Faculty Commentary

Beware the Ides of February: Feeling Spectacular During the Nadir of Morale for the Year

Swann Fountain in the Snow

Yesterday, I made a spectacle of myself, and I am trying to decide if I need to teach my students to do the same. I didn’t set out to do it, but I was just so down. I always am this time of year, but this year seems worse. It’s been in the 20’s and 30’s the last few days, after a snowstorm blanketed the area a few weeks ago. I come to work in the dark or at daybreak and leaving in the dark. It feels like there is no life. It was time for some self-care.

My students are experiencing the same blah feelings now, too. It is not uncommon in the legal and academic world for people to feel low this time of year. The holidays are done, and there is little else exciting on the horizon until graduation day for some and Memorial Day for others. Students and teachers are in a rut, repeating for the next several months the patterns into which they have fallen this year—1L’s know how to take exam courses, upperclassmen feel they know the drill for most of what they do and must just keep doing it, and teachers don’t see the final end in sight. Relief seems relatively far away. In the medical world, my wife’s department chair when she was a resident would call this time the “nadir of house staff morale” and hold some type of party or event. Our law school notices this too and promotes things like 100 days to graduation celebrations at this time of year. I need to respect this in my students and recognize their needs, too.

Spencer Rand KnittingSo how did I make a spectacle of myself? It began on the train, where I sat down and took out my knitting. You may not think of knitting as much of a spectacle, but it turns out to be. Try it. It always draws attention and gets stares. Maybe it is because I am male and not that many men knit. Maybe it is because I am being so 1910’s instead of 2010’s to knit instead of burying myself in my cell phone. Or maybe it was the pinkish socks I was making for my wife. But yesterday, I did not care. And really that was not really making too much of a scene.

However, it didn’t stop there. I still needed an escape and I had no time—noon came, I had appointments to see clients at an intake site in town two and a half miles away and I had two dingy subway rides staring at me. I couldn’t stand it.

Spencer Rand IndigoSo even though I was wearing a shirt and tie and had on a long wool coat, I grabbed a bike helmet I keep in the office for more seasonal days. I left the Temple Legal Aid Office, walked to the bike share rack, checked out a bike, and rode to see clients. My coat blew around, which I had to keep open even in the cold to be able to pedal, and my tie flew from side to side. I pedaled along through campus, through low to medium income residential communities in North Philadelphia, and then through Center City streets. My helmet wouldn’t stay on right, as the headband I put around my ears to keep warm (with a Temple “T” on it!) kept it from fitting right, the headband itself continually sliding down near my eyes, making it tough to see. A few stared, and some may not have noticed because they were too down themselves to see the crazy professor on the bike. But it was great! I had to get out—too much winter weather for too long, and too much February academic blahs. For a few minutes, I was free and happy.

As a clinical teacher, I help my students reflect with how things in their lives are impacting on their practice, and this is one of those things that is. It is something that will continue to impact them when they graduate, as practice also has a seasonal flow, and this can be a challenging time for all. We talk in class about understanding who and where we are while we are with clients so we can work most effectively with them. This is one of those things I am going to raise with my students this year—recognizing the February doldrums and doing something to relieve those feelings for ourselves, our colleagues’, and our clients’ benefits.

This article originally appeared on the Clinical Law Prof Blog



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