Life Lessons

From Courtroom to Classroom

What?? I know what you are thinking- she’s lost her marbles. But I’ve been giving this quite a bit of thought lately. In September 2021 for the first time since we had children both were in school full time, at the same time, EVER. I was home for approximately three days before I started subbing regularly at school. Anywhere from 3-5 days a week. I’m in the lower school- pre-K to fourth grade. My favorite days are every Friday when I sub for one of the librarians. Spoiler alert, I love books. I once sold children’s books and my children have more books than some libraries.

So how did I make this correlation? I recently had a phone conversation with a former colleague from when I was a prosecutor, trying criminal cases. He and I actually tried a multi defendant homicide case together shortly before I became pregnant with our oldest. Anyway, as he was asking what I had been up to, I explained that I had started subbing at the boys’ school. There was a definite pause before the conversation continued. I know in his mind he was trying to balance the no bs, tough as nails prosecutor with the image of me reading books to lower school children. Trust me the former version of myself would not recognize this version. However, it makes total sense that after being at home with the boys and looking for a way to reengage in the workforce that I would look for something on their schedule, that allowed me to still be present at school (literally since I sometimes get to be in their room). It would also make sense that after seven plus years at home the hardened prosecutor might have softened just a touch. Motherhood changes your perspective on a lot of things!

Here’s how the analogy breaks down. I was a prosecutor for nearly a decade. I tried criminal cases. Towards the end of my legal career I was primarily trying cases of violent crime, such as murders, home invasion armed robberies, burglaries, sex offenses. So you would imagine that this is actually the furthest you could get from a lower school setting, or is it? A jury consists of 12 people and two alternates. These are twelve people that represent a wide variety of socio economic, level of education, geographic location in the county etc. You have to meet them where they are in their ability to absorb the evidence that you are going to present as a prosecutor. Each one of the jurors “learns” in a different way. Maybe one is going to diligently listen to the witnesses testimony, while another will fully absorb a video or evidence involving pictures. You need each one to follow along with the evidence or lesson if you will, in order to get a guilty verdict. All twelve need to “get it” so to speak for a successful outcome. Hmm, sounds a bit similar to the students in a classroom. It’s critical to meet each and every student where they are in level of ability to learn. You need to engage them in the ways that they learn best.

Respect and trust are universal, right? With a jury you needed to have a mutual level of respect. I needed the jurors to respect the job that I was doing while at the same time showing them respect recognizing they 1) were away from work and family to be there to hear the case and 2) that they had the awesome ability that they have in deciding the facts of the case. A jury needed to trust the process, but they also needed to trust that what I was saying and sharing with them was the truth.

How does this relate to being in the classroom?? For the most part the average class size is between 12 and 14. Each child is coming from a different home, a different background and bringing their own experiences to the classroom. Each has a different ability to be able to comprehend the lesson. Not every child is going to learn the same way. You have to break the lesson (evidence) down into bite size pieces so it’s easily comprehended. But you also have to also employ a variety of techniques to present the same information, such as a story, a hands on activity, a song etc. So while I’m not necessarily a tough as nails prosecutor I am still a no bs in the classroom. I have a softer touch and build rapport based upon mutual respect and kindness. Again you need to have the utmost respect and patience for each and every child. You need to be kind and considerate. And you hope that you will earn their respect and receive their kindness in return. This goes hand in hand in building trust and comfort. For some of our youngest learners this is their first time at school, first time away from family. No different than the jury having an awesome responsibility in deciding a case educators have a critical role in helping those children make the transition to a school setting. They need to trust that you are there for them, to help them, to guide them.

If there’s something I learned about being a trial attorney it’s that things don’t always go as planned. i.e. times when a witness doesn’t necessarily testify as anticipated or the wheels fall of the cart. Anyone who has spent any time with children knows that things don’t always go as anticipated. You can have the best laid plans that suddenly get altered because the class isn’t in the right mind space for what you have planned. Being a lawyer taught me to think on my feet and alter the plans as necessary to keep the trial flowing. Yet another way that being a lawyer and a teacher are similar. You need to be able to think on your feet. Maybe a lesson is better suited to be moved outside. Maybe the technology isn’t quite working the way it should. Maybe you flip flop your day to do a different activity that is better suited to the flow of the day. Maybe it’s taking longer for a lesson to be understood. In any event, you need to be able to think on your feet to keep the day moving.

You need to be curious and always learning. Who would have ever expected there would be a time when are children would be learning virtually? This was a pivot that required adjustment in how teachers teach and how students learn. Role as lawyer and educator are similar in this regard as well. Technology is always changing, ways to share and communicate information-lessons are always changing. We need to continually be a student. Truth be told, last year when we made the switch to virtual learning, as I set up our home base and started taking out all the materials from the closet to. make it feel like school I joked “I’ve been preparing for this my whole mom life.” While it’s funny, it’s true. At each stage I was always researching ways to continue the learning at home. I’m not sure who gets more excited to go to Lakeshore Learning- me or the boys. Educationally tools and toys have always been a part of our home, along with reading, lots and lots of reading. I’ve been so excited to be able to continue to learn and grow along.

Finally, both are truly rewarding. While there is nothing quite like waiting for a jury verdict to return in your favor and the appreciation of the victim and/or their family there is something to truly be said for helping a kindergartner write a story or see connections made with a book, faces light up when you make kinetic sand, etc. etc. While I’m a far way from a business suit and pumps I couldn’t be happier with this phase of life. This all ties back into my recent post about finding joy in what you do and having the ability to recreate yourself at the different stages of life. While I always thought I would only ever practice law, I’m now a firm believer that we no longer have to do one thing in life, that we have the ability to continue to reimagine what we are going to be when we “grow up.” We are continually growing and adapting with our circumstances. This boy mom to two couldn’t imagine being anywhere but at school watching them learn and grow, while she’s doing the same thing!