BY E.M. FORTIER
It has been awhile since I wrote my last column for The Los Alamos Reporter, December 2020 to be exact. The school year from the Twilight Zone ended and we all went on to summer to try to get back to “normal.” And, now, here we are again – Fall semester of another school year. All three of my children are back to their brick and mortar schools. All the teachers and students returned to the same classrooms they vacated a year ago but to a world completely changed. We, the parents and citizens, breathed a sigh that it seemed to all go back to “normal.” I have enough school teacher friends and professors to know that they sometimes feel unseen and unappreciated in how much they do to make the world seem “normal.”
I cannot speak for all students or parents or teachers but perhaps knowing this story will help us all to remember and acknowledge how much good teachers deserve our gratitude.
This is a story about what a teacher (whatever “teacher” is – mentor, boss, classroom instructor, parent . . . ) can do to impact so many little things.
When I was a 24 year-old third year law student, I took a trial advocacy class from a woman who a) was a phenomenal trial attorney, b) I had been working with as a research assistant for all three years of law school, c) I house sat and (more importantly) dog sat for all three years, and d) I absolutely admired.
The students in the class were partnered up into trial teams. My partner and I were very, very intensely preparing for the trial (it was the majority of our grade) but, somehow, we both missed a discovery deadline instruction. It was a simple thing – we were of the belief it was due to her and not to the opposing team (rookie mistake, believe me). We were pretty upset and we emailed her an indignant email blaming her for not being clearer and, thus, causing the confusion. It was an email born of desperation and a desire not to get docked points.
Then came the email response – Please come to my office to meet me.
So we went; prepared to not only be docked points but to be humiliated (which we deserved).
We walked in completely contrite (especially me because I knew her; I worked with her) and she told us to sit down. She was serious. She said – “Listen to me, I may not have been clear. There was obviously a miscommunication somewhere. You fixed it very quickly after you realized you needed to get it to them. But NEVER, I mean NEVER, disrespect a Judge. I’m the Judge in this case. In the future, you will be in front of judges who make you so mad they make you think – ‘You have 8 heads and you’re talking out of each one of them.’ But don’t ever let on to your contempt. You respect the position when you can’t respect the person.”
And then it was over.
I walked out of the office still a little shaky. My trial partner said – “Wow. She must like us.” I didn’t think we deserved being liked. We had, in fact, been pretty big jerks.
But her one kindness, whether born of liking us or of not wanting to send complete assholes out into the profession or maybe a bit of both, made a difference SO.MANY.TIMES. in my life the past eighteen years.
She didn’t have to do that. She could have emailed us back and said – too bad you didn’t think I was clear enough, I was and you admit you missed the deadline (even if only by an hour) and therefore you lose. That is an actual thing that happens in real cases when you practice and that fact was not lost on us. But she didn’t. She taught us how to be better lawyers, better people, and better colleagues.
Teachers do that all the time, whether in Kindergarten or in graduate school. Teachers are worth the world because they shape the world.
Thank you to all teachers.