Teaching While They Learn
HLS students lead a variety of university classes as teaching assistants
By Seth Stern
|HLS students Shanya Dingle '04 and David Bloch '03 walk from the law school campus into Harvard Yard, where they work as Harvard College teaching assistants.|
On any given school day, 3L David Bloch may be learning Roman law or teaching Latin.
When he's not in class at the law school, Bloch serves as a teaching assistant in Harvard's Classics department, teaching sections on Latin and Virgil's early poetry.
He's just one of many HLS students who see both sides of the university's lecture halls. According to new statistics compiled by the Office of the J.D. Dean, last year more than 80 HLS students held positions as teaching assistants around the university. (This is in addition to the 62 HLS students who, as members of the Board of Student Advisers, lead workshops in the First Year Lawyering Program.) Most assist in teaching classes at Harvard College--where they are technically known as teaching "fellows"--and are most likely to teach in the Economics department.
But many others are teaching in subjects even farther afield from the law. Drawing upon their undergraduate work or previous graduate studies, these student instructors are teaching everything from Afro-American and women's studies to computer-aided design and psychology.
Bloch, for instance, came to HLS straight from Oxford University in England, where he earned a degree in classics and lectured on the subject for a year. "The classics have been such a large and fulfilling part of my life that even if it makes my schedule a little more frenetic, it's much more balancing and feels much more healthy to have other interests," he says.
And 3L Joshua Bloodworth is currently teaching a section of the core freshman course Constructing the Samurai and previously taught an Afro-American studies section on race and poverty.
Bloodworth was a history and Afro-American studies concentrator at Harvard College and spent two years teaching English to junior high students in Japan before entering law school.
Second-year student Shanya Dingle is a teaching fellow for Moral Reasoning 22, a core course at the college that she herself took as a freshman six years ago. Similarly, 3L Michael Rosen is teaching sections on the American presidency and foreign policy--courses he took as an undergraduate. "It's a wonderful experience getting to know students, staying in touch with the undergraduate community and balancing the demands of law school with a new set of challenges and interests," he says.
Another HLS student helping to teach Moral Reasoning 22 (commonly known on campus as "Justice") is 3L Elizabeth Wilson, a former assistant professor of English at Yale who earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature and literary theory.
While Wilson did not come to HLS simply to polish her academic credentials and return to teaching, she finds herself increasingly interested in the option of teaching law. "There are some really significant differences in how you teach," she says, comparing humanities instruction with the Socratic method.
"At first, some of my professors [at HLS] seemed concerned that I might find their teaching somehow less intellectual, but I find law teaching to be dazzling in another kind of way," she says. "A course like Justice is a great complement to traditional law teaching, because it gives students additional tools to think, in a systematic and rigorous way, about the larger issues that law implicates, like what is a good society and what is a fair rule."
But teaching assistants need not be interested in teaching careers to benefit from their experiences at the front of the classroom. "It's a wonderful way to work closely with individual professors and also a great opportunity to see what it's like to lead a classroom discussion," says Professor Howell Jackson '82, associate dean for research programs. "Teaching positions at the college also give law students a chance to pursue interests in other academic subjects and to participate in the larger university community."
Teaching can also take up a big chunk of any law student's time. Bloodworth is teaching three sections of about a dozen students each. The combination of teaching time, attending the professor's lecture and preparing his own lessons eats up nine hours a week, he says, and that doesn't include the extra hours spent grading students' papers.
But HLS teaching fellows say their experiences in front of the classroom offer rewards beyond just the pay.
"You get to see the student/teacher relationship from both sides, and it actually helps you decipher what law professors are looking for," says Bloodworth. "It's always exciting when a student who has been looking at you all confused all semester suddenly looks at you with that expression that says I finally get it and understand."
Rosen found a way to share his law school experience with one of his sections in the American presidency course, turning a lesson on the president's relationship with the Supreme Court into a taste of the Socratic method. "It was fun for me to give back a little of what I've experienced in law school and see how the students react to the format," Rosen says. "They get a little stressed out but almost invariably seem to like it afterward."