Friday, October 29, 2010

Okay -- last time: Law School Application PERSONAL STATEMENT

Here's the finished product, I hope:

Joseph Center
LSAC#: ********
Personal Statement

My name is Joseph Center, and I was born to be a teacher.  Call it self-awareness; call it revelation from God; call it dumb, indecisive, undergraduate luck—whatever; it worked:  I am a teacher, and I am a good one.  At home in a classroom, before a body of students, teaching, managing, learning; the grade book a well-lit place, and lesson prep a natural extension of my regular thoughts, preoccupations, and academic appetites; I am a teacher.  Despite this there have been times when the working professional’s oldest devil, most effectually labeled “doubt,” has come after me, armed to the teeth with all my insecurities—future, money, education, fake-it-‘til-you-make-it, authority, maturity, etcetera—and all that stacked up against the true weight of a teacher’s responsibility.  He is a nasty beast, Doubt, but I was always able to shake him, at least until the great bureaucracy of public education, wittingly or no, came powerfully to his aid against me—a grim encounter, the result of which taught me more about myself and my abilities than any of the previous seven years’ experience.
At the time I was enjoying what I can comfortably call success in a smallish school for smart and artistic kids in the crook of Michigan’s thumb.  I had a full course load up and running, trips and guest speakers planned, fundraisers underway, and, best of all, a motley of talented students, willing and un-, already deep in the year’s most challenging material.  I loved my job, my students, and so they seemed to love me, too.  My third year had started peacefully.  Better yet, I felt the stride of the backstretch opening now with two good years behind me.  I was comfortable.  All was well.  Little did I expect an over-large foot to stamp my breaks from the passenger seat.
It happened one Friday morning in October.  As always, I arrived at school shortly after six and checked my box.  I’d received a letter from the State Office of Education.  I opened it as I walked to my room.  I unlocked the door and sat at my desk.  I read the letter, which informed me that I had failed to take one of the two required certification tests needed to transfer my teaching license from Utah to Michigan and, until I took it, would be removed from the public classroom.
“Holy crap,” I said aloud and to absolutely no one.
My eyes bugged out, I slumped over a pile of ungraded poetry, and hardly moved until classes started.  I took Monday off to drive to Lansing, because no one at the state office would return the dozens of phone calls between classes, during lunch, and whenever else I could throughout that Friday.  I arrived shortly after opening, slogged through the mire of red tape, got planted in a conference room and told to wait.  Nearly an hour passed before a little mustachioed man finally entered.  He had five pieces of information, four of which he checked off a list on his clipboard.  None were helpful:
One: The next proctoring of the required test would be held in three months.  (This, while frustrating, rankled less than learning that the most recent test had been given only two days earlier, which was the Saturday after I received the letter, which, of course, I would have been able to take, had I known about it, which information I could have gained if, and only if, someone—anyone—at the State Office had bothered to answer their phone on Friday.)
Two: My valid Utah teacher’s license (not to mention my previous seven years’ experience and my recently acquired and accepted-by-the-state master’s degree in education, much less the recommendation from faculty, students, parents, and community—I even had a Crystal Apple, for crying out loud) made no difference in the matter, nor did the fact that the piece of paper I received from the State upon my hire made no reference to the test I missed, but only the one test which I took, nor that I was told repeatedly upon my redundant inquiries during that first year that there was nothing left for me to do after taking that first and purportedly only test.
Three: The matter was black and white, and the State was not responsible for my lack of information, even though they were the source of the very misinformation that brought about the entire problem.
Four (not on his checklist): Even if I had recorded the names of those individuals who had so incorrectly confirmed my completion of all application measures and steps, it would make no difference, and those mistaken individuals would yet hold their employ at the State.
Five: The case was closed until I completed the test, and the gavel sounded: bang; its noise falling dead in the ill-lit, padded room, like a giant period.
The man left.  I remained a moment, stunned.  I got lost attempting to exit the building.
I drove straight back to school and sat with my principal.  Thankfully, she was kind, helpful, and a seasoned veteran of the bureaucratic battlefront.  She wielded her telephone like a shotgun.  Her targets, quite unlike mine, actually listened to her, and, lo and behold, they were even helpful.  She didn’t call the State Office of Education.
I returned to my classroom to relieve my substitute teacher.

Any understanding gained from this moment through the weeks that followed came from two primary sources: my supporters and myself, the former of which, as it transpired, was a font whose depth I could never have guessed. 
Thankfully, I wasn’t out of the classroom yet.  There was a grace period, as it turned out, so the school could find a suitable replacement for their endangered teacher.  Word spread quickly that the end of my position was fast approaching, and the support flooded in.  From students, parents, and community came personal notes and cards, copies of letters to State representatives, reports of circulating petitions vouching for my quality, and even dedicatory poetry; from fellow faculty members came listening ears, wisdom, and regret.  A day or two passed, and I was whisked from my classroom for an emergency school board meeting at the district office.  The entire board was there.  My principal sat next to me, my union rep, too, and there, directly across from me, was the assistant superintendent over students and faculty.  Their support was total.  “We’re not going to lose you,” said the super.
A plan was put in place against the powers of the State in order to, first, keep me in the classroom without disruption; two, place-hold my position so it couldn’t be filled by some other full-time teacher seeking in-district transfer; three, provide me with at least some measured income against my loss.  As bolster to and evidence of her support, my principal actually offered to make up the balance of my lost salary just to prevent me from having to go elsewhere for employment.  I was fortunate enough to be able to politely, humbly refuse.
It is amazing and ironic that something capable of making a body feel so entirely crappy can simultaneously make him feel so good, and yet be nothing but utterly humbling. 
My learning that I was loved and appreciated, that people of authority recognized me as an excellent teacher, however, were not the biggest of the revelations.
The biggest revelation came from me.
I came to teaching an idealist.  I could no longer afford to maintain that kind of extravagance.  The whole reason we moved to Michigan from Utah in the first place (better teacher pay, cheaper cost of living) was a determination to keep my wife at home with our children, where we felt she was most needed and effectual.  We would make the necessary accommodations of lifestyle, and our kids would have their mother (and forever will—a decision as black and white as the gavel-pounding conclusion of the little mustache at the State Office); this foundation of family was now in jeopardy.  Its maintenance had been one of my greatest sources of personal pride. 
My biggest realization, hands down, was that I was entirely less worried and freaked out about not teaching than I was about my newly arrived inability to support my family.  Idealism, in the form of being a happy, make-a-difference teacher, had become fallacious frivolity; idealism, in the form of keeping my family emotionally, spiritually, and financially secure, rose to the exospheric top.
But I don’t want to be a lawyer for the money.  The object of my decision to change careers came a lot like that of becoming a teacher.  First—and here comes my implacable idealism again—it just felt, and yet feels, right; and while such impressions are important to me, there must be a level of pragmatism to them. 
If it’s true that I was “born to be a teacher,” how can I justify leaving for the law?  If indeed I must not stay the rocky road, then I need to find some other rational, pragmatic course to my goal—a window in the dividing wall.  I found it, and I plan to defenestrate myself sometime around the end of August 2011.
Teaching and Lawyering are, essentially, fraternal twins, born of the same constituent parts, just arranged and, perhaps, emphasized differently, the primary trait of both being the effective communication of ideas.
More than this, however, consider the major parts of teaching: information, persuasion (the communication of information), performance (without which persuasion is impossible), monitoring and adjusting (a world-of-education catch-phrase for effective revision of strategy); but also the little things, like organization (and not the skillful filing of information, but preparing it, practicing it, and managing the correlation of strategies with coworkers and goals), the ubiquitous need to make a difference, working hours and hours without thanks and away from the office, dealing with people—smart and less so, though mostly the latter (likely the most common element of all service-oriented occupations), and so on.   Are these not the crucial points of practicing law?
If I was born to be a teacher, so was I born to be a lawyer, and I am ready to do what it takes to make the change.


  1. Hi! I hope you don't mind input from a random visitor. I'm sitting here, anxiously waiting for my LSAT scores and your blog came up on my google search for latest info on October 2010 LSAT.

    I've got some feedback, if you're looking for it.

    You can write, and it's obvious your passionate. However I don't think this reads like a law school admissions essay.

    75% of this essay is spent discussing teaching. And as a former teacher, I can relate to your plight and am happy that there are good teachers out there. But as a law school, I'd be wondering when you're going to talk about law school. And while you say you're not going to law school for the money, that's the conclusion you actually lead the reader to make.
    I'd suggest starting with teaching, but in only 1 paragraph (2 tops) and leave it at you were an amazing teacher, but realized that you wanted more. And then discuss, in specific details (not general comparions to teaching) why you want law school. Right now it seems that you were born to be a teacher, that's your true passion, but because you failed a test and can't teach, you might as well go to law school. I don't see the passion for law or law school that you have for teaching, at least not in this essay.
    Be careful in what information you include. The fact that a board of education man had a mustache don't seem in any way relevant to a law school essay. If it was a biography, or memoir, it would be a great and interesting inclusion, but not here.

    Also, I would definitely not mention, at all, that you failed the teaching exam. It's not relevant to law school, and failing anything doesn't look good on an application.
    Finally, it's recommended to discuss why you want to attend a particular law school, and why you would be a great addition to their school. What would be their benefit in picking yuo over Joe Schmo with the same scores?

    I know you don't know me, so feel free to ignore or curse my advice. But I'm just trying to help from everything I've learned.\

    Good luck!

  2. I find this version better. Good luck!

  3. MeganRebekah -- Thanks for the comments. I always appreciate thoughtful and thorough advice. I'm sorry it took this long to notice your comment; it showed up in my SPAM folder for some reason. Thanks again.