THE LEGAL FRONT
I shall soon return to the academe to teach law, a task that I have always loved. To my mind, teaching could be the best law-related activity – next only to law practice and to column writing – that a retired public servant can undertake as a continued service to the legal profession and to society.
In preparation, I made a survey of the tasks ahead and found that these could be daunting, not because of the subject matter to be taught, but because of the circumstances now affecting the teaching of law.
COVID-19 is the major game-changer as it replaces the traditional face-to-face teaching mode with distance learning, a new mode for an old-time teacher used to classroom inter-action.
I started my physical preparations by activating three sets of computers (two laptops and a desktop with camera and microphone), a tablet, and a cellphone, to ensure that I have ready back-up devices. I also tested and re-tested my connectivity and my meeting apps to ensure that very little interruption would intervene. I likewise prepared the materials I shall use to supplement my lectures and class work; reiterated my long-held teaching objectives; and rehashed my action plan.
My teaching objective has hardly varied through the years. My goal has always been to give my students a good working knowledge of the law and a system of studying and updating themselves on legal developments, to prepare them for the Bar exams and their eventual law practice. Simplicity and a methodical approach are the keys to the system I share in class. In-depth knowledge of the law, in my view, can come later through advanced studies and practice experience.
Nobody really prepares for the Bar exam by memorizing every law in the statute books. One prepares by adopting a system of bringing to the forefront of the mind the required law to apply when the need arises. My own method is through a structured system of simplification, relationships and recall. I would consider myself a success as a teacher if, early on, I can encourage my students to develop a system of their own and to use it to perfection.
My distance learning action plan, by necessity, must be different from my old face-to-face plan. Distance education makes it imperative to impress on students the need for self-learning, i.e., the capability and willingness to study and learn a subject matter on one’s own efforts through the supplied or suggested reading materials, videos, lectures, supplemented by active discussions and exchanges in class.
Self-learning, as described, is an advantage that COVID’s enforced isolation imposes on everyone. It is a mode that departs from the traditional, but once mastered, can be applied to any desired subject or endeavor. From my own COVID-isolation experience, I gained a lot of self-learned lessons in history through You Tube, Netflix, Wikipedia, old books and downloaded materials, and can thus look back to my own self-learning track record.
Class (or synchronous) sessions with others, are the students’ opportunities to clarify uncertainties and ambiguities, and for the teacher to explain, clarify and fill in the gaps students meet in their own (or asynchronous) studies. This “synchronous-asynchronous” system is intended as a multi-party inter-action where, at the teacher’s lead, everyone in class participates and thus stands to ultimately benefit from participative collective effort.
By necessity, a teacher on this mode must actively plan on how to engage the attention and interest of his distance-learning students, and thus ensure that everyone is on the same page. While doing this, he has to gauge students’ computer literacy, academic capabilities, and level of development through short inter-actions, quizzes and e-mail exchanges. Computer literacy and proficiency are basic survival skills students badly need these days, not only in class, but also in the Bar exams and in their future professional and working lives.
Over the years, I found that a relaxed start in class is best. The first meeting is the time to get to know one another and to introduce students to the general lay out of the subject matter and to my teaching methods. This approach removes surprises that could serve as roadblocks in teacher-student relationships. I call this the fairness approach.
Thus, I lay my cards on the table and tell everyone: this is me and how I teach and grade my students; these are reasons for my method; and this is the goal I intend to reach with the class. This approach, in my experience, always arouses students’ interest, and serves as ever present guide so that those who get lost along the way and who want to catch up, can do so once reminded of the system and informed of the areas already covered.
A brief discussion of the Bar exam is always of interest as it is a preview of the ultimate objective that all students and aspiring lawyers must eventually face and hurdle. This is particularly true in this Bar exam when aspirants already had one year of Bar exam deferment due to COVID, and further changes and delays due to causes beyond everyone’s control. The Bar Chairman and the Court en banc should be commended for their adaptive adjustments to these difficulties.
Some Bar reviewees have been disheartened by this turn of events, but I have always told them: treasure these experiences as they preview the future you may meet and the life you will lead as a lawyer – full of hard work, challenges and surprises, but very rewarding and gratifying in the end.
Part II and further parts of these discussions will follow in succeeding articles.