What I Learned Teaching a Graduate-Level Course

Many of you know that I recently taught (for the first time) a graduate-level course.  It was actually a Tax LLM course, which is a post-law school course for lawyers.  (If you want to know the exact course, let me know and I will share in the comments.)

When one teaches, two learn.

Robert Half

I enjoyed the experience, and I hope to do it again soon.  After I finished grading all of the exams, though, I spent some time reflecting on what I learned from the course as a professor.

I loved the students.  And yes, I do really enjoy the material (taxes – yikes!).  But I wanted to share three things that I learned by teaching the class.  I recorded the three things I learned in this video, with a summary below.  I hope you enjoy!  Let me know what you think in the comments!

What I Learned by Teaching a (gasp!) Graduate-Level Tax Course

  1. Ask Why

During the first class, I asked each student individually why he or she was taking the course.  I wrote down their answers.  During the course, I referenced everyone answers so that I could customize the course content and also so I could frame the class material in a way that would match the students’ expectations.  I felt this really helped me during the course.  

  1. Preparation is Paramount

During the course, I promised myself that I would do all of the assignments and work that I assigned to the students.  This gave me great insight into the workload that the students took on.  I put a significant amount of time into preparation and planning for the course.  I think (or hope) that the students noticed.  One of my favorite quotes is this: “Many people have the will to win, but few people have the will to prepare to win.”  

  1. Ask Questions to Teach (or Learn) Faster

I learned very quickly that simply lecturing from slides or notes is BORING (for the students and for me).  It was actually awkward in a way that I did not expect.  So I started asking questions in order to break the monotony.  And I did not speak until someone answered.  It was hard initially, but absolutely worth it.  Eventually, my lectures turned into sessions of questions and answers, with follow-up questions and follow-up answers.  The class actually went in some unexpected directions (watch or listen to the video above to learn about which superheroes we discussed!).  

Was this helpful?  Let me know in the comments!

  • Gary Bauer

    John the longer I teach, the less structured I become. That is not to say, like you pointed out, that you don’t have to do as much preparation. In fact, I find that I go back and redo my Powerpoint slides to update them and see if I can find current developments in law, practice management or other disruptive technologies or developments in the news and incorportate that material into my classes. I often use the probate listserv with current postings about estate planning or probate issues and ask the students for their response to the original question posted. I then compare our discussion to the solutions provided by attorneys answering those questions to give relevance to our discussions. This is just one more way to get them engaged which becomes more critical each year as they become almost hardened to inputs that are not visually stimulating. I enjoyed your post and found your comments to be very valuable.

    • John Mashni

      Thank you so much for your comment, Gary. You are a great professor and your teaching style is effective and powerful. It is always great to learn from you!