By Nick McDaniels — It’s rare that I follow up a blog post immediately with another one on the same topic, but in this instance, this proud teacher needs to use some valuable internet real estate to brag about his students.
My most recent post discussed some of the joys and frustrations of teaching Mock Trial as part of a classroom curriculum (not as an after school club).
Last week my students won the Baltimore City Mock Trial competition, arguing the fictional case Shawn Wright v. Play and Learn Childcare Center against some really great competition from other schools. It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, because, they did everything I taught them AND THINGS I DIDN’T. That was the best part.
The team of twelve students worked very hard to prepare as attorneys, two seniors representing the plaintiffs and two juniors representing the defense, six juniors playing witnesses, and two sophomores preparing as alternate witnesses. Their classmates who did not attend the competition served as jurors, witnesses, attorneys, and law clerks during preparation days in the weeks before trial, and teachers volunteered their time as coaches. Now, we’ve done this before, falling just short of a victory in the winter competition, a close race that only motivated my students more.
The motivation was clear as the students spent hours practicing. Opening statements, direct examinations, cross-examinations, objections. They practiced everything. But I will tell you right now, I did not teach objections well (not on purpose, we just ran out of time) and I did not teach closing arguments well (on purpose, because I wanted to push my students to deliver them on the fly). And these, if you ask me, simply a bystander in the courtroom on the day of trial, were my students’ greatest strengths, because they trusted their instincts, because they took risks and went of script, because they used the things that I taught them and then took the next logical step to take risks and try the things I didn’t.
As a teacher, there is nothing more exciting than to watch your students do everything you taught them to do, but then add a little flair of their own. So we are off and running now, my students with the confidence of the world, and the capacity to build. We have student leaders who have done this before and can help teach the next group of students. I am incredibly excited for the next few years.
The day after their victory, I took most of them as stowaways on another group’s field trip to Washington, D.C. where they got an amazing tour of the Supreme Court of the United States and stood in virtually the same spot where Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education (an experience this high school teacher will never forget). It occurred to me then, realizing this may be my only chance to be in the temple to justice, watching my students stand in the highest court in the land, that these students, from Baltimore City, as Justice Marshall was years ago, may be on a trajectory to return to the Supreme Court someday as advocates or justices. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to blog-brag about them then too.