BY ERIN ARCHERD
Before I came to law school, I was an English teacher. It’s hard for me to say whether or not I was a good teacher. I liked my students, which is a good indicator that something was working well. I’ve been thinking about my experience teaching quite a lot recently, partly because I’ve been going through one of my monthly “What am I doing in law school” phases, and partly because I am thoroughly enjoying most of my reading for class.
What makes a good teacher? What makes a good student? I’ve decided that for both, a sense of humor is essential. When I showed up for Halloween dressed as a palm tree, complete with frond headpiece and coconut bra, I know I made a lasting impression on my students. Sure, it was most likely along the lines of “Eww, gross, we can see her bra,” but at least I’ll be a teacher who they remember.
I’ve had a lot of solid teachers over the years. Many of them liked me. A few of them thought I was a smartass, which I was, and treated me with the benevolent contempt that was my due. However, for all the good teachers I have had over the past quarter century (and I’ll count bosses as well) the ones I remember best are the kooks, the zany wiseacres who weren’t afraid to act silly for entertainment value.
One standout is my freshman English teacher in high school, Mr. Zegura, who would share stories about the meat-packing industry on a fairly regular basis, which led me down my first step on the path to vegetarianism. His hall pass was a toilet seat and his desk had a selection of odd-ball hand-eye coordination games.
Another special soul was Ms. Finch, my sixth grade music/language arts/homeroom teacher. She always seemed a little lost in our suburban backwater, dressing like she wished she were walking around the Haight in San Francisco or the Village in New York. I credit my memorization of all the helper verbs in the English language — am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had, do, does, did, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must – to the day she wouldn’t let us out to recess until we could say them by rote. It was a useful parlor trick as an English teacher.
Sitting at Diesel yesterday afternoon doing my Trusts and Estates reading, I was struck by something: I was having fun. I was sitting in a draft and blasted by Arctic air every time someone opened the door, but I liked the cases, liked the pictures, and realized after about an hour or two that I enjoyed learning the material.
Enjoying learning may not be a revelation for many students here. A lot of you probably have enjoyed classes from day one, or at least can talk a good talk about the intellectual rigor and stimulation you feel being at HLS.
I find myself sending emails home to my parents with tips about estate planning:
“DO NOT GET A JOINT WILL (that’s one will meant to be executed for both of you). If you want to have similar wills, you can draw up mutual wills that contain provisions that are mirror-image (I give Mom/Dad my property). Joint wills are notorious litigation-breeders. Of course, trusts are really the way to go. Only we’re still on wills, so I don’t have much to tell you yet.”
I’m not sure my friends believe me when I tell them how much fun this class is, but for all those out there who were too timid to sign-up for Sitkoff’s 8:15 eye-opener, here’s a selection of some of my favorite quotes from the textbook. (Prof. Sitkoff, feel free to shoot me an email if you feel I’m violating fair use.)
“My son Daniel Jacob Shapira should receive his share of the bequest only, is he is married at the time of my death to a Jewish girl whose both parents are Jewish.” 315 N.E.2d 825. I’m sure everyone in class would have gotten a hearty chuckle on my being questioned about this case if they knew more about my background.
“Also, Rose was living in filth in the spring of 1990, with her bills not having been paid, and, after a house fire, it was discovered that her house was in shambles with trash throughout and dead cats found in her freezer and bathtub.” 400 A 2d.1268. You may find this more depressing than funny, but it catches my attention.
“God is not dead, and judges who criticize the invocation of Divine Assistance had better begin preparing a brief to use when they stand themselves at the Eternal Bar of Justice on Judgment Day…I am perfectly willing to take my chances…at the gates of Saint Peter and answer on our voir dire that we were always willing to invoke the name of the Lord in seeking counsel…Misere nobis Omnipotens Deus!” Pennsylvania Justice Musmanno. It gets better if you read the casebook, p. 222.
I’m looking forward to next week when we learn about the Anna Nicole Smith case. I wonder if Prof. Sitkoff will do the finger puppets again. That’s entertainment.
Erin Archerd, a 2L, will happily accept any royalties due to increased Trusts and Estates sales at the Coop.
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