Friday, January 30, 2015

Today, I Become a Teacher

Today, I Become a Teacher

Every lawyer dreams of becoming a history teacher. OK, not EVERY lawyer, but many of the ones I know. I've been practicing law for ten years. Add in my 3 years of law school and 3 years as a paralegal, and I've been in the legal profession for nearly half my life. Except for a few moments of human satisfaction (helping a veteran keep her home, fighting the big banks on behalf of a young family, getting a 8-figure verdict for a family scammed out of their life savings by a real estate swindler), I never enjoyed the practice of law. Truth be told, most of the time I was on the side of the big banks. It drains your soul.
Like so many lawyers, I found myself trapped in my own profession. While our skills translate to other fields, most employers see a law degree as a burden. Being pigeon-holed, we call it. Also, student loans, mortgage, cars, and expenses that befit the lifestyle of a moderate income attorney are too much of a burden to bear on a teacher's salary. Then something magical happened. Follow me below the orange spaghetti..
For years I had been applying to local colleges for teaching jobs in law and history. I have a BA in history and most of an MA. I had enough credits to qualify as an "instructor" in history at these colleges. But I never got so much as an interview. I could not teach high school because I didn't have any training or certification. "So go back to school and get training!" you say? Not so simple. School costs money. I was already $140,000 in debt from law school (plus my wife's school loans, she has a PhD). Then maintaining the mortgage payment, etc., while not working was just impossible.

Then, through an almost Divine series of events, things changed. My wife was offered a fellowship at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do cutting edge research with the world's top scientists in the most exciting city on Earth. "Heck, yes!" I said. So last June we picked up the family and moved to Jerusalem.
Inevitably, the hardest part for me would be finding work. My Hebrew is very weak. Even after 5 months of intense training ("ulpan") I could still only manage basic grocery store conversations. Being a lawyer here was pretty much out of the question. Social media is a wonderful tool for networking and finding jobs. An ad crossed my Facebook feed for an American high school just outside the city looking for social studies teachers (and other subjects). With no training or certification (or classroom experience) I thought I had no shot. But it was late at night and I had nothing to do, so I sent over my resume with a cover letter expressing my deep desire to teach. And the inevitable "nothing" came back.
How shocked was I, when 2 days later I received a call from the vice principal inviting me for coffee to talk about the job. I met with him and another administrator. They told me all about the school, the classes, and their philosophy. It's a study abroad program for high school students within their religious denomination. They spend half the day studying religion, history, and the Land of Israel, and the other half taking, essentially, the classes they would've taken at home. So the school needs teachers for the general studies portion of the day. Since I had enough masters credits in history, and has SOME experience teaching (tutoring college kids, teaching professional seminars), I was qualified.
They invited me to teach US History, Global History, and AP US Government!
Today is my first day as a teacher. For weeks I've been pouring over the textbooks and syllabi of more experienced teachers. I have a couple of lessons mapped out, but I'm still pretty lost. I'm a history buff and a political wonk. I enjoy teaching. As I said when I was practicing law, I prefer to impart knowledge rather than wield it as a weapon. Now's my chance.
I feel like I have a grave responsibility, far more important than the multi-million dollar cases and deals I handled in the past. These parents trust me with their children to teach them information, instill a love of learning, and prepare them for college. As a parent myself, I know this is no small thing.
All my years of reading and discussing history and government (some of it on this very website) are about to come to fruition. Today's high school kids will be voters in 2016. I hope to help create a generation of kids that think about the world around them, and won't be sucked in by "bumper sticker politics" or turned off altogether. Frankly, I'm not sure how to do this. But if you don't try, you can't succeed.
So in 4 hours I'll stand in front of a classroom for the first time, and begin a review of the industrial revolution on a global scale. A couple of hours later I'll review the President's State of the Union speech and discuss the branches of government. Then I'll go on a journey through America after the Civil War, and discuss the successes and failures of reconstruction.
I know there are some excellent teachers here, and I'd love to hear your advice.
Today, I am a teacher.
11:52 AM PT: Awww, Community Spotlight on my first diary?! I'm so honored.
I just came home from teaching my 6 classes. Wow, what a range of experiences. Some of the classes sat like logs while others were lively and exciting.
I'm taking my experience to redouble my effort tonight to make sure the lessons tomorrow are tight and ready to go.
Thank you all for the great advice!


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