Law Professors

'Teaching while woman' and battling disrespect, law prof has some advice

University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran confesses her first few semesters teaching law were disasters.

Then at Brigham Young University, Baradaran wanted to run a democratic classroom without imposing draconian rules or shaming her students into submission. There would be no cold-calling and no bans on laptops.

“It turns out,” Baradaran writes at PrawfsBlawg, “that they didn’t automatically see me as an authority and a few loud talkers began to dominate my ‘democratic’ classroom. There was also rampant disrespect and eye-rolling. I called on a student once who wouldn’t take the lollipop out of his mouth to answer my questions, which he did in a very dismissive way.”

Baradaran asked for advice, and learned other young, female colleagues were facing the same problems. She relates what she learned from others and from experience in a blog post titled “Teaching While Woman.” Her four lessons are:

1) Assert you are the alpha dog right away. There are always a few students in the first few weeks of class who will challenge the professor with questions such as: “I don’t agree with that, isn’t [fill in the blank] a better explanation?” Baradaran says the professor must “shut this down right away” without appearing to be threatened or defensive. After doing this a few times, the class will run more smoothly.

2) Don’t underestimate the importance of body language. Baradaran says she stood behind the podium when she was asked questions, making her appear to retreat. “Now,” Baradaran says, “I make sure to spread my arms, put them on my hips, and stand tall. If I am ever challenged, I force myself to assume a power stance.”

3) Be strict. Baradaran says she was raised by permissive parents, and that is her own parenting style. But in the classroom she can’t tolerate tardiness and unpreparedness.

4) Be kind. You can’t get people to respect you if you don’t respect them, Baradaran says. She stays late after class to answer questions and help her students.

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