Summer Plans to Plan for Fall

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By Prof. Emily Grant, Washburn University School of Law

As we now gaze out at the great expanse of the summer, it’s easy to get lost in the endless possibilities. This is the time we’ve set aside for major writing projects, for incorporating new exercises and assessments into our syllabi, and for getting up-to-date on the latest classroom materials.  We also need to recharge our batteries.

As I’ve come to learn over a dozen years of teaching (and thus a dozen summers teeming with endless possibilities), very few of these goals will be met without a specific and realistic plan of execution. I’ve had too many summers where I hung up my graduation robe, took a quick nap, and all of a sudden found that it was August 20.  So the following sets out a few suggestions for laying the groundwork for a productive summer.

First, finish grading. Attack your stack of exams and papers.  Students need closure for the semester, and so do you. Do whatever works for you to make it through the exams or appellate briefs or student papers. Make a schedule of when you’re grading what. Find a quiet comfortable place to set up shop. Take breaks when you need to. Reward yourself for progress.

While you’re at it, though, keep in mind that the grading periods are also some of the most convenient times to make notes for the next semester. This review does not have to be an intimidatingly formal process. I’ve found that simply keeping open a Word document, “Notes from Exam Spring 2017,” on my desktop while I’m grading can generate some very helpful insights for the next round. Most of the comments are similar to the following:

  • confusion on Trustee/Settlor distinctions
  • clarify uniform rule vs. state rule on prudent investment standard
  • Essay #2 (charitable trusts) didn’t work – refine call of question

Once you’re done grading, spend some time thinking ahead to the fall before jumping into the rest of your summer. If you took notes about your teaching throughout the semester (what worked, what didn’t, which classes ended too soon, which exercise was a dud), go back and review those now. Sort through the notes you made while you were grading. And make the changes now—revamp the worksheet, rewrite the assignment instructions, identify places in your notes you can cut if necessary in the future. At the very least, make a specific list of changes to be made before you teach this class again. But do that part now while it’s still fresh in your mind. Take a day or two at the office to focus solely on teaching, which is more difficult than it sounds with other major projects (and vacations!) looming over us.

Next, if your summer calendar looks like mine, you’ve got a few conferences scheduled over the coming three months. (Including hopefully the ILTL conference in Little Rock on July 7-8?!) Conference travel is great, but it can wear you out.  If you’re going to the trouble and expense of attending conferences, make the most of them. Go to sessions, engage in conversations, network with colleagues, meet new friends. I firmly believe that much of the value of conferences comes in the interpersonal interactions between sessions and over a shared meal. When you get back home, follow-up with emails to people that you connected with and presenters you really enjoyed. Nurture those contacts.

Do you also have a list of “work-related things to do” over the summer? An article to start? A fact-pattern to develop as a foundation for classroom discussion? A new edition of your textbook to work through? If so, plan accordingly. For me, those are the easiest projects to ignore (after all, I’ve got until late-August!), but in some ways, they’re the most important.  Schedule in time to work on these projects. Find an accountability partner with whom you can check in weekly to share your progress (or better yet, to share the work and combine ideas!).

I was going to add a paragraph about personal vacation travel and using that time to read law review articles you’ve been meaning to get through. That is a fine idea, I think, but I couldn’t bring myself to write it authoritatively because that’s not at all how I use my personal travel time during the summer! I’ve got an issue of US Weekly and the latest book club selection from Target in my carry-on. And that’s perfectly ok too! Allow yourself time to not be engaged in research, writing, or teaching prep.

But when you do return to the scholarly pursuits, it helps to break them down into smaller chunks, even over the “vast expanse” of the summer. I’ve found renewed energy in setting aside time to read one law review article a night by someone I’ve come to know personally (e.g., at a conference) or whose work is important in my field, even if it is not directly related to my current projects.

Regardless of your summer plans, plan ahead for the fall.  Give yourself the rest and relaxation you need so you’re ready to go in August, but also keep on task every now and then so you won’t be caught off-guard.

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