The Hearing.

“Did I remember to spell my name?” I leaned over to Stueve and whispered.

“No,” he said, and my eyes widened. “I’m kidding! Yes. You did.”

I still can’t remember spelling my name.

It’s odd what adrenaline does to the memory–I clearly remember rushing the phrase “to posit” and worrying that it sounded like “deposit,” but I can’t remember spelling my name.


For the first time in my life, I attended a committee hearing on bills presented to the judiciary committee of my state’s legislature to testify in support of a bill. I had little idea what to expect, since I cut short my political science studies to drop out of school for a year.

A story for another time.

I arrived at the capitol building well ahead of the hearing’s 1:30 p.m. start time, and I knew I was in for a long day since they moved our bill from third to last in the order. And had I paid closer attention to the other bills in that hearing, I might not have arrived so early: also on the docket was a resolution to put medical cannibis on the November ballot and let voters decide if it should be legal.

The cannibis resolution was fourth in line, and it ground the pacing of the day to a halt. Proponent after proponent shared their experience and reasoning as to why the people of Nebraska deserved to decide this issue, as opposed to relying on legislators to work out a bill. Then opponent after opponent (though they numbered far fewer) attempted to persuade the committee to not advance the resolution. And committee member after committee member asked question after question of most of the opponents.

Two hours later, the hearing on the resolution ended, and we took a 10 minute break. At this point, I’d been sitting in the room for three hours.

It took another hour to get through the next bill, which would place restrictions on citizens with juvenile records from purchasing firearms, and finally, at around 6 p.m., Senator Adam Morfeld read in LB 886.

Prior to Morfeld’s speech, the chair of the committee asked the crowd, “How many of you in the room plan to testify either for or against this bill?”

I saw over a dozen hands go up.

And I wondered if I should speak. I had written my comments–could they possibly be any different from what the other people would say? Maybe I could just save them and send as a letter if the bill made it to a floor vote. It was so late, and I was hungry, and Stueve had brought six kids to report on the hearing. Everyone in the room could go home three minutes earlier if I didn’t speak.

I turned to Stueve and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t speak.”

And I don’t remember his response, but it was akin to this:

giphy (1)

And then I remembered that I sat through two hours of testimony about cannibis and dammit, I was going to take my three minutes.

(Yes, the situation warranted a swear.)

So I moved to the front row and after several others testified in support of the bill, I added my voice to the many. I nearly ran out of time, because in all of my practice runs, I forgot to factor in that I would have to say and spell my name. Precious seconds, when limited to 180 total.

And I’m glad I testified. Not because I think anything I said was going to persuade the committee either way, but because if I’ve learned anything the past year, it’s that I can no longer be a passive recipient of the benefits of democracy. Instead, I need to be an active participant.

And whether it’s voting, making phone calls, writing letters, or showing up and testifying before a committee in support of or opposition to legislation, active participants are the people who will keep the democracy strong. And I don’t want to be left out of that hard work.

In another life, setting policy was the career goal. Spending six hours in a hearing room at times made me wistful for that road not taken. But in the past 24 hours, as I’ve seen multiple reasons why teaching has been the right road for me these past 17 years, I also realized there’s no reason why I can’t travel the policy road in the future.

#CureHazelwood

Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 5-3, that high school student journalists should not be afforded the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists.

They decided this, despite the decision 20 years prior, that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional right to free speech when stepping on school grounds. Instead, the Rehnquist court decided to splice up the First Amendment: Mary Beth and John Tinker had a right to free speech, because it was not sponsored by the school. The journalists at Hazelwood East High School did not have a right to free press because the school paid to print the paper.

That’s the watered-down version, of course, but you get the gist.

Thomas Jefferson said “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” What better place to train student journalists of this vital responsibility than in a school setting, with supports around them, so that should they choose journalism as a career, they have a strong foundation in ethical, solid journalism?

I’m probably being incendiary here, but I wonder what the current journalistic landscape would look like if 30 years of Hazelwood did not enable the censorship of  thousands of high school and college journalists (because yes, while Hazelwood’s intent was to stifle high school press, college administrators misuse it on their campuses to censor their journalists). Would we have journalists better trained in law and ethics? Would we have more journalists well-versed in reporting and fewer journalists well-versed in people-pleasing? Would we have journalists more interested in reporting news than moderating pundits? Would our news networks contain a little less public relations work and demand a little more accountability?

We’ll never know. But we might be able to turn the tide.

Currently several states have pending legislation that would restore full First Amendment protections to student journalists. One such bill, LB 886 in Nebraska, would protect high school and college journalists. The bill specifies that stories that are libelous, violate state or federal law, incite violence, disrupt the school day, or invade privacy of sources are not protected.

This bill is not a free-for-all for students to turn their newspapers and websites into mini-TMZs.

But it could allow students to report that a principal lied during the hiring process.  Kansas, by the way? They have a state law that protects high school journalists. That’s why those reporters could write this story.

LB 886 could also prevent the current PR nightmare Herriman High School is managing:

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 7.23.48 PM

Utah? No law there protecting student journalists. And now, the administrators have become the story. (I was a newspaper adviser in Utah for a year, and before my students even had a chance to publish one story, he told me, “The Supreme Court says I can censor anything you try to publish, so let’s make this a good experience for everyone.”)

When I think of the stories my students could write but don’t, for fear of censorship, it breaks my heart. And I’m lucky–I have a supportive administration that trusts me to do my job as an adviser. But I know my reporters self-censor all the time. To be honest, I probably point them in that direction sometimes, as much as it pains me.

Thirty years is too long. It’s time to cure Hazelwood. Our liberty depends on it.

 

Labels and Plans.

On a piece of scratch paper at my sister’s dining room table in Delaware, I wrote this list:

• Apple Distinguished Educator
• Google Certified Teacher
• Certified Journalism Educator
• Adobe Certified Associate
• Piano teacher
• Jazzercise instructor

“I can’t be all of this,” I told her. “I’m trying to, and it’s not good. But I’m not sure what I want to be, or what I should be. I don’t know what I want.”

This mini-meltdown was early in my 2017 summer road trip, and one of many things that occupied my mind as I drove for hours and hours. I eliminated Jazzercise instructor, for now, because while it would be fun, it definitely isn’t necessary. I currently only have two piano students, and I’m not quite ready to let them go. Two is manageable with my schedule, so that label stays, but I’ve also reached a point where when they decide they’ve had enough, so will I.

But the rest? I put my journalism skills to use as I considered each label. Why was it important to me? How would it affect my life, both long and short-term? When would I get all of the work done? Who would I be if I was able to amass each label? What would happen to me if I failed in each attempt to add letters at the end of my email signature?

This exercise proved helpful, as I realized my desire to be an Apple Distinguished Educator was driven by a desire to be part of a club I perceived as “cool.” That’s not a good enough reason to put in the work required for that particular moniker, so now I can cross that off the list.

Which leaves me with three pursuits—a much more manageable endeavor than six.

Luckily, working toward Google Certification and Adobe Certification are goals I can meet concurrently with my teaching load. I teach in a Google school. I teach a class that uses Adobe Creative Cloud exclusively. With the right planning, I can do both. It might take me longer than others, but I’m confident I will succeed.

Which leaves me with Certified (and eventually Master) Journalism Educator.

For 17 years now, all I’ve wanted to be is a newspaper adviser, and now I am. So it makes sense that I should want the backing of a larger organization to recognize not only my love for journalism, but also my capabilities. I’ve put off this particular label because it’s scary. I have to study, take a test—one that is only offered three times a year—and what happens if I fail? I feel like I’ve failed so much lately that taking another chance almost seems foolish.

But then I remember the most important label on that initial list of six: teacher. Educator. What message am I sending to my students if I put something off—something I want—because I’m afraid I’ll fail? And what’s the worst that could happen if I fail, anyway? How on earth can I expect my students to take any risks if I’m standing in front of them unwilling to take risks myself?

So I’ll make a plan and I’ll work hard, and eventually get those certifications and hope my students learn two valuable lessons: first, you don’t have to be everything. And second, fear of failing should never be an excuse not to do something.

15 Years.

On this exact date 15 years ago, I (finally!) graduated from college. I’d spent a semester student teaching English and Journalism, and while I balked at the Journalism assignment when I received it, that placement ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. I knew I wanted to be a newspaper adviser someday.

Someday arrived one year later, when the newspaper adviser at Murray High School in Salt Lake City decided to retire. Knowing my student teaching experience (and I may have put a bug or two in his ear), my principal offered me the position. To prepare for the job, I attended the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Washington, D.C. In a session specifically for high school teachers, I met three people who really impressed me with how they approached publications advising. I soaked up everything I could from them. I kinda wanted to be them when I grew up.

At the beginning of 2015, I applied for the American Society of Newspaper Editor’s Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. The institute takes place at the University of Texas, Arizona State, Kent State, and another school that I can’t recall, because its institute didn’t work with my summer schedule. I was selected for the program and placed at Kent, which feels like a homecoming of sorts, since I completed my Master’s degree at Bowling Green State, a mere two and a half hours away.

Today I received the first set of instructions to prepare for the Institute. The welcome letter included the names of our teachers–the same teachers I met and admired at that AEJMC conference so many years ago.

To say I am excited is an understatement. I am beyond thrilled, and can’t wait to spend an entire week not only learning from them, but also learning from the other advisers who will be part of the institute.

Some days, I just can’t believe my luck.