Watching the film last Thursday took me back to my first days as a teacher.
I was a twenty-two-year-old from Kansas, equipped with little more than a bachelor’s degree, a six-week teaching boot camp, and a naïve desire to save the world. My task: reach and teach five periods a day of high energy, low-performing Bronx teenagers.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
In that sense, the film on America’s education system by David Guggenheim, the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, captured my experience in urban education. To varying degrees, it also reflected the experiences of the other eight BU law students who attended the showing: former inner-city teachers in Baltimore, Atlanta, and NYC; an activist and educator from Las Vegas; an English teacher in Ecuador; a Special Education expert; and recent law school grad (and founder of BU Law’s Education Law Association) Tiffany Chen, who currently works at Match Charter Public High School in Boston.
While the dire problems addressed in the film were depressing, the discussion I had with fellow students and members of the Education Law Association at Panera Bread Co. afterwards was one of the more uplifting experiences I’ve had at BU. In addition to getting to know some great 1L’s whom I wouldn’t otherwise meet as a 2L, I enjoyed talking about issues in education—ranging from teacher’s unions to merit pay to programs like Teach for America—with people who know about them first-hand. Although I’ve gained some exposure to the school systems in NYC and Boston, I was very interested in learning about Brandon’s experience in Las Vegas or Robert’s time in Atlanta.
Though we disagreed on some points (we are law students), we all agreed that teachers—unlike lawyers—too often don’t receive the professional recognition and compensation they deserve. We admitted that as lawyers we will have more options professionally and monetarily than we did as teachers. In light of this new power, I asked the group a question I have often contemplated: what role—if any—will education play in our futures as lawyers?
Tiffany, who is currently working in education, seems to have answered that question at least for now. The others of us are less sure. For my part, I loved interning at the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights this last summer in Boston but am also interested in private sector work and have enjoyed exploring new areas of law in my clinic and journal this semester (which I will write about more later).
By the end of the movie and the discussion at Panera, I think we all had more questions about education and our own career paths than we did answers. But I came away feeling that I had gained a lot in those few hours: a provocative viewing and discussion, meaningful connections with new law students and, at least for a few hours, a sense of community with like-minded peers.
For me, the importance of that community—so rare in law school—cannot be overstated.