Beating My Head Against the Wallx1000

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Fast Forward

Postby waytofailself » Wed Apr 23, 2008 9:31 am

I keep mulling over law school for no apparent reason. I should be happier. I'm getting out of teaching, I'm going to a good school on scholarship, and in spite of all of the day in and day out crap I deal with I still have people and animals that support me.

The problem? I'm still teaching. I have to be here until June 11th or they will cut my benefits off early (not that they're really allowed to do that, but I've had enough of squabbling between the district I work for and the state I work for). I swear, the education system hasn't really supported me at all, but now that the powers that be know I'm leaving they're treating me far worse. At least it's easy to disappear (except for from my students, who I still have to teach) and not really talk to too many people. That being said, after a few congratulatory remarks from people last week, there is a sect of faculty who are exceptionally rude to me now. I'm already one of those "citified liberals" who doesn't go to their church every Sunday (or church for that matter, but that's another can of beans), and has spoken out against all of the pro Christian chain emails sent to the faculty and all the pro Christian anti-non-Christian hosted at this school and paid for by school funds.

I really don't fit in here do I? For anyone who may be stumbling across this and going to school somewhere in the south, let me give you a warning: southern hospitality is a myth...a misnomer...a sham. People smile and say hello to you to your face, but everyone know that people love to talk and back stab while you're out of earshot. At least in Maryland (from my brief experiences), most people wouldn't talk to you if they didn't want to; that was a refreshing change.

It would be great to be able to fast forward and just be done with could be summer. I'll be working somewhere this summer because so many law school and puppy expenditures have cleaned out my bank account. But then I'll be able to start law school, and hopefully I'll be far happier. This environment is certainly weighing me down. It's going to feel so good when exam time comes around.

I brought up this point to my SO, and she responded with something interesting; why can't I just fast forward it three years or a few more into the future. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Will I still be happy?

My puppy will be almost four, that'll be weird.

I know this is an oxymoronic statement, but I kind of want to slow it down a bit after school and enjoy being a student again. This will probably be the last time I'll be going to an institution of higher learning full time, and while I know I'll be busting my butt it's a very different world than the one I've placed myself in now. I just wonder how different I will be once I'm done with that, because teaching has made me a much more jaded and cynical person today.

Bonus random end of post ramble: as I've gone back and thought about it, I'm actually very dissapointed with much of my family's reaction to my law school application process. My sister has been very supportive of me, and even though she was openly glad that I'm staying in Winston Salem (she lives in Lewisville...15 minutes away and we hardly see each other) she would've been happy for me if I moved far away. The rest of them? Ooh the flood of memories. I get into Wake; my mom's first reaction is, "Wow! Really? I was just talking to people, and we agreed that you probably wouldn't get in." I get into George Washington part time, "That's a real school? Must not be that good, I haven't heard of it." I apply to Emory, "Would you really want to go there? I mean, why don't you stay closer to home?" I get a fill-in-the-blank acceptance w/ scholarship without applying from Florida Coastal, "That's awesome! I love Jacksonville!"

The joy of being the youngest child is that I am apparently not capable of making my own choices, and that my parents have their own little dreams for me. When I told them I was taking the LSAT, they were all kind of shocked and very "Well, why don't you just stay with teaching? It's really hard to get into law school -- why don't you try teaching at another school."

I'll stop here -- I'm making no sense now.

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Postby waytofailself » Wed Apr 23, 2008 12:33 pm

Edit: according to a few specialists, it is highly likely that my cat has a brain tumor :( he's been very wobbly and is very off an on in terms of his coordination. I don't want to believe it because it seems like it could be so many other things...but something in me has a feeling that they were right.

I was counting on him to help me through law school :(

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Drawing the Line in the Sand

Postby waytofailself » Fri May 09, 2008 11:17 pm

So much has happened since I decided to attend Wake Forest...

Chapter A) A radiologist said my cat had cancer. We didn't believe him, got him some meds, and he is acting worlds better -- as in like he hasn't acted for two years. That's my problem with vet specialist...they don't really know the animal; then again, he seemed to be going more with his gut based on a few questions since he hadn't run any incredibly invasive and life threatening tests. You shouldn't do that to a 9 year old cat.

Chapter B) Since word has spread like wildfire of my impending leaving of my job, the smattering of congratulations has turned into a wave of resentment and a massive amount of being ignored by people I don't like. It's freaking awesome. Of course, the school's/county's payroll has also been trying to screw me over, and today was just too much. I had already changed my date of leaving once to keep my benefits for the summer. Today's conversation went about like this:

I get a phone call interrupting my third period class:

Front Office Person: excuse me, do you have a few minutes to talk. The county was wondering if you could change your date to the 13th or 14th so they could pay you for those days.
Me: I'm teaching a class right now. Can I get back to you later? When do you need to know this by?
FOP: They're on the phone right now, we need to know by today.
Me: I have a class, I'll talk to you later.

Of course, interrupting phone calls like this aren't much of a surprise, as many teachers throughout the school will have conversations on their phones during class instead of...hmm...doing their fucking job? Anyhow, instead of calling back, I decided to spend the brief time between 3rd and 4th sending an email that felt so good -- I've been shoved around for so long by so many people...I'm fucking tired of it.

Email paraphrase summary:
a) I've already signed my contract termination agreement for one date, and then changed it to one day later at the county's request because of weather based calendar changes.
b) I gave my notice of resignation in February -- well beyond the 30 days of required notice.
c) The county is trying to screw me by offering to pay me for a few days extra work -- my last paycheck will be in may. I have already been paid for the days I work in June back in August because I'm on the 10 month pay scale.
d) I have followed all procedures, and my resignation has already been finalized. My plan is to leave on the date specified and to cash out my remaining leave time into pay.

***Point D is very important, because those extra days there were to pay me for are days on the calendar where this leave time would be used -- in other words, they were trying to get out of paying me for 3 extra days of work, and I called them out on it.

Email response from FOP: one run on sentence that pretty much said the following:
a) I'm right and they're wrong
b) Get out of here

I love southern hospitality.

Chapter C) Some people may be familiar with the National Day of Silence. If not... for details. Anyhow, last year a new club tried to do what many other schools around the country have done: have a volentary day of observance by remaining silent all day. It is a passive and non invasive demonstration except that it supports equal treatment for all people...including homosexuals. Have I said in here before that my principal is also a sunday school teacher?

The club did not get approval from the administration until the club agreed to change it from supporting fair treatment of GLBT students to a demonstration to support all diversity. This wasn't enough apparently, as parents kept their kids home from school due to a "gay demonstration rally" and local churches called to complain that the school has a pro-gay agenda and is promoting sinful behavior. Needless to say, the administration called an emergency faculty meeting that totally killed the student/faculty diversity symposium that was supposed to be after school in order to apologize to the faculty and to say that the administration does not support that kind of behavior. Furthermore, if the club wanted to have it in the future, they would need to have it on a different day for different reasons.

That is the only time I've ever gotten up and walked out of a faculty meeting. That was the most pissed off I've ever been leaving school.

Fast forward to this year: the club had a similar demonstration this year, except it was two weeks after the national day of silence and students were only allowed to demonstrate during lunch. Yes...students got in trouble for staying silent during class periods and I even heard rumors (that I could not substantiate) or some teachers having talking sessions to try and force students to talk. Whether the rumors were true or not, can you see some of the reasons that I'm trying to get out of the educational babysitting system.

Complaining aside, I am seriously troubled by a revelation I had today at school. It started on the 17th of this year (when the National Day of Silence was supposed to be observed). Students were passing out stickers with two part messages: phrases akin to "Marriage = male and a female" and "Friends don't let friends commit sin" (with two male symbols and a crossed out red circle in front of it) and a corresponding bible verse. The information that I gathered told me that it was individual students that were doing this...there wasn't much I could do, and as far as I heard no one got in trouble for it.

These past two weeks I've seen an increase in these stickers being passed around school. Some of them have constructive messages (things like "I don't need to get drunk and high to have fun" + bible verse), but others have been very similar to the ones above or worse but in other directions. To be honest, I have come to accept the fact that I teach in a rural southern town, and many people are going to wear their religious beliefs on their sleeve. For as much of a separation of church and state institutions that there is and should be, I don't mind faith based clubs at schools giving students an avenue for positive self expression.

But, when a school organization sanctions spreading a message of hate (such as a sticker I saw on two students today that said "Marriage is only between a man and a woman" + bible verse) there is a problem. When the administration turns a blind eye on this yet rebukes another student organization's message because it is the total opposite that is much worse than a problem: that is an agenda.

The education system, as flawed as it is, must be a public service for all people. If the goal of our society is to enrich our youth and to help them grow, then we must do so for all students regardless of their beliefs, values, or practices. The school's mission statement is dedicated to creating a safe learning environment for all students. For far too long, I have sat back beating my head against the wall because I am trapped in a culture that I cannot break and a cycle of hatred that will continue long after I've attained my JD.

But I'm not in law school yet, and I cannot blink at this any longer. I have received multiple student complaints about this hate mongering religious propaganda that is being sponsored by the school and supported by the administration and public funds. I cannot accept this double standard any longer, and I am not going to sit back and students and faculty and administrators continue to spread these messages as if they were okay.

It is very easy to say what you want when those in charge agree with you. From day 1 I have stuck out like a sore thumb (seriously, they made everyone applaud the new teachers that were native to the county because "they stayed"). From year one I have been known as the quiet teacher because people chose not to understand me because I was different (raised in the Episcopal church and I don't coach anything!). I have been shot down in the past for confronting teachers over abusing the email system to send faith based pro Christian anti-everything else chain emails. I've been told for far too long to just accept what these people have to say and to agree to disagree because there's nothing I can do.

But this time I can, and I'm going to end my teaching career by fulfilling a promise I made for myself going into it: to stand up for others who can't because I'm finally in a position that has the power and authority to do so. I'm going to draft a formal letter of complaint to the administration this weekend. If they choose to ignore it, then I'm pretty sure there are some people at the ACLU who will be very interested to read it.

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Speaking of debt...

Postby waytofailself » Wed May 21, 2008 4:47 pm

School has been terrible, but it's okay. Why? I put in an offer for a house on Monday, and I just learned today that the offer has been accepted.

Woo! No more renting!

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The Marketing of the Educational Prison Association

Postby waytofailself » Wed May 28, 2008 3:45 pm

This article made me laugh: --LinkRemoved--

For those unwilling to click the link, the title of the article is "The Head of the Class: 6 Hidden Benefits of a Career in Education". What I present below is my (very jaded) take on their depictions of the six benefits (and this is the only time that I will mention all of their links advertising online programs...$$$cha-ching$$$)

I only bring this up because it does highlight some of the major beefs I have not only with the education field, but many people's misconceptions of it.

Point #1: Vacation!
Hmm...I thought these were hidden benefits. HIDDEN. As in not blatantly obvious. True, being able to take off a few months to do something other than your job is nice (though I do find it interesting where it says that you can use this time to take a second job...see below), but it doesn't take into account what I am experiencing right now: the terrible downward spiral of the last weeks of school where everyone wants it to just end. Actually, this two month break makes the entire academic calendar maddeningly predictable.

They also say something about many school districts being willing to pay for continuing education. Once again, I have seen this for math, science, and foreign language. I have not seen this for other subjects in NC unless you teach at an "at risk" (or whatever they call it now) school.

Point #2: Demand for Teachers and Job Security
This is misleading propaganda, as there are really only a few fields where teachers are in steep demand: Middle school, foreign language, math, and science. English teachers like me? Lots of them...and lots of competition (since there aren't as many fields that use this degree that provide stable income). Granted, once you land the job you're generally safe as long as you don't totally screw up (anecdotal evidence at my school: not a single teacher has been fired during my three years here, and only one teacher has been forced to resign...that's less than 1% over three years. The percentage of teachers who don't do their job? Much higher). I'll give the article this at least: demand for teachers is much higher than some other professions (like law!)

Speaking of security, I think other states are going to be following Florida in slashing the education budget and forcing schools to cut staff, freeze hiring, and overextend its current workforce. Real secure there.

Point #3: Retirement Benefits
I can't say too much about retirement benefits because the state won't start paying into mine until 5 years. However, I will say that my other benefits have seemed nice on paper since I've never used eye care. They did just recently make medical copays more expensive across the board, but that isn't unique to education. Still, benefits are nice...but I thought these were supposed to be "hidden".

And who retires anymore anyway?

Point #4: Earnings we're on the hidden stuff. Earnings? What? We get paid, sure. But there are two caveats to this that need to be discussed:

a) Teachers are getting pay raises, but it will still be decades before teacher pay meets other professions (and hint, they won't in part because there are only so many tax dollars to throw into the system). They also enjoy playing with statistics in saying that the average teacher makes $50k. At least they mention that the average starting teacher makes $31k. Me? I only make 29k and this is my 3rd year...i started at 25k. The conclusion: you can't really discuss this without discussing cost of living.
b) They mention getting an advanced degree ($$$) in order to get on a better payscale and make more money. Then what? Yes, If I got my MED (which is a ridiculously easy program at any school I've ever looked at) I would make 3000 more a year...but then what? Whether you do outstanding work or are just surviving in the field, every single employee gets the same yearly pay raise. There's no requesting it. There's no meeting for it. They just hand it out to you. That doesn't give people incentive to work...that gives people incentive to show up and breathe and take their money and go home. I guess that would be a hidden benefit for some people.

Also, if these earnings are so good, why would anyone need to work a 2nd job over the summer? Hmm...

Point #5: Advancing to Education Administration
This is just a big, fat, advertisement for another degree program ($$$). Many people want to move up to administrative positions. Problem? It takes time...and work. When you're really busy teaching, that is a very difficult struggle to overcome unless your in a field that doesn't require much to take home. That's probably a large reason so many administrators that I've run into have a PE/gym background. Yes, coaching is a huge time investment, but so is grading papers. They also mention that online programs ($$$) allow you to stay with your job; welcome to the year 2008...most MED and MED:Ad programs consist primarily of evening courses because *gasp* people commute to the school AFTER WORK. Who knew?

Point #6: Making a Difference
I think you know exactly how I feel about this post, let me start off by mentioning that the author of this article does not once mention high school teenagers. Instead, it focuses on being able to spark the imagination of kids in elementary school. I knew when the article started with that bumper sticker worthy quote, "one hundred years from now, it won't matter what kind of car you drove or how much money was in your bank account, but that you left the world a better place because you were important in the life of a single child," but seeing the concluding hidden reason was an excellent coup de grace.

Do I make a difference in my students? I would like to think so. I would like to think that I can shuffle their brains and turn the world on its head in order to give them a new perspective. I'd like to think that I can have moments from Dead Poets Society or Lean on Me and really change the course of students' lives. And you know what? To some extent I do. I can name plenty of cases where I was the right fit for the right student at the right time, and suddenly they were invigorated to take English class.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming reality is that I teach students who have grown up in a "me first" and "right now" culture who expect everything handed to them on a silver platter (with rims) ready to consume. They expect a good grade just for showing up. They want to know just the facts, and then they want to move on with their lives. I wasn't stupid enough to be surprised by this going it (I was right there with them not too long ago), but what did surprise me is just how many of my colleagues placate them, give them what they want when they want it (even if they disrespectfully whine for it), give them grades just for showing up, and only require students to churn out facts and details instead of requiring them to approach things creatively and critically.

When they walk into my classroom, they know they're in a different environment. What do I get in return? Resentment, frustration, complaints, the occasional curse word, and even the typical rolling of the eyes. And while there are always a select few students who I can tell are into it, the one thing the rest give me that kills me the most is apathy. When I don't follow the system they just shut off and wait for the next 90 minute video to be shown in their next period.

Making a difference can be nice, but it's not worth all the other shit (like the shit that was smeared on the side of my car after school there's a hidden benefit of going into education if I've ever heard of one)

PS -- Since there is no security camera in the staff parking lot, no one will ever be able to find who did that, nor who tore up my car's antenna, nor who scraped paint out of the side of my car. *Sigh*

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Three more actual days of teaching...

Postby waytofailself » Mon Jun 02, 2008 9:26 am

...then 4 days of exams, one work day, and then I'm done. I'm already off the clock, as I got my last paycheck on Friday. Call this a week and a half of charity?

Then again, another Monday and yet another unscheduled "lets kill your entire planning period" meeting. I sure hope that in my future career that when something suddenly comes up that people will understand that I'm doing other work too. Over here, at this point of the year, so many teachers are either just handing out review packets or having little parties that most people already have their plans together. There's about a 20:50:30 ratio of teachers here that breaks down thusly...

Those who work : those who work but aren't good at their job : those who don't do their job

Maybe I should have one of those parties too. After all, this is my week. Are they really going to fire me?

This takes me back to an internal discussion I've been having since the winner of the teacher of the year was announced last week. I think it's worth going into because I believe that it at least demonstrates what this school values.

For the three years I've been here:

05-06 TotY: A very strong personality who gave me some very good advice as a starting teacher. This person brings a lot of energy into the classroom and doesn't shy away from teaching advanced classes or lower level classes. She approaches them the same way, and while students know they're going to have to work for her they also tend to rally around her because she's just so endearing. If I were to stay in education, this is one of those teachers I wish I could be.

06-07 TotY: This teacher was lauded for all of her after school involvement and her high state test scores. There is some worthwhile back story on both of these. The previous year, she shoved another teacher in her department at the end of the year and was almost fired. What would she have to do? Get involved with extra curriculars. As for her tests, she refuses to teach anything but advanced courses, and since she's from the area she gets what she wants. Of course she's going to have the highest scores, especially when she does illegal practices like making copies of actual tests and using them as practice in her class. Has she been busted? Well, when the testing coordinator (one of the perpetrators of these unscheduled meetings mind you) is telling us we can get fired for doing that and feeding her the test books, of course not. On a more humorous note, her AP class spent a lot of time making T shirts and posters and things to put on the wall, yet when I explained something simple like homeostasis and the way the human body keeps itself cool on a very basic level, the students that had her were totally blown away. Trust me, they were smart enough to know these things.

07-08 TotY: Has worked for the past three years getting the school (and to an extent, the school system) ready for a new state guideline that is to be set in 2010 that requires every high school senior to complete a capstone project before graduating. This has involved many frustrating after school meetings. However, she is very good at complaining about them. Hmm, there's a reason they've given you a huge bonus the past three years, but still she complains. Furthermore, her and ToTY0607 are working together on it now, and can't figure out what the heck they want. I taught my juniors how to write strong business letters (something I honed for applying to law school), and this teacher was totally perplexed by what I was having them do. She thinks that an appropriate thank you letter is one block paragraph half the size of the above one. She takes off 10 points for using the state abbreviation in the address line instead of spelling out the state. She got really upset I thought my students' were satisfactory, or at least good enough for submission, and that I didn't mark on them because I thought they were final drafts. But could she say any of this frustration to my face? No. She'll cry in the hallways for sympathy from whoever will give it, but the moment a conflict comes up she always goes to a higher up when a face to face conversation is more than sufficient (once again, sounds like ToTY0607).

I'm not so much saying that none of these teachers deserved the award for the work they did during the year. 0506 was actually up for it again in 0708, but of course wouldn't win it because she just had. And the one from this year certainly had to deal with a lot of shit throughout the year, but I would only classify two of these teachers as good TEACHERS. Two of them are actually highly incompetent, but since this award is voted on by peers, it's safe to say that this school is more interested in extracurriculars than actual instruction of students. Who knows, I might be wrong and that may be what separates good teachers from the great ones, but I have some qualms giving the award to someone who doesn't know their subject area as well as they should.

If anything, it's just another example of me not really being of the teacher mold. That's okay though, better to figure it out now than after 10 years of living in denial and disillusionment.

PS -- 0607 dropped all of her extracurriculars (except for helping 0708) after winning the award. Figures.
PS2 -- I got one of the great emails of all time from my principal in response 0708 going to cry to him. While I know it's dumb to post emails in their entirety, but I also know that he's too dumb to know how to find this on the internet. So here goes (note, just like all of this business letters/correspondence, this is in 20 point courier font):

The remainder of your letters of intent must be turned in to me no later than 3:15 on Friday, May 23, 2008. The must be corrected.

Do you see the irony? This happens every time he sends something. Every time. Just for fun, here's another bonus example from the previous semester (correction, this one is in 32 point font) and sent out to the whole faculty

Attention Teacher, An incident occurred last night which caused concern. Students were contacting each other about a threat made by another student.

All administrators, SRO and sheriff department were notified and thoroughly investigated.

Please assure your students the situation has be resolved.


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Warning for Those Moving to NC

Postby waytofailself » Sat Jun 28, 2008 7:34 am

So I'm free now. Hooray. So I'm moving into a house today. Hooray.

However, if you're moving to NC I just want to give you a news story that was posted by the AP today in regards to a phenomenon that I noticed almost two years ago (about a month after I got my new car...and it took them THIS long to figure it out?). Think of it as a snapshot of the culture of our glorious state.

What the ...? NC offers license plate replacement
The Associated Press

Thanks to some text message-savvy grandchildren, North Carolina drivers whose license plates have the potentially offensive "WTF" letter combination can replace the tags for free.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Tuesday the state Division of Motor Vehicles has notified nearly 10,000 holders of license plates with the letter combination. Officials learned last year the common acronym stands for a vulgar phrase in e-mail and cell phone text messages.

But this week, the DMV officials got another surprise when they learned the same letters appeared on the agency's own Web site on a sample personalized plate.

"I can't believe it," DMV Commissioner Bill Gore said Monday when told about the online glitch. "Obviously, I didn't know it was there."

Officials are working to remove the sample plate.

The "WTF-5505" used on the Web site's sample plate was the first random letter combination available when DMV switched from blue- to red-lettered plates, officials said. DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell received a sample plate WTF-5506 to use as a prop for news stories about the switch.

A 60-year-old technology teacher from Fayetteville complained about the plate last July after her teenage grandchildren clued her in.

I mean, seriously, come on. How does no one in the DMV office know what WTF means for as long as it's on there. Nearly half of the new plates that I saw from Nov 06-Jan 07 (and they were easy to spot...they were red) started with WTF.

Unfortunately, mine doesn't.

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The Waiting Game

Postby waytofailself » Thu Jul 17, 2008 3:01 pm

Note: I think this turned into one of the most painful blog entries to read that anyone on the face of the earth has ever written. Not that anyone really reads this anyway, but you were warned.

In a little over one month I'll be starting whatever orientation/boot camp that Wake Forest has to offer. I'm looking forward to it. Summer is starting to slow down substantially, and there is only so much I can do that is unproductive before I really start wracking my brains. I have cleaning to do. I should clean. I've been living out of duffel bags of clean clothes because I haven't felt like going through them and unpacking them just yet. I think I still have a few days before I'll need to start running things through the washer and dryer.

Oh goodie. I'm going to be THAT law student. The one you smell coming around the corner as you run and hide.

I'm liking living in a house and I like the street that we moved on. Since this isn't really a development, prices haven't been inflated, and there are many different kinds of people from many walks of life up and down the street. Granted, they get old old old as you go down, but it's been surprisingly quiet and convenient. I also used to have to fill up my gas tank once a week (and I drive a Prius)...I've only recently had to fill my tank three weeks after moving in (I think it's been three). I haven't been on I-40 hardly at all, and that's already saving me money, which is good because I'm not really going to have too much until I get my loan disbursement. Hooray for credit cards?

Hopefully I can avoid any outstanding debt. I have yet to make anything but a complete payment on any of my debts and I hope to keep it that way. Speaking of debt, I kind of have the double whammy now.

House: 100k+
Law School: 100k+ (including scholarship of course)
Computer Loan: 2k (doesn't seem so bad by comparison!)

And I still have about half of my car to pay off. And I still have college to pay off. At least I'll be using the law school debt towards my other debt, so it won't be so high. It's also nice knowing that my house payment will be less than my rent would've been next year...and I'm splitting it with my SO.

I don't know about looking at some kind of debt consolidation, but I wonder if I could get my car loan deferred until after law school. That would be nice.

If it doesn't show, I haven't had to coherently express myself too much lately. In that sense, I'm kind of out of the groove. I've been reading and gardening and tending to a dog, two cats, and two guinea pigs, but I haven't been writing. Will that keep me sane? Probably not. But it's one of the few things that I'm good at -- at least I like to trick myself into thinking so -- I shouldn't stop.

This is the last time in my life where I'm going to be so idle for a long time. I'll appreciate it later. At least I have my teaching career out of my system now.

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Postby waytofailself » Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:55 pm

I should find a reason to use this...or at least write a blog on somewhere like blogspot now that I don't have to worry about work firewalls.

I have dreams almost nightly about being a teacher since my career in high school ended. Have I written about this? The students are always lazy. The situations are always unbearable. The class is always extended for some field day/other stupid reason.

And then I wake up. And then I remind myself that I NEVER have to deal with that again. Catharsis is nice.

The more I move forward, the more I realize that my teaching experience doesn't matter too much anymore. It's a distant memory, but it isn't what identifies me anymore. Sure, members of the general public don't get as excited talking to a "former" teacher as they do a "current" teacher, but at least I don't feel chained to it anymore.

In fact, sometimes I have trouble remembering what it was like at all. But only sometimes.

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Confidence vs Arrogance and other things to look forward to

Postby waytofailself » Tue Jul 29, 2008 12:36 pm

There are less than three weeks until orientation starts for Wake Forest. Something tells me I should be more nervous (and who knows, maybe I will get nervous eventually), but honestly I'm pretty excited. I have a lot ahead of me, but I think things are actually going to be okay. My SO and I have settled into our house (with plenty of unpacking/painting to do). I've got my financial aid together. My mind is cleared of a lot of the sludge that teaching deposited into it.

Speaking of which, an added bonus of being out of the education system is that I no longer dread the passing of July 15th as the time when my summer break is halfway over. That would always taint the days before school started. Now? I don't have an official countdown or anything, but I'm at peace with where I am in the summer months right now.

That being said, I still have some things I absolutely need to work on. Some goals are cosmetic but still important (tearing down wallpaper, planting trees/stuff in the front yard, etc) but others are more personal. One of my SO's best friends worked in the WF Law Library for two years while she was in school there and gave the following observation (paraphrased): "Stay on him. Seriously, I've seen people turn from perfectly nice people into total asshats because of all of the crap they have to go through."

She wasn't talking about classes either. Instead? Other people. Other commitments. Drama.

I haven't lost sight of the fact that I've traded one can of shit (a job teaching) for another can of shit (law school), and a lot of the idiocy that I dealt with at the former will manifest itself in the latter. I'd like to think I'm prepared for it. Even so, it's important to keep in mind that teaching would've been an endless cycle of misery, whereas in law school I control a good portion of my destiny and it is, believe it or not, finite. I do find it interesting that her friend said, "Stay on him," because I told her the same thing around when I started the whole law school application process. I need her help. I need to stay sane. I need to not get a big head. I need people in my life who will remind me that there is a world outside of the law school bubble. She's very good keeping me level and reminding me of my place in the world.

I'm quite thankful. Hopefully I can keep the same sense of perspective I gained in teaching...but if I start to slip I'm sure she'll give me a good (hopefully figurative) kick in the nuts.

To get back to working on things, many people like to set the bar for themselves and like to line up goals. I have some academic goals for myself (make three As each semester and make it onto the law review -- FYI WFU doesn't have a grade on that I know of). But the biggest goal I have going into law school is the following:

Get Humble. Be Humble. Stay Humble.

Since I've had some time to evaluate how I handled my teaching career, I've become pretty disgusted not so much with how jaded I turned towards the whole profession (though considering my personality that might be unavoidable), but how much of a high horse I put myself on by the time it was all over. Seriously, sometimes in my napoleonic brain trip I would sit myself on a pedestal and remind myself just how above the teaching profession I was, how much smarter I was than the people around me, and how moronic most of the employees at the school I worked at were.

If you have the courage to read through this blog again, it'll show itself in quite a few place. Who knows? Maybe I was right. Who knows? Maybe I am brilliant but was surrounded by some true tards (since that's the ultra smart way to put it!)...but the fact of the matter is that it's very unhealthy to put myself in that mindset.

I'm a pretty quiet person who likes to keep his thoughts to himself. In that quietness, I like to watch and observe, and unfortunately have a tendency to get fixated on certain aspects of life and people's actions. I can't do that anymore. People are going to be people (yes, Depeche Mode was right), but I can't let that bother me or trouble me. For all intents and purposes, they're just as smart as I am (after all, they did get into law school like me didn't they?). For all of the things they might do that I might not, I need to remind myself that they might not know me just as well as I might not know them.

No more baseless judging. No more tuning out people just because they're THAT person. I hate it when others do it to me -- why should I get away with doing it to them? (okay's impossible to NEVER do those things, but I can always dream of minimizing them, right?)

Hopefully this won't be as hard as I'm making it out to be. I used to be so good at seeing the goodness in people. Let's try it again, shall we?

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Speaking of Previous Assumptions

Postby waytofailself » Wed Aug 06, 2008 3:06 pm

There is something almost zen-like about putting your hands to the dirt and tending to plants. And to think that I used to chide the school I worked at because it has one of the largest chapters of the future farmers of America...there's something peaceful about breaking up the roots, putting it into the ground, and making sure it grows.

Unfortunately, if there's one curse I've always had it's that I have a blighted thumb (as opposed to a green thumb). My SO is good with plants, so thank goodness she can fix things where I screw up, but at least I only almost killed everything instead of actually killing everything. As of now, there's still one tree that concerns me: it's in the middle of the front yard but is either sick, malnourished, or just screwed. I know I have a 1 year warranty where I can get a refund, but I get upset as I see more leaves wilt off of it. SO says that it'll recover and come back strong next year (and at least there is plenty of new growth), but the only thing we can do now is keep it nice and watered.

And why was I so down on the FFA anyway? Generally my students who were members were kind and active in class. I'm sure they'd know something that I don't that would help. Surviving through something you hate can be an interesting experience, but I hope that channeling all that negativity (was it some kind of mental defense mechanism?) didn't warp me in some way for the long haul.

My dog has been spazzing out for the past 30 minutes or so about various things. It probably has to do with the stay cat that wanders up and down the street. She ended up on the table that we have on her front porch today, and it wasn't until I pulled up the blinds that I got a good look at her. I see her walking from a distance with a clear case of arthritis (her back legs are stiff). But today was the first time I saw that one of her ears was torn up and the other had been torn off almost entirely. It's so sad. She's obviously surviving, but is she happy? She is free to roam up and down the street, but do the other cats accept her or run and hide?

I'm sure there's an elegant comparison that I can make of that stray cat once being a kitten, me once being an excited first year teacher, and the path that I'm starting on with law school, but I can't help but wonder if law school is going to rebuild me from my previous career, or sink me into further lows. Of course, it's not up to the institution, it's up to me. A little over one more week to go.

I hope that cat is okay.

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Where Have I Come From? Where am I Going?

Postby waytofailself » Thu Aug 14, 2008 3:01 pm

The last day of the lull...

Around this time three years ago, I was deliriously excited because I had spent the entire summer fighting an uphill battle to land a teaching job. Apparently many schools were scared off by the fact that I would graduate in August, but on the 11th school I finally got my 3rd interview and my 1st job offer. Incidentally, I got two job offers the next day from schools I hadn't even talked to (from classmates who had landed jobs there). Did that irony matter? No, because I was starting my new career and had to drive up the next day to start orientation.

So much optimism. So much confidence. So much hope. I thoroughly enjoyed life's transitions. Starting high school. Starting college. Starting a new career. It all feels eerily similar to now. No, not eerily, but I have been here before.

Interestingly, once I wake up from transitional la-la land I usually realize what predicament I've put myself in. Life returns to normal, but there is always one consistent side effect: I always end up being terribly misunderstood. Starting college, I was very unconfident and pretty awkward...and since many people hated my roommate (I tried to give him a chance but ended up feeling pretty similar) but because I was in the room from time to time (umm...I lived there?), they often lumped me in with him. When I started teaching, many people were off-put by my quiet demeanor (for those of you moving to the south, be warned that many southerners are afraid of silence in a conversation and wary of people who tend to sit in the vicinity but not say much of anything)...yet when I would open my mouth they were completely oblivious to my dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Apparently they were serious 100% of the time unless they were using their funny voice. Oops.

Outside of a few people in each of those episodes, I was pretty much shunned or avoided. In college, my solace came from Diablo II and solo sojourns to a mexican restaurant across town (yes, by myself!). For teaching? I was too busy my first semester to have time to worry about it (or really notice actually). I filled my second semester free time with lots and lots of World of Warcraft.

Interestingly, once people got to know me (and it took about a year at both), things were totally fine. Imagine that! I fully expect this to happen again with law school. Slap me around and call me a pessimist, but when people are crammed into new social situations a series of predictable cycles tends to emerge...or maybe that's the Christian Slater in me talking because I watched Heathers last night.

Maybe it will be different, but does it really matter one way or the other? There's going to be some people there for Undergrad v2.0 and there are going to be some people totally dedicated to the ass-holeth degree to get top 1%. There are going to be some very friendly people who are totally normal and sane, and there are going to be some amazingly awesome people who I'll keep in contact with 30 years from now. I'll fit in somewhere in the machine, but I don't really need to fit in at all anymore. I'm not that old or wise or anything of that sort, but at least teaching taught me not to put up with people's superficial social elite bullshit or let it affect and stick with me.

And if I'm wrong and things do happen to get that bad? At least I can always look back over my shoulder and remember that I'm not trapped in a career that was sucking out my soul and crushing my will to better myself. That's worth remembering, but I can remember another day. For now, I'm possibly just a bit too excited to walk towards the light and start law school.'s really starting now.

This time last year I was completely miserable because I realized that my degree pigeonholed me into the field of education. Times change.

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The interpretation of terms in criminal statutes

Postby waytofailself » Tue Aug 19, 2008 10:39 pm

I know it's just orientation, and I know I only am attending one of my five classes at this point, but it is nice to be a student again. That being said, law school is already a different environment. In education, I would often be looked upon as the resource and was often expected to be (and usually but not always was) the smartest person in the room. Three years of glazed over eyes makes you forget what energy there is in a room full of thinking students. It's pretty refreshing, though surprisingly intimidating. I know I'm smart -- the difference is that they're all smart too. Seriously, in my LRW class there are no morons (unless you count me of course). I've already caught myself saying a few asinine things that I would've said to fill space as a teacher or to try and draw a laugh to get people's attention. Should probably curb those since they don't usually lead to relevant discussion. No, not probably, but three years of that habit is a little hard to break.

I honestly don't know what other people's orientation involves because I haven't been paying attention, but I had to write and turn in my first memo today. Granted, 1.5 pages max in 14 point font with no research is manageable to do in a few hours, but it's a bit tougher when you didn't exactly get what you were supposed to get out of the previous night's reading. I came to class with my assigned reading done and my assigned work ready, but it only took me missing one key detail on two lines in the middle of one outline to be almost completely off for pretty much the whole day. Between that and kind of floundering on the application of cannons of construction, I pretty much left feeling like a moron and only hope that I figured it out by the time I submitted my paper.

I think back to two similar ideas from my life as a teacher when I think about today:
A) "At least when you screw up as a teacher someone isn't going to die. You can just come in the next day and do it again." -- from a former nurse who was starting as a teacher
B) "Fail, fail again, fail better."

So call today my first lesson in being a student again. I am absolutely free to fail and free to screw up, but what I tried to keep reminding my students is that you don't learn nearly as much if you never get anything wrong. The best thing I can do is evaluate my mistakes and move on. I hope I worked that out in my writing, but I do have a lot of latin to memorize just the same.

After these past few days, I'm pretty sure that most of the students in this law school are smarter than me. I wonder if they're getting the same impression of their classmates.

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Shiny Happy People Laughing

Postby waytofailself » Thu Aug 28, 2008 11:03 pm

Everyone has stuff going on with them, so I'm not much of one to make light of stuff that is going on with me. That being said, the work surrounding the start of classes has proven to be a bit of a solace for me. That's a plus. At least it gives me a sense of purpose instead of sitting around. I also have had some good nights recently by finishing my work early and going out to see a movie (Hamlet 2, which I found funny but in that sort of way that I find things it'll flop at the box office and critically) and going out to eat with some people who my SO and I met back at our own job (and I learned about some of the fires that have started since I it feels good to jump out before the ship sinks)

So there's been some depressing distractions. There has been some good non law school things to lift me up. But I have noticed some things that are different since I started going to law school.

1) Locust attacks: it's amazing. Any time the professor says something remotely interesting or enticing there is a flurry of chittering and chattering all around me. Yes, I know it's just the class typing stuff, but it also sounds like the shit they would use in a sensory deprivation room. I tried typing notes in class, but I just focus better with a pen and a notebook. It got me through UG.

2) Quality Professors: This might be the first time in my academic career that I think I have good teachers across the board. Of course, things always seem all rosy and sweet at the beginning (more on this in a moment), but I'm very impressed. They're all very different, but they all do a good job of engaging the class and synthesizing the material so it's easy to understand. If anything, I'm surprised at how many factual questions they answer with direct answers instead of more questions, but that will probably change as the semester goes along.

3) Early Mornings: I am amazed at how poor my communication skills are at 8 AM. This is important because I used to start 1st period at 8 AM. Poor former students...their EoC scores were fine. However, as I don't have class until 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and have heard people complain about the early start! ha!) I tried my hand at going to the gym at 8 or 8:30 AM. I'm surprised at how good I feel during the whole processes. The people I sit next to probably think I smell like crap though. Oh well.

4) The Amount of Reading: So far I have been able to go with the 8 AM to 5 PM schedule that I've been hoping to have. I read my stuff for the next day immediately after my last class (ends at 1:50) and don't have to worry about reviewing material until the next day. I hope I an keep this schedule until the exam push starts, as having free evenings has been good for my sanity. I've been told that law school classes are more like a marathon and that you have to stay on top of your reading even if you don't totally get it. That would've been a tough adjustment to make from my experience in UG, but it sounds just like my teaching career.

5) The Cycle Revisited?: Speaking of my career, one of the thing that killed my drive was how predictable students attitudes and mood swings were. I'm wondering if I'm going to see a repeat here. Obviously, everyone is going to be excited and on top of things at the beginning of the year; people are trying to get to know each other, and everyone gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. I haven't seen any truly asinine people jump out. However, I have sensed a few rifts of tension between people, and I'm really wondering how long it'll take before people start to relax and show their true colors. I'm guessing by the end of next week.

6) Silence is Golden: It's also worth asking if I've done a good job of being myself. I'd like to think so, though I've been a bit surprised at just how much I haven't talked in my classes compared to how much I did in LRW the first week. Maybe the 20 to 40 student thing makes a bit of a difference (and 40 seems to be the number for "just large enough to know who you are"). Maybe I find myself trying to absorb more information in my other classes. I've always been pretty quiet when approached in a neutral setting, but I'm usually active in classes. Hmm...

Useless rambling before the end of my first week of classes. Overall, I feel like my head is above water. However, lots of course material is overlapping as people discuss procedure and motions, so I'm pretty sure it's going to ramp up once the courses diverge into their own content.

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Things Falling Over Around Me...When is it my Turn?

Postby waytofailself » Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:59 pm

I guess I could say that I've had it pretty easy my first weeks of law school. I haven't had to deal with any professors who are purely socratic (as in give you a bunch of hypothetical questions with no true answer and then explain why you are wrong)...and then I had crim law today with a substitute professor. I also went through the ritualistic embarrassment of not really understanding what he was asking, and then being asked to answer something that was outside of the assigned pages (though not necessarily outside of the scope of the reading).

It didn't help that right before he called on me my mind drifted to the news I got this morning that one of my good friends from my previous job had to go to the hospital last night. Bad timing to get distracted. I felt a little better once I saw that he grilled other people just as hard as he grilled me (I was one of the first people he called on so I didn't really know what to expect), but I still have no freaking idea what he was asking, and left class doubly distraught.

As for my friend? Visited her at the hospital and she's going to be okay. This isn't the place to discuss it too much, but it is serious enough that she won't be going to work for at least the next two weeks (for those who might've read my other post about Winston Salem hospitals -- she went to Wake's and not Forysth). It was really sad to see the condition that she's in right now, but at least she's going to make a full recovery. What freaks me out is that she could've very easily died last night...

...that was probably a bit much for this blog...

...on a blast from the past note: she still works at the school I worked at last year. The school knows that she had to go to the ER last night. For all of the church affiliation that the school (public high school FYI) has, it's unsurprising that the administration and teachers are well known for their outpouring of support and well wishing for people who have to go to the hospital. If someone falls and bruises his or her knee, the school community is surprisingly good about at least calling to see how that person is doing (even if it sometimes with the intent of getting gossip).

So here's my friend's run down: zero phone calls to see how she's doing. Zero people from the school who came by to visit. When she got someone to call the school to let them know that she needed a sub for the next few weeks, at first they said that no one by that name even worked there (then said that they were too tired to take care of it tonight and to call back the next morning at 7:30).

Did I mention that she's not from around there either? Totally infuriating...but at least she's going to be okay. That's the big thing.

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The Forest...The Trees...The Forest...The Trees

Postby waytofailself » Mon Sep 15, 2008 4:46 pm

The question, as always, is why do I even blog here to begin with. The answer, I hope, is to give a tiny sliver of insight for what people may have in store once they get past all the applications and get down to the law school business.

Call this the week where I shifted from having an idea of what was going on to starting to realize just how much I am going to have to learn and incorporate into my exams. I have papers to write, and I'm just starting to see how inadequate my previous writing style will be in the legal world. I'm okay with it, and I knew that this would happen coming in; it's just different to feel it.

It's almost like that Donald Justice poem I used to teach, "Men at Forty*," except that I'm only 25. I don't really feel older or smarter or wiser, but I do feel my brain starting to rewire itself. No sign of an elitist asshole complex, but I have a feeling that was already there :) I also am not one of those people who try to apply class/legal concepts to everyday life and situations to impress my friends because I don't want to kid myself with beginning to understand the full spectrum of any of my courses.

And that's really what law school has boiled down to for me so far: appreciating the full spectrum. There is a lot to learn and a whole lot to know when the semester is over. It's surmountable but right now I'm starting to realize just how much I have to climb. For now I'm keeping up with my reading and paying special attention to the holding/rule/key facts/major concept of each case. I have no clue how people start outlining from day 1. I'd have no idea where to even start.

I don't mind being clueless. Not knowing is the first step to knowledge.


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And I forgot my pen

Postby waytofailself » Tue Sep 16, 2008 4:34 pm

I just got out of an awesome presentation by Kimm Walton (author of Guerrilla Tactics and many other books)...sadly, I forgot my pen. I heard some people complain afterwards that her presentation was robotic, but I really enjoyed it. Key job hunting points that I took from it (some are basic but still important)

A) Use 1L time to get involved in the legal community, especially of the community you want to work in. CLEs are a great way to get to meet people. Volunteering for ABA functions is great too.
B) Always ask for advice/references...never ask for a job. Specifically, ask about breaking into the field. Ask a person about what their job is like. How do they like it. Do they know anyone who is in it?
C) Volunteering for work opens way more doors than taking paid summer work (especially for 1L). You don't have to volunteer full time
D) Try and find out when people who are working at places you want to work in or in fields you want to work in are giving presentations, go to those presentations, and give them a resume.
E) When you get those references, make sure to call and leave a voicemail that starts with who referred you.
F) Make the interviewer talk about himself or herself. Lawyers love talking about themselves.
G) Once you figure out what you want to do or where you want to move, talk to everyone about it and see if they know anyone who knows anyone who might know anyone.
H) The interview question "Tell me about yourself" is really a question asking "Why would we want you to work for us." Tailor your answer to what they're looking for in a candidate, not your autobiography.
I) If you have glaring weaknesses, don't freak out. Look for the issue underneath. Bad grades? What else do you have that shows your academic/writing rigor. Not from the area? Why would you want to live there?
J) A good way to get published. Contact someone who's in a field you're interested and ask about what they want to read more about. Research it and write a 1-2 page article on it. There are plenty of publications who are looking for content.
K) Don't be afraid to talk to lawyers and ask them about breaking into a certain field or location. There are tons of jobs in plenty of markets that don't do OCI.
L) When interviewing, brag about yourself. If you don't do it, they won't know what's best about you. Interview the interviewer by asking questions. Make sure you have researched the specific interviewer and firm too. I liked her point on humans not being rational, logical beings, but instead being swayed by emotions. If the interviewer likes you, you're much more likely to get a job then if you're kinda neutral but highly qualified.

There's more I'm sure, but I think I'm just going to run out and get her book. At least I feel better about my prospects of getting out of NC and working somewhere like DC/Maryland/NoVa/Washington/Oregon/Cali. I'm not looking for big law (the $$$ would be nice, but I don't know about the hours). I'm looking to get a good job in a place where I want to live, because NC is really starting to wear out its welcome.

Hopefully I can talk to someone and get what they wrote down, though I'm pretty sure it's in the book too.

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Suddenly it's Almost Fall Break

Postby waytofailself » Mon Oct 13, 2008 10:55 am

Guess what? Law school is a lot of work. Specifically, Legal Research and Writing is a lot of work. I've heard many people bemoan it, but I also keep hearing that it is far and away the most important class you will take in law school. I'm putting the time into it, that's for sure.

I have more to say on this later, and at some point will make another post about it, but for those of you who are thinking about going to law school be prepared for a good, healthy, amount of work. If you manage your time you'll do fine, but the operative word there is manage. I've fallen victim to what others in my class have: prioritizing legal writing stuff and not reading for my other classes like I should.

I didn't fall that far behind, but the important thing is being able to schedule yourself so that you're caught back up. Writing is important, but reading is even more important. I'm starting to see that now that I'm starting to take some in-class practice exams.

More later, but I think I'm actually going to make it through my 1L year. There's a thought.

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I Just Found a Fly in my Water Bottle

Postby waytofailself » Mon Nov 03, 2008 3:58 pm

Maybe it's my state of denial that is keeping me from entering freak-out mode. Exams will be here before I know it (quite literally), and here I am still putzing around with my outline and trying to enjoy my free time in the name of not burning out. My plan is, and has been, finish out my final memo of the semester because it's a grade that I can control right here and right now. Afterwards? Start studying. I think I have the memo thing under control. But...

a) My notebooks where I take notes are a total mess.
b) The words make sense, but I write in one of those handy four colors in one pens but did not assign a color to an idea or type of note.
c) Thus, it hurts to look at my notes. As in my eyes burn.
d) I know other people are going to go through the same thing, but I'm going to have to go over my stuff from the beginning of the year again when I was still trying to figure out what style of note taking works for me.
e) As of right now, I am in no study groups-partnerships. Hopefully this will change.
f) I still haven't fully grasped the whole how to write an exam response thing. I know how to spot issues and have yet to have problems with it, but structuring my answer is another story.

I have some hurdles to tackle. I'm most worried about Torts (though Crim Law is a close second). I'm least worried about Civ Pro. At the beginning of the year, I thought it'd be the other way around, but Civ Pro is very systematic and torts is very abstract.

I'm sure I'll do fine. The key question is, "Will fine let me keep my scholarship?" The joys of pressure.

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So I am Officially (in Some Minds) a Terrible Law Student

Postby waytofailself » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:19 pm

It's the middle of November. I'm sitting at my laptop after having spent a weekend of binge video gaming watching my new puppy play with my one year old dog while my outlines haven't been touched in a week and my appropriate casebooks are in my briefcase across the room.

What have i been doing wrong?
a) Got a new puppy during law school just before exam crunch time
b) Didn't do a single bit of school work outside of attending class from about 8 PM Wednesday the 12th to about 10 PM Sunday the 16th.
c) I haven't joined a study group and/or haven't seriously discussed any of my class material with nay other person for an extended period of time (outside of LRW group work)

It's been a good week for me. I'm not being sarcastic, it's been a great week for me. And all I can think of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and it's true to life philosophy (well, one of them anyway): "Don't panic." My first exam is the 8th, and I'm sure it'll hit me eventually. Or maybe I'm thinking more of the end of William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis" (which would always perplex AND depress my high school juniors back when I taught them):

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

I am fully aware that I just compared exams to the glorious march to death, but that doesn't bother me (especially if you're familiar with the poem).

From talking to people who have already been there, three of the most consistent bits of advice I've gotten for law school is to not freak out, not burn out, and not be a dick. I want to approach exams in a way that seems more inevitable than in a state of panic. I want to go in there and know what to expect, and to know that while I won't do perfect, I will not fail because I wasn't in the right state of mind. That was the #1 hurdle for many people (myself included) with the LSAT, and that doesn't exactly change just because I'm paying a lot more to take these finals.

I've been wanting to get another dog for awhile. My puppy has been pretty bored/lonely, but things changed when he was attacked by our neighbor's dogs a few weeks ago: I could tell then that he really needed a companion to show that it's okay to be a dog. Since we got our new puppy, our dog has been so much happier (no more moping around the house), and my girlfriend (who is also entrenched in finals madness) and I are happier too. I've read on here before about how it takes so much time to take care of a dog and how it's unfair to neglect an animal by getting it during law school. My response? Is there ever a good time to get a dog? What? Not during law school? because I'm sure you'll have so much more free time once you're out there practicing.

She's been a wonderful addition, and a great distraction from thinking about the inevitable.

Yes, the inevitable. In a few weeks I will be sitting down and I will be taking my exams, but I don't want to go there like "a quarry slave" having pounded myself to the point of exhaustion. I don't want to be "scourged," which is especially appropriate for this discussion, in that I've worked myself up so much stressing about the fact that I'll be taking exams that I over prepare (which is possible) or forget what I'm supposed to be preparing for.

Instead, I'm trying my best to take it easy. I know I'll have work to do (and plenty of it), but is that really much of a surprise? Is that worth stressing out over? I've known about the your grade = your final thing from before I even considered applying to law school. I'm starting to come to grips with how to write a good IRAC (which isn't terribly different from writing a memo). The big thing is just to make sure that I understand both what the law is and why the law is (and how to apply it to fact situations). I've been keeping up with my reading the whole semester. It's already in my head. If I can't put it together in 3 weeks, there's a problem.

Maybe I'm just in my own little bubble, I don't know. From the outset of law school, I thought I would join a full fledged study group, or at least try and work with 2 or 3 people just to go over and talk about stuff. That hasn't materialized. Do I understand why? Sure. I've been more of a homebody this semester. I haven't hit the bar reviews. I haven't been over to other people's places. I talk to people off and on between class, but am otherwise pretty quiet. I'm not much of one to assert myself and just ask. The natural result is that I'm currently on my own for exams.

Will that change as time gets closer? I hope so. I'd like to be able to talk about practice exams with a few other people. But if it doesn't? Well, then it doesn't. Once again, there's no need to panic about not having a study group. Plenty of people do fine without one. Professors are generally happy to meet and answer questions. I'll make it one way or another.

It is interesting that I've ended up much like I predicted I would (sort of a loner, albeit without the animosity from others I've faced in previous professions/schools -- which speaks well to the Wake 1L class). I've met plenty of nice people and get along well with a lot of people (at least I think I do), it's just an interesting curiosity that none of that has formed into a "hey lets go over this stuff." Maybe that's better, because I've seen some people really freak out or become kinda asshole-ish about those kind of things; but, I doubt I'd study with anyone like that anyway.

So what's the best thing I can do for now? I'm a bit hungry and crave mexican. My puppies are fighting over a ball that one of them has already chewed in half. My briefcase is sitting untouched across the room. This is what I need to hold onto. When I close my eyes on exam day, this is where I need to be.

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A Moment's Procrastination (or Breathing)

Postby waytofailself » Mon Dec 15, 2008 3:39 pm

At approximately 10:30 today I attempted to open iTunes while studying for my Contracts exam tomorrow and accidently opened iCalendar instead. What did I see? A big blotch on the screen that said, "Contracts Exam, Monday, December 15th 8-11 AM."

To paraphrase my next thought: "Well crap."

Then I noticed that since I have been in the library at 7:30, I haven't seen a single 1L. In fact, I've only seen a good number of 2Ls and 3Ls who I normally don't see because they have exams when I don't. Then I remembered the flood of people walking into the large courtroom this morning as I entered the building. I had to walk up to the library's lobby to punch some holes in my outline. Just 2Ls and 3Ls there as well.

My heart rate increased a bit (yeah, lets just put it like that). The Excel exam schedule spreadsheet could not have taken any more of its dear sweet time opening. The lesson? Don't blindly trust technology -- my exam is tomorrow at 8, just like I thought it was. The question? How in the world did I enter my Contracts exam in on the wrong date? At least I didn't miss it?

So why do I type this potentially embarrassing story for all to read when there were no witnesses?

Exams are an interesting time. I've done a good job of staying relaxed, and so far I've left every exam with more of a sense of accomplishment than a sense of anxiety. However, I am very surprised at the toll it is taking on my brain and my common sense. It's actually draining. I'm sitting down and studying, and then I have trouble functioning later. Should exams come with a warning of, "Do not operate large machinery or motor vehicles after completion" plastered at the beginning and end in 18 point bold font? Who knows...I already finished my Torts exam.

By the way, partial disclosure for those of you interested: I think I did okay on my first two exams, though I still have a problem with over-writing on my essays (though none had word count limits). I feel like I know contracts the best of any of my courses; does it make me a sick person to say I'm looking forward to taking the exam tomorrow (at least so I can take it while my mind is running on peak performance with it?). On the other hand, especially in light of my meeting with the professor, Civ Pro is my weakest subject and I'm dreading the exam a bit. I know the material, but I'm not where I need to be with it yet. Fortunately, I have until Thursday to fix that.

For those of you looking to go to law school, here's what you can take away from this: from a first semester 1L perspective, exams are the real deal. Even when flying solo, taking liberal breaks and putting down the work when it stresses me out too much (which actually hasn't been that often), it still is a test of endurance. Not endurance for the 3-4 hour period, but endurance for the 1-2 weeks you have them. As more exams pass, it's getting a little tougher to get up and keep studying, but I've got to. Just two more this week and then I can slack off.

I do have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised with the environment at Wake in light of all of the warnings I've received to never ever study for exams in the library. I haven't seen anyone break down into tears. I haven't seen anyone scream or tear their hair out. I've largely ignored people's just-outside-the-room post exam discuss, but I didn't see anyone having some kind of episode. Most people were calm. If anything, most people seem to have the same sentiment I have: I'm so happy that's over with.

This could also be the result of me not talking to many of my classmates outside of immediately before the exam, running for the door after the exam, or the occasional message on facebook. Just the same, it's nice to see that the clam, even tempered vibe I picked up back when I first visited the school is still readily apparent in the midst of exam time.

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Yes! No? Maybe... Nope.

Postby waytofailself » Thu Feb 26, 2009 5:52 pm

Once upon a time, I subscribed to the theory of "Fail; Fail Again; Fail Better." Nothing was ever going to be right or perfect the first time, or the second time, or really any time. The best thing to do is learn from mistakes and move forward.

The world of law seems to value a deep understanding of rules and a short memory. Maybe not in that order. I get feedback on drafts I turn in for briefs and memos and am always struck with "What the hell? I turned that in?" One thing that made me an amazing English teacher was my amazing ability to miss typos and errors in student writing. It's really killing me now. The feedback for my latest brief draft is fairly similar to the feedback I received from my previous brief. The cliffnotes version of what I need to work on:

Case Usage
Incorporating the Rule
Applying the Rule
Fact to Fact
Writing (yes, WRITING)

Some fine English teacher I was. And you know what? The TA and the Prof are 100% correct. I've heard other people complain in the face of criticism with "I did this," or "But what I really meant was..." Maybe they do have legit complaints, but I sure don't. It's amazing to see a steaming pile of shit gestate over hours and evenings of work, only you don't know it's shit until it comes back to you with feedback and that warm smell.

Of course, nothing gets accomplished by sitting around and crying your own river to oblivion. Lately I'm faced more and more with question of, "Do I really want to be doing this? Do I really want to be a lawyer, or did I just jump here to jump ship from teaching?" We're all entitled to a little self doubt. I do know I want to help people. I do know that I don't want to fuck this up and carry 100k+ worth of debt. I do know that I'm not chasing dollar signs, but a fulfilling career. I do know that just because there are thousands of scum-bag lawyer stereotypes floating through the skyscraper wilderness doesn't mean that I have to be one of them.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to law school was because I was going insane by not using my brain cells and I really wanted a challenge. Well, color me challenged. What I really want to do is not to fail. When we discuss the assignment and cases in class I'm just about completely on top of things and can nearly say where in the case or where in the record without looking, but for whatever reason I can't put it together on paper. Maybe I can, but I haven't been able to yet. This is the week to give it another shot.

Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better.

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Echoes of a Former Life

Postby waytofailself » Thu Mar 26, 2009 4:29 pm

Just because I'm deliriously happy that I'm not in my old job doesn't mean I don't care about what happens in the field of education. Today was a class day where we discussed censorship of speech in schools and a case where the Supreme Court held an administrator can censor speech if he or she reasonably believes it to be promoting use of illegal drugs (though there is some question about whether the administrator could censor political speech). I did my best to hold back during discussion instead of blurting out at every discussion point.

The discussion brought up a misconception that creates a lot of problems in education. To paraphrase one of my classmates, whose opinion and intelligence I respect, in addressing the problem with student groups demonstrating for and against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, "Schools are there to teach the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. We don't want to create disruptions that will halt a school from these goals." This is not the first time I've heard this logic. This is also not the first time I've strongly disagreed.

It is imperative that schools allow a robust exchange of ideas within their halls in order to create a future of thinking, well rounded individuals instead of robots who can spout facts like, "everyone dies at the end of Hamlet," and, "nitrogen gas makes the sky blue," but are unable to make their own decision. When schools limit expression within their walls, they send one of two very dangerous messages: 1) that one idea is better than the other or 2) discussing controversy is entirely inappropriate. Obviously, some speech needs to be censored at school because it intentionally interrupts instruction (ex. students blurting out unrelated comments while the teacher is teaching). However, limiting speech because it could offend people or might cause conflict or parent complaints is dangerous and limits students' ability to grow up and think for themselves.

I can't help but think back to my favorite quote from Capt. Beatty, my favorite character from my favorite book, Fahrenheit 451, when thinking of the most common administrative solution to controversial topics. To create a perfect, peaceful society where everyone is happy, "don't give [a man] two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war." More disturbingly, it wasn't the government that imposed restrictions on society in the book, but society upon itself. By evolving into a society where people no longer thought about controversy, the world degenerated into a place where people were only focused on instant gratification and trying to look appropriate instead of thinking about things that might make them feel upset.

By subscribing to the "just teach the basics" dogma to skirt controversy, schools do not allow students to come to their own conclusions on topics that might make them upset but instead do the thinking for them. When students are allowed to face controversy and examine it rationally for themselves, there is room for growth that far exceeds what is pounded through state approved lesson plans. In the education world we called them "teachable moments" where students can connect ideas to their own values and believes. However, when the administration (or staff) censors expression, these moments (which tend to be what students really remember when all is said and done) are either prescribed with a ready made response, disclaimer, or cut out from the classroom entirely. A "just teach the basics" philosophy severely limits student learning.

Allowing open expression of controversial topics in school also creates a safer environment because students learn to discuss opposing points of view. I have taught at schools where anti-GLBT demonstrations (from a church!) were allowed but pro-GLBT (from a chartered student organization!) were censored, and I have taught at schools where students were sent home for wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag on it. The issue is not whether one side is correct. The problem is that staff and students freak out when someone manages to innocently sneak in such controversy in spite of school censorship. Supposedly, removing the controversial student from class supports the greater good of letting students get back to their "reading, writing, and arithmetic." However, it also sends the message that people with "off-message" values or beliefs are so valueless to society that they must simply be removed. When administrators choose one side of the scale over the other, a whole sect of students is left disenfranchised and cut out from the education process. When administrators cut out the conversation entirely, students are lulled into thinking, "If I do not talk about it, then it will just go away."

Of course, it won't go away. That's why allowing discussions, buttons, signs, or demonstrations is a better alternative and leads to safer schools. Regardless of racial or socioeconomic demographics, schools are often the most diverse setting a student will find himself in until he is an adult. School is also a controlled environment where students are under constant supervision. As a result, a school is an ideal environment for students to face controversial topics because there is nearly always a moderator on hand in the case tempers flare. Of course, some would say this security is a result of the viewpoint discrimination that limits expression, but oftentimes this censorship results in the same conflicts erupting in hallways, bathrooms, or parking lots where the consequences are far more damaging. By allowing students to experience diverse viewpoints, they will become less sheltered, better able to face and resolve conflicts, and be prepared to enter into a world where many people will not always agree with them. Such a policy promotes student maturation, and such maturity will create a safer school where students think rationally before lashing out at others because of an opposing point of view.

In closing, I have heard repeated complaints from adults and educators that the youth of today are coddled, sheltered, and demand everything all the time because everything is always provided for them. Part of the reason is because the same adults and educators sterilize their schools and don't allow students to face the same controversy they will see in the real world. Schools are supposed to help students grow into their own person, but oftentimes administrators stop opportunities for growth by keeping students from fully expressing themselves. Administrators are prescribing answers to major social issues of our day (often based on their own biases) or taking it off the table entirely so students can get back to the books and meet the school's No Child Left Behind goals. By creating a culture where students do not need to think about topics that make them or others uncomfortable or upset, we're catapulting ourselves into a future where no one will step up to face the world's challenges because they make people feel bad. In the end, allowing opposing viewpoints may create some initial discomfort, but in the long run everyone benefits.

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Do I Really Have Less than a Week?

Postby waytofailself » Thu May 07, 2009 12:30 pm

It hasn't hit me yet, but it's going to soon and I hope it feels good: I'm just about done with my first year of law school.

This all kind of snuck up on me, one moment I was turning in my memo, the next moment I magically found two summer jobs in one week (now if only I could get a paycheck), and next thing you know I'm getting clubbed over the head by my contracts exam.

Oh...that. Yeah, I still have two more to go. Yeah, I kind of abandoned IRAC for the sake of time by the end of it. This is where I wish I was at a school that allowed you to carry over your grade from first semester to second if it drops. Sadly, I'm not, and sadly I might see quite a drop.

I've seen the usual swath of OMG what 2 do before 1L threads popping up, and while I may post a few bits of advice later here's some nuggets I can give people now.

1) Prepare for the exam, but remember it's on a curve. You WILL NOT be able to know everything backwards and forwards and upside down. Go in as prepared as you can and as mentally flexible as you can. I had to comfort myself with this earlier today. My contracts exam was rough in spite of all of the studying I did (or didn't) do, but you know what? Pretty much everyone else who spoke about it afterwards complained about it too. Whether it being too long or too unclear. I don't normally buy into other people's complaints (in fact, I'd say not to listen to them at all), but one important take home is to remember that if you thought the exam sucked, lots of other people probably did too. You're on a normalized curve. Therefore, your suck could still be a B+ (probably not mine though!)

2) Start networking now. As in NAO. As in stop reading and do it right away. Try and get in touch with people you know or may have leads to in the community. Try and start talking to people in areas you want to go. Join your local ABA chapter. Go to CLEs. Talk to people. Meet people. Volenteer. You need to get the ground running now with networking. But how can you do this as a 0L? Ask for advice. One of the overarching experiences I've had talking to lawyers is that they, as a whole, LOVE to talk. Make sure to be prepared for "why law school" and "what kind of law are you thinking about" because that's what they'll ask, but ask them questions that let them talk and make sure to get some sort of contact. I say this because both positions I got did not come from OCI (where I barely missed the grade cut-off) or other school sponsored stuff. Instead? it came from contacts I developed since before last semester. Do I have anything super fancy prestigious or big law oriented? No, but the point of 1L summer isn't to get those kind of gigs, it go get the experience you can get. There's a lot of opportunities out there, you just have to do your own legwork to get them.

Note: "will you hire me?" is not the kind of question you ask while setting up a network. Hopefully that's common sense, but I've talked to a few people who were scared that I was asking (based on how I was referred to them) them for a job and were relieved when I wasn't.

3) Don't get trapped in the law school bubble. It is important to talk to and interact with people in school. They're your future peers in your profession. You'll see them again (if anything this is still something I need to work on.) But DON'T lose touch with your friends from undergrad or from the outside world. Don't shut everything down because you have to study or shun some of your old buddies because it's bar review night. Of course, if you're moving to a totally new area this is harder advice to follow because you're setting down new roots. But don't lose touch with the outside world. Volunteer during the afternoons or the weekend with something that is non legal. Talk to people in the grocery store. Just make sure that you retain your sense of humanity (as opposed to law student) because law requires you to walk on both sides: the legal world and the non legal world. If you can't explain something to a client in normal english then you're in trouble. You'll be surprised how easy it can be to lose touch with the outside once you get started and into your work. Don't let it happen.

On a totally different note, I got a kitten a few weeks ago. She's great. She's also trying to gnaw my arm and fingers off because I'm typing instead of paying attention to her. Looks like I better stop.

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Seriously, Stop Reading

Postby waytofailself » Fri Sep 04, 2009 11:45 am

So many 0Ls and fledgling 1Ls on this board would think that I fit my namesake. Let me explain.

You know the adage: only 10% of the class makes the top 10%. That's true. Only 10% make the bottom 10% is also true. But only 1 person in the entire class gets to be the MEDIAN, and that lucky individual is me. That's right, I'm Mr 50%. The gateway between getting your actual rank on the transcript or just a percentile. The person who is neither in the top half or the bottom half of the class. The person whose blog you should be avoiding and has no value because it will taint you with FAILURE (because, obviously, if you don't make the top 10% OCI is going to be nonexistent -- especially in this economy -- when you're at a measly T1 school like WFU).

I hope you all can sense my sense of sarcasm and are not (or are!) scared off by my willingness for full disclosure. You realize real fast in 2L year that people could give two shits about how you did your first year. Some people are going to be showing up in suits all the time for interviews. Some people are going to be working perilously hard for what may or may not be law review or interviews. It just is how it is, and you go to classes (or don't go if you feel like wasting money) and the wheel moves on.

There is life after 1L, and it's called having one set of pressures replaced with a different kind of pressure. The kind of pressure where your OCI bids pan out empty because the same people bid for everything "as a backup" and take the limited number of slots (because a whole bunch of OCI employers that were there last year didn't come back, including 2 of the biggest three law firms in the Winston Salem/Greensboro area). The same kind of pressure where career services tries to get you to do everything you can to land a job, and where that everything includes taking off your engagement or wedding ring because that makes you more hireable.

Not my story, but a true story.

If you've read this far, you obviously haven't run away from my blog (but you should!) and have hopefully realized by now that I don't share the same values as other law students you may have encountered. I'm not gunning for a big law job. I wasn't banking on OCI to begin with (especially because I live in a house now and was not planning on moving until we can get some equity in it). I've been doing all of my own legwork for finding jobs, and ideally I'll end up either at the public defender's office (though I'd be willing to work at the DA too), doing plaintiffs work, or working for legal aid (the latter of which isn't panning out so far, but I still have time). Of course, if all else fails I'll happily take a "small/medium" law job as long as I can still have a life. I don't want the big money. I don't need the big money/big hours. I used to live off of a teacher's salary (21k my first year) and did more than just fine.

But wait, I'm only the median at a low teir 1 school. Shouldn't I drop out and cry about my wasted opportunity? NO. Why run from grades? There's no reason to. I made lots of As, I just had some lower grades too (like property! yes, I can join the club). I managed to write onto the only non law review journal at the school in spite of being below the median before people transferred out. I managed to get a job on my own without career service's help (and without my mother, who does legal work, pulling strings -- and she really disapproves of me wanting to do plaintiff's work. Parents!). I have a lot to offer and a lot to give. I've met pletny of people who have been successful even though their law school grades were low and/or they didn't got to a "top law school."

I guess I'm not buying into the name of this site or the law school culture. I'm not hyper competitive. I don't turn my nose at lower paying work or lower prestige work. I don't go home and cry when other people make fun of me because of the judge I worked for this summer (who apparently has a reputation, though for what I could never egg out of them of course) wasn't one of the "right" judges (another note: he was a really nice guy and it was a great, albeit unconventional, experience). I actually got made fun of behind my back for getting the right answer (which didn't happen at all in my section last year) and all I could do is smile and say "So these were the craptastic people who go to law school that everyone was telling me about."

In all honesty, you shouldn't be reading this. I am not a good example of a law student. I prefer to stay home with my animals and hang out and watch DVDs or go hiking somewhere than booze it up at bar reviews (and for some of my classmates I'm sure, do much harder drugs). I'm pursuing the work I want to do intead of trying to talk to the right people for the right reasons to get the right job.

But if you are still reading and you're just starting law school, here's some friendly advice: do what you want to. Don't let other people pigeon-hole you into doing something you don't. Your grades don't dictate who you are, and neither does who you hang out with or what you do in your free time. Don't feel forced to compromise your values just to get the big paying job you're supposed to get out of law school. That will spell burn out. There are lots of opportunities out there (and many of them never go to OCI!).

I am very glad that I stayed connected with the outside world during law school. Could have I done better academically my first year if I had latched into study groups and social circles and everything? Perhaps, but perhaps not. But it isn't the academics that matter. To me, it's knowing that after this summer that I still want to do law work (sometimes even in spite of my classmates), and for me that's enough to know that there is something for me to do once my three years at Wake are up.

I'm so happy I jumped ship from a career I hated to something new. Nothing like condescending remarks or having "the wrong numbers at the wrong school" are going to deter me from doing what I want to do.

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