Thursday, February 09, 2012

Teaching assignment for the fall

I was on sabbatical during the last two fall semesters at NYU (I did this in lieu of the more typical full-school-year sabbatical, as I wanted to keep on doing the Tax Policy Colloquium each spring). But this fall I will be back in action, teaching Tax I (Individual Income Taxation) to JD students at NYU Law School, on Tuesday and Friday mornings starting at 9 am, from the last day of August through early December.

When you don't have to teach, that's great because you have more time for all of the other things that you may want to do professionally. But you also start to miss it after a while. And though I've still been teaching the Colloquium in the spring, large lecture classes are a genre unto themselves, with a performance aspect and instant feedback from the students' responses.

Those who have taken, but never taught, a lecture class might be startled to learn how fully the person at the front of the room can read the students' general reactions. It's of course pretty easy to tell whether a given class went well or not - and if it was bad, you're eager for a shot at redemption the next time. You only feel you're as good as your last class.

But even more so, it's remarkably easy to see how different students are reacting to you and to the subject - who likes it more, who less, the interested versus the bored, the people who find you entertaining or insightful versus those who are less so inclined, and so forth. Hours in front of people turn their faces into an open book, at least on the question of how they are reacting to what's in front of them (though some may remain quite opaque in terms of who they are as people).

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it, and face a handful of basic structural questions. One is whether to use PowerPoint slides - I did the last two times I taught Tax I, but probably will not this time. Another is how much to aim at a specified rate of progress, as opposed to just seeing how it goes. A third is how to structure calling on people (this remains a common law school tradition, even if no longer done in the Professor Kingsfield manner, and I will probably go randomized).

One of the good things about teaching Tax I is that students tend to find it a much more engaging topic than they had expected. (Of course, this reflects in part that there is nothing easier to beat than low expectations.) I'll consider it a failure unless at least a few unsuspecting enrollees end up being recruited to "the life" (i.e., find themselves wanting to take more tax classes and perhaps even to practice in the area, when they had never expected any such thing).

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