“Wear sunscreen” – or, why I teach.

I had the great fortune to spend this weekend at a spa in Shropshire.  A present from my children for Mothering Sunday, it was a timely break from a fairly frantic period in my life.  I was presenting full-day courses in London on Thursday and Friday, rounding off an exceptionally busy week.  I hadn’t been feeling particularly well and back-to-back courses are tough at the best of times.  By the time I arrived home on Friday evening, a spa break seemed like a very good idea indeed.

I had quite a journey to get there on Saturday.  My spa-buddies were my Mum and sister, coming respectively from North Wales and Leeds, so each of us had to travel a fair while to the ultimate destination.

I said goodbye to husband and girls at least ten times and shut myself in the car.  Hot coffee in the cup holder, sunglasses on, iPod plumbed in to the stereo – mix all.

First song – Baz Luhrmann, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. Pearls of wisdom over a backing track, a track I’ve heard many many times.  One line stuck with me this time though.  The second to last lyric is as follows:

“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

This struck a real chord with me – “advice is a form of nostalgia“.  My Friday course was an introduction to running employment tribunal litigation and I had a group of trainee solicitors who threw themselves into the subject matter with enthusiasm.

I have a love-hate relationship with tribunal work.  I’ve loved a lot of my cases over the years and had plenty of successes, but I’ve had my fair share of gut-wrenching moments.  If you’ve run your own employment tribunal caseload you will know exactly what I mean.  I choose to share some of my more cringeworthy experiences  with my delegates (as anecdotes and as aspects of the day-long case study), in the hope that they will be able to avoid some of the traps I walked straight into when I was a very junior solicitor.  Reliving them as teaching aids for others almost makes them worth the original agony (almost….).  I share them in their pure form, without (as Baz Luhrmann suggests) “painting over the ugly parts“.

Of course, one only really learns about employment tribunal work, from experience.  They may avoid the things I’ve told them about, but there is bound to be something else that dumps them unceremoniously on their backside in the early part of their career.  Unfortunately, no training course can Teflon-coat them for the road ahead.  But the fact that everyone had to start somewhere and the most seasoned litigators probably screwed a few things up at the beginning is something that I don’t think gets shared as much as it ought.

At the close of course, as I was packing up my papers and computer and wondering what the delegates might say about the course on the obligatory feedback form, one of them came to me before she left.  Due to return to the employment department for her final seat, she told me how the practical exercises and my various anecdotes had fired her enthusiasm to grasp employment tribunal work with greater confidence on her return.  

That is why I “fish the past from the disposal, wipe it off…” and share it with the up-and-comings.  That is why I teach.

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One Response to “Wear sunscreen” – or, why I teach.

  1. Pingback: Why I teach… (reprise) | teagoemplaw

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