Student Commentary

Learning to Dream Bigger

When I made the difficult decision to leave a career as a middle school teacher to go to law school, I did it to chase what I thought of as big dreams.

I had become increasingly frustrated by the limited reach that I had in my classroom, feeling powerless to address the many barriers my students faced outside the classroom. I was tired of teachers and students being treated like political footballs and as manifestations of different ideas rather than as individuals with different experiences and needs. I felt that to have a larger impact, to stop feeling powerless, I would need to work in some combination of law, politics, and policy.

As I decided to submit an application to Temple, guided in large part by my interest in the Law and Public Policy Program, I remember thinking that “maybe someday, maybe somehow I’ll work in legislation in City Hall. Maybe someday—maybe years from now—I can make it that far.”

I was able to check that off my list while still a student in my second year of law school, working as a legislative intern for a City Councilperson. Before law school I may have thought I had big dreams, but the Law and Public Policy Program taught me to dream bigger.

For my D.C. summer in the Program, I worked as a law clerk at the National Juvenile Defender Center. While my interests have primarily been in education policy, through this internship I learned to apply a broader children’s rights lens to education issues, and was able to experience how much issues of education and juvenile justice can overlap. I was also able to research, write, and publish a resource on immigration and juvenile justice. This experience gave me valuable insights that informed the policy paper I wrote for the Program on school discipline reform. Through the combined experience of my internship and the seminar, I developed my ideas, practiced presenting them, and got ready for one of the highlights of my career so far: presenting my paper at an international conference with many of my Law and Public Policy classmates.

In the Fall, I was introduced to City Hall for the first time through working on a collaborative project based on a topic identified by City Council staffers. My team worked on a project I was passionate about, and that began my connection with the City Council office I would then intern for in the Spring. The following summer, I returned to D.C. as the Teaching Assistant for the Program, and worked at the National Women’s Law Center on their education-focused team. Through this experience, I was able to take the lead in developing my own projects. I also had the unique opportunity to testify before the Federal Commission on School Safety—including in my testimony recommendations I had developed in my policy paper as well as in my own experience as a teacher. Coming to law school I had dreamed of someday having opportunities to impact local and national policy—but I never expected to have those opportunities while still in law school.

These opportunities did not come from nowhere, and I can easily envision being in a position where the opportunities (to speak and to publish, for example) may have existed but I would not have taken advantage of them. I entered law school a terrified public speaker—fine as a teacher in front of children but not as an “expert” on something in front of my peers. It was entirely because of Professor Knauer’s guidance through the Program that I am not afraid to speak publicly to representatives of federal executive agencies. Another important part of the Program as run by Professor Knauer is individualized, comprehensive career guidance. I benefited from this one-on-one guidance not only in getting my dream internships, but in learning to navigate them to maximize the opportunities and experiences available.

My experience at Temple has been driven in large part by my experience in the Law and Public Policy Program. Now in my third year of law school, I look forward to my future with some normal nerves, but also with a much larger idea of the opportunities that may be available to me than I had before law school. The Program gave me the feeling of empowerment, the feeling of being a director of my own fate, that I had been lacking in my former career.

After the Program, I still have big dreams, but they look different than they did when I started law school. And as time goes on, the word “maybe” features in those dreams less and less.

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