Legally Brunette

DSC_5735.jpgIn grad school, summers were mostly for research and writing (and re-binging on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Toward the end, I attended a couple of summer programs, such as the Ohio Humanities’ Oral History Institute and the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. In the past five years, though, my summers have become full of fun professional development programs.

These are what keep many teachers busy in the summer months (okay, a little binge watching still happens – I’m looking at you, House of Cards). In 2011, my summer teacher PD trips began with the ISACS New Teacher Institute, then I moved on to an AP US History Teacher Institute in 2012. Summer 2013 was all about what I like to call the New Parent Institute, which is just a hyped-up way of saying I was on maternity leave (I read a lot, but I don’t suppose fiction counts as professional development). Summer 2014 included a trip to DC as a chaperone with students, but since there was a PD element, it counts. Last year I attended my first NEH Seminar, Forever Wild, which was AMAZING.

It shouldn’t be surprising that  all these great experiences prompted me to apply a program this summer. This year, I was part of a cohort of 20 accepted to the Federal Trials & Great Debates in US History teacher institute, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Federal Judicial Center.

I just returned last week from the program, which taught me so much about how to teach legal cases and how the federal courts work (and have worked and evolved, historically speaking). Over our six days in DC, we studied the Susan B. Anthony Trial, the Debs case, and the Rosenberg Trial. (The links I’ve provided will give you access to the same files we used – try the first link under the case name on each page).  As we studied each trial, we heard from academics with expertise in the case or time period for their perspective, then from federal judges who offered a legal perspective on the case and their own experiences as judges. We sat in on the June 20 Supreme Court session, one of the last three opportunities for this term. We toured the District Court in DC and spoke with a judge about his experiences in the federal court system. And, of course, you don’t bring 20 teachers together without a chance to collaborate: last week, we learned how to use the c3 framework to help develop dynamic lessons with the content we studied.

I came into the week with a vague sense of how the federal court system works, but let’s be honest – I only really ever thought about the Supreme Court. Working with these cases and learning from the staff and guests brought me a whole new level of understanding about how the judicial branch – much more than just the Supreme Court – works. I’m excited to bring that knowledge to Mock Trial coaching (in a small way) and my US History classes (although I’m not teaching US History this year). The c3 Framework was also a great new way for me to conceptualize how I frame lessons, no matter what field of history I’m teaching.

I recommend this program highly. I knew it would be a useful program for me, but of course it’s never clear going in just how much you’ll be able to get out of a program like this. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had such great professional development programs over the years.

Is it time to apply for summer 2017 things yet?


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