Studying for the LSAT Is Making Me a Better Teacher
Every time I see a reading comprehension passage practicing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), I roll my eyes — the passage is too damn long. I don’t feel like doing it. I might as well just rush to the questions and use process of elimination and hope for the best.
In that thought process, I caught myself. As a special education teacher who is teaching 9th-grade students, some of whom are reading as low as the Kindergarten level, this is how my students feel often say they feel. The reading is too damn long. It’s easier to just click through the questions. Not only that, but sometimes, the passages are so dense and esoteric they read like they’re in a foreign language.
So this is what some kids must think while we’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird — a book we’ve really struggled to get into the book because it’s long and includes very complex vocabulary. Above all, my students don’t find the book very engaging, which might be a knock on my presentation of the material as an instructor, but I feel the same way about some LSAT passages. What do I care about the effect of natural predators in an ecosystem to replace pesticides? Why should I read about parenting kids in the 14th century when I have so much else going on in my life?
I am studying for the LSAT to go to evening law school while I continue teaching and continue my career in education. I don’t want to leave the school system, and a large part of me doesn’t want to leave the classroom. But enforcing compliance and best practices in special education is very, very important, a job that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. As an experienced special educator, I want to become someone who coaches other special ed teachers in a better way than I was trained myself. Apparently, my school system loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in settlement payments for failing to educate special needs kids. That’s a lot of money that could be going into education’s resources, but above all, it’s very important every disabled child to get the education they deserve.
I tell my students all the time that it’s not about the content. It’s about skills. I find testing to be Eurocentric and a perpetrator of societal inequalities, and I wish less of my time as a teacher devoted to standardized testing, but I also have to compromise. Testing is how a lot of the world works right now, even if we hope that will be changed, and how you are going to evaluated applying to college and in simply many things in life. Yes, testing is problematic, but being good at it is going to make life a lot easier.
And so I was taught a lot of test-taking strategies when I grew up — process of elimination, how to highlight the main idea and time management. I consider myself a good test taker. I scored 2210 on my SAT and 516 on the MCAT, but the LSAT is a completely new beast.
On the LSAT, all of these things are being challenged for me. When I was pushed into going to medical school, I studied hard and did well on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), but the LSAT and the MCAT are very different tests. For one, the LSAT has nothing to do with the content, while the MCAT very much tested your knowledge on biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. Also, for as difficult as the MCAT is, you have plenty of time. On each of my LSAT practice tests, I have run out of time on each section, so even if I have the skills to grasp a passage or one of the other sections, time management is very difficult on that type of test.
As a teacher for special needs kids, the LSAT is simply putting me in their shoes whenever we do reading comprehension activities and tests. While passages at a 520 Lexile level are incredibly easy for me, passages on the LSAT level are difficult. And they’re boring, which makes them even more difficult.
What has helped me most with standardized testing is reading more in my free time. According to Brian J. at Cambridge Coaching, reading for fun is the best way to help with reading comprehension. Of course, reading comprehension is only one of three sections on the LSAT, and the logic games and analytical reasoning sections require significantly more practice.
But to improve on my students’ reading comprehension, I do encourage my students to read for fun. For an opening ritual in one of my classes, I asked my students what their favorite movie was. One of my kids said Percy Jackson was his favorite movie, and it instantly brought me back to middle school — Percy Jackson was my favorite book.
And so I called his mom and told him about how well he was doing. He had gone from Kindergarten to 3rd grade in his reading this year, and I was very proud of his progress. I ordered a copy of Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief to their house, and checked in on how much he was enjoying it and how much he enjoyed reading it.
Brian J. says reading for fun helped him comprehend and improve his scores on reading comprehension on the SAT. In the classroom setting, there’s only so much we can read on a daily basis, and so I encourage my students to read more at home. We all know we can read something and not understand what a passage is saying, and it sounds like common sense that reading for fun helps kids learn how to read better. My student isn’t done reading Percy Jackson yet, but I will gladly buy him the other books once he’s done and tells me what happened and what he learned in the books.
And that’s what has made me a better teacher — the notion that reading should be fun, not an act of labor and not a chore. I often used audiobooks and the speech-to-text tool to help my students read, but often, speech-to-text tools read without emotion, without rhythm. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, prosody is the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language, and my students are much more receptive when I read with rhythm and prosody than when I don’t.
The LSAT made me practice what I preach. There is so much temptation in a reading comprehension section of a passage you have absolutely no interest in to skip through the questions and click “C” on every single one, hoping for the best. I do it when I run out of time on a section. It feels inevitable since it’s better to have one answer than no answer at all.
And I will seek out the books my kids actually will read, for fun. Because if they don’t love reading, then it’s going to keep being boring. It’s going to keep being a chore. Some of my kids who loved the Harry Potter movies would greatly benefit from reading the book in their free time.
I am no fool — I know I won’t magically make every kid love reading overnight. I can only control what’s in my personal locus of control. But studying for the LSAT, I’m a bit less frustrated and significantly more understanding as a teacher of how it feels to have no interest and feel like you’re reading in a foreign language.
I want to improve at the LSAT, obviously. But more importantly, the LSAT and my teaching are intertwined, and I want to improve as a teacher above all else.