The two boys had a history of feuds, fusses and fights between them. In the calm of the moment before class started and while the teacher was in the hallway, an insult was hurled, followed a nanosecond later by one desk and then another. The two young men were at it again. Punches were being thrown as the rest of us scattered to get away from the flailing fists and flying books, pens and desks tossed aside in the heat of battle. While startling in its intensity, it was no surprise that another fight had broken out between them.
Before any of us could scramble through the mess to separate them, Doyle Watts, our U. S. Government teacher ran into the room, quickly assessed the situation and charged through the spectators and the mess to pull the two boys apart. Mr. Watts was an incredibly laid back teacher. In four years of high school, I had never seen him lose it. At that moment, his face flushed in anger. He pulled the boys out of the room and toward the office, a far more impressive display of outrage than the fight itself.
As he got to the door with each boy deflecting blame toward the other, Mr. Watts stopped and glared at them, pushing them rather roughly, I thought, into two nearby desks that somehow remained upright in the fight.
Suddenly, he began asking us the rest of us who had started the fight and why we had done nothing to stop it. He threatened the class to tell no one about the fight, especially not the principal. Mr. Watts confessed that he had been written up for his classroom management and would hold us responsible if he lost his job over this. Before the next 30 minutes were finished, he had us scared to death and in complete legal mode. Those who saw nothing were sent out of the classroom of potential jurors. Actual witnesses were sequestered. “Attorneys” were appointed to represent the students involved in the fight. For the next week, we engaged in a civics lesson to end all civics lessons.
At the end of the week, the jurors, some of them in tears, had determined guilt. They rendered a verdict and made a decision on who would be punished and how severely.
As you might guess, the fight was staged, the entire week an unforgettable lesson in government for a group of kids who had never seen the inside of a courtroom. The actors in his play, the two boys who were in the fight, deserved an Oscar for their performance and Mr. Watts deserved Teacher of the Year. I learned more about the legal process and trial by jury through this staged activity (approved by the principal) than I would have ever learned from reading the chapter and listening to a lecture.
I doubt that we could get away with such shenanigans today with cell phone cameras, texting, Facebook and media hype. While creativity like this might get some unwarranted attention these days, I know that our classrooms today are full of amazing teachers that find creative ways to teach and inspire our students, as did Mr. Watts.
This is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I wanted to take a quick moment to thank Mr. Watts, who taught me U.S. Government 41 years ago in that small Texas Panhandle community. A special thanks also to the 3,638 teachers who work their magic each day in Pasadena ISD on behalf of our students. You are simply the best at what you do.
(Just in case you’re interested. I served as an attorney four decades ago. My client lost. It was an inglorious and short-lived legal career.)