When I was in law school (not too many years ago), students routinely applauded the professor on the last day of class, even if the course was truly dreadful.
I had always thought of last-lecture applause as a given, at least until this week, when the only sound to be heard after my last -- and thoroughly uplifting -- words on ethics was three-ring binders snapping shut. I wondered whether this was, in fact, the last week of class. Unfortunately, it was.
Perhaps in an attempt to make me feel better, my more senior colleagues have told me that that they have experienced a notable and recent drop-off in applause on the last day of class as well. Of course, one unfortunate explanation is that we tend to do our best teaching earlier in our careers, so the drop-off in applause might reflect decreased effectiveness. But the reality is that the colleagues I consulted are consistently praised by students as being excellent, and my colleagues have reported no drop in their evaluations during this decline in last-day applause.
My hypothesis is that this reduction in last-lecture applauding is a product of the more general shift in students' thinking about education. Namely, professors provide a service that students (i.e., consumers) pay handsomely to receive. So why should students give professors any particular acknowledgment for providing a good course? Isn't that what students -- consumers -- are entitled to get?
If I'm right about the shift in mind-set, it poses some interesting questions and challenges. Is this shift toward consumerism in legal education positive or negative? Should we, as legal educators, try to change the culture? Or should we adjust to it and increasingly view our students as consumers? And if we do, what implications does that have for how we carry out our obligations as law professors?
Or am I just a big, insecure, whiny baby, who can't handle the absence of positive reinforcement? That's possible, too!