Professors Amy Widman in Newark, who teaches Legal Writing, and Professor Adnan Zulfiqar in Camden, who teaches Criminal Law and other courses, were selected as this year's Teachers of the Year by the students of Rutgers Law School.
They shared their teaching philosophies and feelings about what it's like to work at Rutgers
What do you like best about teaching at Rutgers Law?
Widman: This is only my second year at Rutgers, and much of that time was spent over Zoom. Even so, I have felt such a strong community here. I appreciate the spirit of public service that permeates Rutgers Law. Everyone in the building cares deeply about principles of access and justice and it shows. It's inspiring and uplifting to work alongside such passionate students and colleagues.
Zulfiqar: The students are the best thing about teaching at Rutgers. They care deeply about becoming strong advocates. There is no sense of self-entitlement: everyone seems to appreciate the opportunity they have. And, on a personal level, they have been incredibly patient with me as I grow, and make mistakes, as a teacher while navigating them through difficult material.
Do you have a particular philosophy or approach when it comes to teaching?
Widman: I want to get to know each student and why they chose to come to law school so that I can best support their learning. I try to write and supplement writing assignments with as much real-world context as I can in the first-year. As a former legislative and policy attorney, I think it is important to introduce students to multiple lawyering roles early in law school so that each student can begin assessing what type of career they want in the law. I'm a big proponent of providing lots of feedback from multiple sources - not only from me, but also peer feedback and self-reflection. I view teaching as collaborative, I want to help students develop their own judgment and professional skills they will need to be successful attorneys, however they see that role.
Zulfiqar: My approach to teaching is built around two central principles. First, preparation is the key to learning. Students can only gain from the classroom if they have put in time outside of class. That is why I employ a cold call Socratic method for my first-year class; it requires everyone show up ready to engage the material. Second, the best learning happens in a "horizontal" classroom. While I might do most of the teaching in class, I also do plenty of learning. My students are also my teachers. They may look at the world from a vantage point that adds new dimensions to my understanding of the law. Learning then is an extended conversation with my students in our collective pursuit of greater insights.
What are Rutgers students like?
Widman: I love Rutgers students -- our students come from diverse backgrounds, and they bring their whole selves into the classroom. This is such a gift to a professor and to a classroom community! This year my students were very engaged and formed strong relationships both in our classroom and among themselves, which was remarkable given that we were remote all year and students were Zooming in from all over the country.
Zulfiqar: Brilliant, passionate, engaged and consistently hard-working. They ask great questions, make incisive observations and are not afraid to challenge accepted narratives. Many of them really endeavor to lift each other, to build community and make sure no one goes through this law school experience alone. They give life to our institution in a myriad of ways.
How did you feel about being recognized as an outstanding professor this year?
Widman: I view this as such an immense honor -- everything I do is in service of making law school accessible for all of our students. I want my 1L legal writing class to be a supportive space where students can grow into their professional identities over the course of their first year of law school. To hear from students that indeed they felt supported and they recognize their own professional growth from our work together means the world to me!
Zulfiqar: I am humbled to receive the honor, especially after also receiving the award last year. This one is particularly special because I've grown especially close to this class. They are phenomenal in so many ways and are poised to do great things in the future. I'm just grateful I had a chance to be a part of their journeys.