By Jordan Dalton
You may know Tom Fitzgibbon as the secretive teacher of your AP European History class, or as the man you see filling up his water bottle “at least six times a day.” Maybe you know him as “Fitzy,” or as fellow teacher Derek Thomas’s comedic rival.
But the truth, however shocking it may be, is that Tom Fitzgibbon had a life before University High School. The teacher you all know and love spent three and a half years in the adventurous life of a commercial litigation lawyer.
“I didn’t hate being a lawyer,” Fitzgibbon said. “But I didn’t enjoy it.”
Apparently, shows like Suits and Law and Order are fairly inaccurate portrayals of the life of an attorney at law. Fitzgibbon claims that what goes down on TV is about “0.5 percent” of being a lawyer and that for him, “it would have been a career of drudgery.”
Still, our very own Fitzy has had some surprisingly dramatic experiences: “I once represented a client on his criminal appeal, and he was accused and convicted at the lower court level of attempting to blow up a federal building. His ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend worked there, so he was basically trying to kill him. It was pretty intense. That was probably the most TV-like scenario I worked with.”
“We lost the appeal by the way,” Fitzgibbon quickly added. “Which is probably just as well for society.”
You might be wondering why Fitzgibbon would suddenly decide to be a teacher, a job which provides a notoriously low salary, after graduating from such prestigious institutions as the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago with a law degree and a promising career ahead of him.
“It would have been a good lifestyle kind of job, a good paycheck, but it wasn’t a job that was going to be meaningful to me personally.”
If it’s not obvious, Fitzgibbon, who is currently in his sixth year in teaching, now cares a lot about his work. And while there are many things he loves about teaching, he’s really in it for the students. “I mean, of course I like history and government, I like self-controlled hours,” said Fitzgibbon. “But more than that, I just really enjoy being around students. Those interactions mean a lot to me.”
“As a teacher and a role model, Tom is pretty much the gold standard,” said former UHS history teacher and close friend Brett Krieble. “He is one of the most honest, caring, and ethical people I know.”
Laughing, she added, “So much so that it even outweighs my embarrassment at his karaoke, and that is a strong statement.”
From a “stress standpoint,” Fitzgibbon says he actually works harder as a teacher, but that “it’s much more relaxing when you don’t have to depend on other people, wait for them to return your phone calls and emails.”
And there are more similarities between being an attorney and being a teacher than you might think. Fitzgibbon, who teaches government and a variety of history classes, says there’s “a lot we do that’s related to law.”
One of the most obvious examples of this statement would be Fitzgibbon’s Law and Justice January Term, which focuses on the U.S. justice system and gives students the opportunity to see the Indiana Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. “It’s been fun for me, to feel like I’m taking advantage of that knowledge,” said Fitzgibbon.
In addition to teaching at University, Fitzgibbon taught a class for graduate students at the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs last year. “It was fun talking to grad students about some really challenging legal issues, but it was time consuming, especially on top of this job,” he said.
As for his own time in grad school, Fitzgibbon says it was a many variety of feelings, experiences, and hardships.
He attended the University of Chicago, or as you might know it, “the place fun goes to die.”
But for those of you interested in the pre-law track or the University itself, don’t give up those dreams just yet. Apparently, the fun only dies in your first year.
“It’s definitely true your first year of law school,” said Fitzgibbon. “But it’s terrible I think at any school. You’re still just trying to figure it out.”
First year grades are arguably the most important for any law student because of the way the “interviewing timeline” works, and so “there’s always something stressing you out.”
“I was much better in my second and third year than my first. And I had some great friends and a lot of fun times, too.”
Still, it’s safe to say Tom Fitzgibbon is having just as much fun here at University.
Besides teaching, Fitzgibbon participates in what you might call extracurricular activities. He’s a key member of the morning meeting interpretive dance team, coaches golf, and hosts “Dating 101” with fellow teacher Jenny Cox, which –shhh–may be making a comeback this year.
Still, however amazing of a matchmaker he may be, his passion will always remain in teaching.
“I like all those things,” he said. “But the main thing I like about teaching is the students, is you guys.”
Photo by Hannah Norman