Saturday, August 21, 2010

"You're One-Fourteenth Through with Torts"

[Prefatory Explanation: This past week has proven that teachers, especially first-year teachers, are paid only about 1/5000 of a fair salary, given the time and energy required. This means, mathematically, that teachers should receive about $200,000,000 each year. It also means that Meg is too tired to blog and has deputized Chris to describe our week. He has decided to take blogger's license and write in the third person, egotism be damned. ]

OUR WEEK . . .

Began on Monday. Chris went to Boalt at 8am, when the library opens, and stationed himself at one of the many beautiful tables in the reading room for the express purpose of looking studious and intimidating. He failed. He was too nervous to be studious, and too fearful to be intimidating. The nerves and fear came from what Chris now calls the Expectations of a Law Student as Informed by Pop Culture. They are as follows:

1. Law professors exist to badger, belittle, and ultimately brain the poor law student.
2. You can actually die of embarrassment.
3. Your fellow students are actually trained actors who have been fed the answers and have carefully memorized scripts so that their comments and questions sound casually brilliant.

As it turns out: His nerves and fears were for naught. The entire week, he found that the professors were too humane to embarrass or brain anyone. The most surprising answer Chris heard from professors, to a probing and brilliant question posed by a classmate (i.e, a hired actor), was: "I don't know. I'd have to look at some cases and get back to you."

And you can't actually die of embarrassment. You can mutter, stumble, misspeak, stutter, and mistake a thousand things, and sometimes you regret it, but your heart does not stop beating and your lungs still take air.

And the students are not actors. (Though, strictly speaking, some of them were professional actors before coming to Boalt. One was a professional ballet dancer; one was a concert pianist; one was a CIA officer.) And though some are indisputably brilliant at times, they struggle the same as everyone.

The Expectations of a Law Student as Informed by Pop Culture are completely false. By and large, Chris's week was great. He's making friends, he's keeping up, and, one way or another, he's learning the law. (Mostly the law of finders; if you dig up a pre-historic ship on someone else's property while trespassing, let him know.)


The only thing about Chris's first week that might be of particular interest to people who have never gone to law school and who know about it primarily through popular culture is:

What's It Like to Be Called On?

For the record, Chris volunteered to speak and was called on in all his classes. But it happened first in Civil Procedure on Tuesday, and, for this kind of thing, the first can speak for all. There, the professor (a tall, erudite old man named Vetter) asked how a particular judge managed to interpret a statute. Chris raised his hand, half to stretch, half just to see how it felt, and shuddered to see the professor's head suddenly turn like that of a famished eagle toward a mouse. The professor called on him, and Chris entirely lost consciousness of himself. All he heard was this voice explaining slowly and carefully that the judge was relying on both a plain-meaning interpretation of the statute's language and a holding written by the Appeals Court in the Circuit in which the case in question was brought. The voice stopped, and the professor moved on. It took a few moments for Chris to infer that the voice was his and that he was not actually floating above the room like a phantom completely detached from his body. He had spoken.

It's actually quite similar to the scene from Old School starring Will Ferrell:

Which is all to say: It's not a big deal. Half the time, the answer is easy. Half the time, you black out anyway. No one laughs. No one even cares. They're just glad one more question has been answered so that they're off the hook.

And so it went throughout the week.

He's excited for next week, during which he'll turn in his first written assignment and continue to attend happy hours and group activities to figure out what he should do with the 16 minutes of spare time he'll have each week.


By all vital signs, yes. Her week, even more than Chris's, was an exercise in holding onto solid ground while a tornado, roiling with cows and cars and houses, bowls over you.

It was unclear at times whether she would even have a classroom, whether the YES foundation could provide a computer, or whether the Jr. High choristers from last year could overcome their sour feelings and take a chance on a young gunner from ORRY-gone.

By Chris's estimate, she attended 8,000 meetings. Her email inbox contains about 65 messages, the subjects for which are "One More Thing . . ." Her day consists of meeting 200 very important people at one school and going to the next school to meet 200 more.

But to no one's surprise, she has been hugely successful this week. Her Jr. High Choir started with just 15 students. By week's end, she had 31. You can imagine that the District Powers That Be are patting themselves on the back and thinking, "I knew that this girl is going to change things."

She's also completed a choir handbook, started setting up classrooms, and, along with her music department colleagues, worked on curriculum for the year. At this pace, by next week, she'll be superintendent of the district.

Both Meg and Chris are more tired than they've ever been. While they hope that things will calm down soon, they are excited by these new challenges and look forward to building some serious character.

Until then, they encourage you to start a petition to have teachers paid $200,000,000 per year.

MP: Hey, All! It's me! I'm alive! Barely! This is what I have to contribute at this point...

Lots of love to you all.

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