents. Being a law professor draws on my intellectual acuity and curiosity, my facility for clear written and oral expression, my knack for explaining complex issues, and my ability to ‘connect’ with other human beings in both group and individual settings. I teach because I know that through teaching I can make a difference in the world. The impact of my work may be slightly more diffused than if I were practicing law, but nonetheless it is both real and substantial. I teach because it allows me enough autonomy and free time to accommodate the many other interests in my life. Few jobs with similar social prestige and income provide one with equivalent amounts of time off during the year, and the freedom to decide exactly how to use this time. I teach because it keeps me young. What other profession allows you to work — perennially and almost exclusively — with twenty-five year olds? Law students, by and large, are vibrant, energetic, happy people who come to us at an exciting time in their lives. I teach because the relationships I forge with certain students each year are inspiring and life affirming. I take pride in their accomplishments, and I feel invested in their dreams. While I am naturally excited to send them off into the world, I also know that I will miss them terribly. Such partings are an inexorable part of the teaching profession. Without them we could not reap the rewards of our work, which is to see our students succeed and flourish in the world beyond law school.

So there is my list of five reasons why I love teaching. Your list undoubtedly will be different. Even if you share some of my motivations, you will certainly identify other factors that sustain you in your work. Before I close, however, let me add a sixth important advantage of this profession. As the law changes, as the legal profession alters the way it delivers legal services, and as new students come to us with diverse needs, backgrounds, and experiences, it will be necessary for us to change both our teaching styles and the content of our courses. The law is not static, and neither is law teaching. A sixth reason I love this job is that it offers the capacity for change and growth. It might not seem that way when plodding through bluebooks or enduring faculty committee meetings, but each year will offer a slightly new set of challenges. While I will keep this list on my desk to for years to come, I have no doubt that I will also add to it periodically, as I encounter — year by year — presently unappreciated aspects of what I sense is my proper vocation.

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