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From the Courtroom to the Classroom: Feeling the Thrill of Small Victories

By Michael T.M. Shannon


The first thing I discovered upon beginning my new career as a teacher is this: Every day—the agony and the ecstasy. Every day, almost any moment, holds the potential for one of those extremes and sometimes both at the same time. For instance, on my first day as a teacher, I gave my students a letter to take home to their parents in which I introduced myself and explained that after 25 years as an attorney, I had become a teacher. The next morning a student came to me and said, "Mr. Shannon, may I ask you a personal question?" I was overjoyed. Here was a teachable moment, I thought. This young person needs my advice. My joy soon evaporated when he asked, "Were you disbarred?"

For the record, I was not disbarred. I am proud of my accomplishments as a lawyer and feel privileged to have served my clients but, to be honest, the practice of law never did it for me. It was a career, a living, but it was never my passion. Being married to a professional career consultant who specializes in lawyers, I always had a voice encouraging me to find my passion. As our sons grew and I started being involved in their activities, I realized that I had a gift for working with young people. They seemed to like me and were interested in what I had to say. I definitely liked them and their enthusiasm. I decided to take a look at the teaching profession so that I could mold the youth of America. I am still trying to determine who got the better end of the bargain.

I started my exploration of teaching as a substitute teacher. Now, we all know that a substitute teacher is fair game for all sorts of mischief. My training as an attorney came in handy combating this. I would introduce myself to my class for the day and tell them that I was also a lawyer. I would say, "Now, to be a good lawyer you have to be skeptical of what is said to you. Even your clients will lie to you. 'I don't know how that cocaine got in my car,' or 'I paid those taxes, I swear.' So, when you come to me and tell me that your teacher lets you go get a drink of water whenever you want, or that you always get to sit next to your best friend despite what the seating chart says, I am not going to believe you. In fact, if you truly have to leave the room every day at 11 o'clock to take your lifesaving medicine, I hope you have a way to prove that fact to me or else you have a problem." This approach has always worked and I have not yet lost a single student.

After surviving substitute teaching for a few years and taking classes at night to complete my master's degree in education, I was ready to make the big move to my student teaching assignment—eighth grade United States history, one of my favorites. My legal background is of tremendous use to me in the classroom, as my steely logic and courtroom-honed communication skills serve me well. Of course, they are children and I have to enjoy small victories. For instance, I spent two days emphasizing the constitutional importance of judicial review and celebrating the wisdom of Chief Justice Marshall but half of my students still can't get past why poor Mr. Marbury didn't get to be a justice of the peace. Oh well. Tomorrow's another chance. As I said, every day—the agony and the ecstasy.

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