Warning: Volunteering May be Addictive

John Gilson is a member of the Citizen Schools North Carolina Board and is a Four-Time Citizen Teacher

In the summer of 2009 a colleague of mine approached me about teaching a Mock Trial apprenticeship through this organization called “Citizen Schools”.  I was reluctant at first. I was nervous about the time commitment, I hadn’t walked into a school in over ten years, and I did not know what to expect. That said, I knew that I wanted to improve public education here in Charlotte and I knew that I needed to step out of my comfort zone if I really wanted to do something meaningful.

For ten weeks, my team from Moore & Van Allen  taught an apprenticeship at Eastway Middle School.  It was designed to teach the students about the ins-and-outs of being a lawyer and how to try a case.  As you can imagine, spending an afternoon with twelve 12 year olds in a classroom proved to be much more entertaining than an afternoon spent with a bunch of lawyers stuck in a stuffy conference room.

  • The students learned about legal vocabulary, legal procedure, public speaking, confidence and powers of persuasion.
  • I learned that the music I listened to was no longer cool, that I had no idea what a Twitter “hashtag” was, and that a 12 year old will literally follow you into battle for a Butterfinger at 4PM. 
  • I also learned that IF you can make an 8th grader comprehend and accept that any career path or college goal that they have is indeed possible for them – you will drive home that day with the biggest goofiest smile on your face that the lady parked next to you at the red light has ever seen.

Our apprenticeship culminated with a Mock Trial WOW! at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in front of Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell and a jury from the community.

  • A REAL courthouse, a REAL judge and a REAL jury – and most importantly, a REAL bailiff with REAL handcuffs who I used as a ten week long threat for good behavior.  His services were not needed!

What a great experience for the students in our apprenticeship and what a terrifying one for me.

  • Had we prepared them enough?
  • Would the students remember their lines?
  • Would they remember what to do when the Judge called upon them?

For an hour and a half I watched in amazement as these young aspiring lawyers dazzled the judge, dazzled the jury, dazzled their family members in the audience and convinced me that someone else must have surely been sneaking into Eastway to teach them Mock Trial when I wasn’t around.  Walking out of the Courthouse that night I was hooked.  Our team has now taught 4 apprenticeships and we plan on teaching another this Fall!

Consider becoming a Citizen Teacher.  This gold standard of volunteering at Citizen Schools involves your willingness to join our students for 90 minutes a week for 10 weeks to share whatever you’re passionate about – whether it be your career or hobby.  No teaching experience is required – Citizen Schools provides all of the support you need – all you need is a desire to share something that fascinates you and a bag of Butterfingers.

My group at Moore & Van Allen is called the “Investment Team” and as a professional in the field I know a good investment when I see one.  The young aspiring professionals in our middle schools will one day comprise our workforce, and I encourage you to make an investment in them.