Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

February, 2004

 

Maryland Educators Taught A Lesson in the Law

By Tom Breihan

This past November, a group of 20 teachers from across Maryland gathered in Annapolis. But the group wasn’t there to teach; they were there to learn.

The teachers came to Annapolis to attend the Maryland Justice Training Institute, a three-day educational session that focused on Maryland state law and on the ways that the teachers could bring the law into their classrooms. The Institute was presented by the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland (CLREP) and sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA), the Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland Bar Foundation, the American Bar Association Coalition on Justice, the Administrative Office of the Courts and Youth for Justice.

“I was at an American Bar Association law-related education leadership conference, and the Florida Supreme Court and their law-related education program did a program focusing on the courts,” says CLREP Executive Director Rick Miller. “I thought there was a tremendous need for teachers and students to learn more about the Maryland court system. So I came back from that conference and started designing the Maryland Justice Training Institute.”

Over the next year-and-a-half, Miller organized funding, designed a curriculum and planned the Institute, which took place over two weekends last November and December. “The whole idea was that teachers from across the state of Maryland – we had 20 teachers from about 16 of the 24 jurisdictions – would come to the Institute and then go back and train 10 teachers from their school district and/or 100 or more students,” says Miller. “And then we also developed lesson plans that we’ll put on our website, the Court’s website, and the MSBA website.”

“A unique aspect of the Institute is that the teachers in the November session did a moot court hearing of an actual case that was going to be heard before the Court of the Appeals in December,” adds Miller. “They had attorneys and judges working with them and coaching them, making their mock oral arguments, and the judges rendered a decision, then they came back in December and saw the actual case before the Court of Appeals. And then we spoke to the two attorneys who argued that case before the Court.”

Laura Leizear, who attended the Institute, is in a unique position to evaluate it – she is both an attorney and a government and child advocacy teacher at Towson High School in Baltimore County. “I thought [the Institute] was very good; I liked it,” says Leizear. “I graduated from law school in the ‘70s, so I practiced for many years – this is kind of my second career. There wasn’t too much stuff about the law I didn’t know, but I thought it was very well put-together. I thought it was really interesting. I liked the way they had us do a mock appellate hearing. I thought the speakers were great. I thought a lot of the teaching materials and ideas they had for teaching law to the students were very nicely put-together. I was impressed with it.”

For Leizear, the teachers’ response to the mock hearing underscored the importance of a program like the Institute. “One thing I thought was really interesting when we did our mock oral arguments, the way the teachers approached the mock oral arguments was so different from the way both this other teacher, who was an attorney, and I approached it,” says Leizear. “They approached it on a much more personal, human level and tended to miss a lot of the legal issues. A lot of the concepts they brought out, most teachers really didn’t know anything about…Everyone who teaches government teaches a whole unit on the judicial branch, and they really need to know more about the law than they do.” Leizear added that she would like to see future sessions of the Institute focus further on legal reasoning and juvenile law.

“I think that [the teachers] are going to be in a better position to deal with the idea that the legal system really is important and it is important that it works and that we have confidence in it,” agrees MSBA President-Elect Cornelius Helfrich, who spoke to the group of teachers about the Maryland State Bar Association and the importance of the law. “You see things all the time that show a real lack of grasp of civics and government by adults, much less kids, and anything we can do to counter that has got to be a plus. So in that sense, this is a very important program. It’s a small step, but every step counts.”

“Teachers get very little instruction about state court systems in their undergraduate or graduate studies, so for some of them this is the most in-depth experience they have ever had focusing on the Maryland courts,” says Miller. “We had teachers who ran the spectrum from first-year into somewhere up in their 25th, 26th year teaching, [with many claiming] it was one of the best conferences they had ever attended.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2004

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