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  Workshop 8: Rights and Responsibilities of Students  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives
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Teacher Perspectives: His background

Matt Johnson: Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked as a legislative researcher for a law firm and enjoyed that quite a bit, but really felt like I wanted to do something where I was in charge of my day-to-day work. I thought nothing could be better than teaching where I really have my own little corporation, so to speak.

Having worked in the private sector before becoming a teacher, and especially working for a law firm, I had an appreciation for what goes on in the legal field and paid a lot of attention to matters on Capitol Hill. So I brought to the classroom a practical understanding and knowledge of those two fields. As far as civic education goes, I have been a big fan of teaching kids the importance of being involved in our society and in the political process.

When I first began teaching, I think I fell into the trap of a lot of new teachers. It was teacher-centered: "Look at me, I'm in charge. I'm the expert. You guys will take notes and you'll learn from my wisdom." That took awhile to lose as a teaching practice--[which I did] on the job, watching other teachers and letting go. Once you start to let go, it makes a big difference. You realize that it's a very successful approach. I think the point I realized it was time to change wasn't the overwhelming snoring sound I heard when I would lecture, but certain lessons I knew were not getting across to the kids. I could tell by test results. We would prepare for a mock trial my first year and we did horribly. I wasn't letting the kids get into the material enough. I was trying to tell them how everything should look and arguments that they should make. I started to realize that this group of kids really has a lot of ability and you've just got to let them go to the material and they'll do some amazing things with it.

One of the things I did was think back to when I was a high school student. I started to reflect on what I remembered from my four years of high school and it was when we as students had been given an opportunity to create something. I started to say, “That's what I want kids to remember down the road, a couple of years from now.” I thought that I had to come up with simulations. There were lessons already out there, so I just started putting things together myself and immediately I enjoyed teaching more and I think the kids enjoyed the class more. That made a big difference.


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