So you’ve been called to testify….

I was asked recently how educators should prepare to give testimony in a hearing.  This is something that is very likely to occur in the trajectory of most educator careers. It might be a hearing before the school board, or an independent hearing examiner. It could be a special education due process hearing, a UIL dispute or (God forbid) a knock down custody fight between parents. It might be a criminal case involving one of your former students.

Regardless of the forum or the subject matter, there are four fundamental rules that apply.  I think these are the things that any good lawyer will tell you.

1. Prepare. Review any notes or records you have to refresh your memory about the events you may be asked about. You will want to convey professionalism, and your preparation before the event will help with this.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Answer only the question you are asked. The best example I know of to illustrate this point is revealed by this exchange:
Q. Do you know what time it is?
Witness glances at watch…
A. Yes, I do.
Q. Well, can you tell me what time it is?
A. I can.

Here’s another example. The lawyer showed the witness a photograph, showing a side view of a cow.
Q. What color is this cow?
A. Brown. On this side.

4. Don’t worry about your testimony. Doing #4 is much easier to accomplish if you fully accomplish #2. Telling the truth is a great stress reliever.

Once you are called to testify, things are well beyond your control.  So don’t worry about the outcome.  The outcome will be decided by the judge or jury and your testimony will only play a part in that.  So chill.

Lawyers generally meet with witnesses before they give testimony.  If the lawyer does not take the time to meet with you that could mean that you are not a very important witness. It could also mean the lawyer is not well prepared. But if you do have the opportunity to meet with the lawyer, that’s the time to ask your questions.


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