“I am so excited! Look what I just received in the mail – A JURY SUMMONS!!!!!” These are words that are never spoken, by anyone, well at least, not anyone that I know. Are you kidding me? or Seriously? are some of the responses that I’ve uttered out loud, as I’ve opened the dreaded jury summons. One school year, it was more like, “Are you serious? This is the first day back to school from a two-week spring break!” Let’s face it, teachers do not want to go on their winter, spring, or summer breaks either!
The problem with teachers and jury duty is that there is NEVER a good time during the school year. Why? Because every absence involves writing substitute teacher plans. School doesn’t stop when a teacher is absent; students still need to learn. So, teachers grudgingly spend time leaving specific class instructions, extra copies and lesson plans for the person who will be in the classroom. Knowing who the substitute teacher is can also make a big difference. Do I leave “just sit and babysit the kids while they do ‘busy’ review work” plans or “I trust you to teach and/or lead a discussion without offending the students” plans? Yes, this really happens!
Eventually, I accepted the fact that this date would probably be better than a rescheduled date. With my luck, it would be rescheduled for the first day of school or parent conference week. In the end, I just hope for the message that everyone secretly wishes for. You know which one. “You do not need to report.” Well, have you guessed it yet? I didn’t get this message. Instead I got the one that said to call back at 11:00AM the following day. Oh, happy days, now, I don’t know if I’m teaching the full day or part of the day!
It’s time – Monday morning, 11:00AM! Do you feel the anticipation that I was feeling? I had just spent 1 hour and 45 minutes with my students after a two-week spring break. Not only is my brain trying to adjust to being back in school, but so are the minds of the students. The morning was spent reflecting on their break with a writing activity, sharing out, and completing some review work. Recess was 15 minutes away, but I couldn’t wait. I had already warned (yes, I said ‘warned’) the class that I might be leaving. So, I picked up my classroom phone, dialed the dreaded number, listened for the prompt and pressed the numbers to my jury group. Can you guess what happened?
You probably guessed it correctly—I had to report that afternoon. Not only did I “get” to report for jury duty that day, but for a total of 10 days over three weeks! Since the absences were not consecutive, teaching new lessons and then checking for understanding the next day was difficult. In the end, I did my best to teach from afar (via sub plans) and trust that I had a competent adult in charge.
Educators at my school have learned that the courts love us! They want us on the jury. For one, our district pays us unlimited days during jury duty and two, we know how to look at all angles. We are in the business of helping others on a daily basis, using multiple approaches in the areas of academics and behavior. In addition, we practice conflict resolution daily with our students.
Well, the students survived the ten days of different substitute teachers and I survived creating daily lesson plans for them. When I finally returned, my 5th grade students got an eyewitness account of how our judiciary system works. They learned what a “jury of peers” and “innocent until proven guilty” meant. I explained the difference between a civil and criminal trial. We reviewed the Constitution and discussed the reasons behind many of the rights. They understood the importance of my absence.
Talking to my students about my experience also reminded me of the importance. This does not mean that I won’t complain again when I get a jury summons though. I will just choose to have a more positive outlook as I create lesson plans for my absence.
Living in a country where the legal system allows a “jury of peers” to review presented facts, analyze the charges filed, and express their opinion in a vote, is a privilege that needs to be respected. We may not be perfect, but our United States Constitution has allowed our voices and opinions to be heard. So, the next time you get a jury notice, try to think about the honor, rather than the inconvenience.