Outside of the roller coaster of a trip, I did some deep soul searching at this conference. I came to learn better ways to manage the newspaper and to make it grow to become a consistent high-achieving product. While I definitely took home a lot of really great ideas, and have already seen positive results from the new policies that I have implemented, I think I left this conference feeling more validated than anything else.
Running a program like the newspaper (or any other singleton elective or after school club) can leave teachers feeling like they are isolated on an island. When I was in charge of both the newspaper and yearbook, it felt like I was all alone, with the only other people who understood what was happening in my room being the newspaper and yearbook teachers in other schools. The other media teacher at my school is a tremendous help, and we definitely bounce ideas off of each other, but at the end of the day, each of us deal in specifics that the other does not have as much expertise.
From the second that I became the newspaper adviser at my school, I joined groups of other advisers to get help. I have background working for a newspaper, but when I first started teaching, I sought all the help I could get. I got on listservs, went to conferences, listened to other teachers, and generally searched for as much help as I could get.
Fast forward 10 years, and even though my program has grown and won awards, and my kids have gone off to varying fields of journalism, I still feel in many ways like that first year teacher. I know everything is not perfect, I know we can still get better, and so I feel like I’m still in learning mode. However, two sessions at this conference made me readjust how I thought of myself as a journalism teacher.
The first session that made me reflect was a session about how to recruit the best staff possible for your publication. Recruiting is something that I have kind of streamlined in my current state, but I am always looking at how other schools do things. I dutifully pulled out my laptop and prepared to take notes, but as soon as this yearbook adviser from South Carolina started speaking, I realized I would not be needing any notes. He was me. With every new slide he put on the screen, I shook my head and smiled. He addressed every fear that I had about whether I was doing something correctly, and every method that I use for finding the best staff and creating the best product were checklists on his slideshow. Normally I hate it when I go to a session and I don’t learn anything new, but this one felt different. It really felt like I could have led this session, and I left feeling validated. Maybe I’m better at this than I’m giving myself credit.
The other session that changed my perception was an informational session on national journalism certification. Sounds super exciting, right? I had heard of this status before, but never considered it because I already had state journalism certification for my job, so it seemed unnecessary. I went to the session just to really figure out what this certification was and whether it could benefit me or my students in any way.
Apparently there are two levels to this certification, and my experience and background already qualify me for the highest ranking, which would be a level called Master Journalism Educator. This title typically comes with requests to speak at conventions and become a mentor for other journalism teachers. I experienced a multitude of emotions as I sat through this session. I felt proud of the fact that this was something I could qualify for, as I often still think of myself as that first year adviser who still doesn’t really know what he’s doing. I felt stressed at the idea of speaking at conferences because I really do hate public speaking, and wonder sometimes if my successes as an adviser are really just the results of parroting other good advisers. Finally, I felt disappointed that I had not looked into this earlier because I had just made assumptions about it and never really took the time to figure out what this certification meant.
I came back from the conference rejuvenated. We left with a lot of really great ideas and have already started improving our newspaper. I’ve come back with a new grading system that will hopefully help deal with that aspect of the class. I’m potentially writing curriculum for a newspaper focused English elective that juniors and seniors could take, and it came from this conference. However, the biggest thing I am taking from this is that I’m really at a point in my teaching career where I have as much to offer others as they do for me.
I do not intend to stop going to sessions and increasing my own knowledge as an adviser, but I’m considering fighting my fear of public speaking and generally putting myself out there in a position where I could fail or embarrass myself. I’m definitely going to be going through the process to get the national certification, and if I’m able to, I’ll consider offering to speak at a conference.
I’ve started getting some session ideas in mind, and I’m finding out that I am definitely doing more than parroting other advisers. I do bring a unique perspective to the position, and I do think other advisers and students would find it interesting. I’m not sure why it took me so long, or took me going on a crazy 4 day road trip with my staff to realize it, but the trip was program altering in many ways, both for my staff and for myself.