A Small, Unnoticed Beauty.

Today I took my Desktop Publishing classes outside for “Photo Friday.” This is a recurring plan I have, these Photo Fridays, where I give them a theme and remind them of photo composition rules and let them loose. Then we come back to the classroom, they make minor edits to their best photo, and we look at all of them as a class.

It was a gorgeous day, so today’s theme was “Take a photo of a small, unnoticed beauty.”

Most of the photos were of leaves beginning to bud on tree branches, flowers peeking out from bushes, messages written in chalk on the cement in the courtyard, or dandelions sprouting in sidewalk cracks or through bright red mulch.

But then there was this photo.

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And I am not a fan of this photo. I look at it and see a lot of flaws. When this photo popped up the big screen, the class giggled, and the student who took it said something about me and beauty that I can’t remember now, but sometimes I can’t tell when kids are being serious and when they are being sneakily mean.

But with this particular student, I am choosing to believe she was serious. I may not look my most traditionally beautiful in this photo, but I hope what she sees in this photo is a teacher who advocates for her, a teacher who worries about her, a teacher who believes in her.

And if that’s what she sees in this photo, then I think she nailed the assignment.

We Interrupt These Six Word Stories…

This school year, I’ve composed a six word story about each day. While at school, I am on the lookout for the funny, the inspiring, the poignant. Some days I have too many six word stories to choose from. Some days, there’s nothing.

And then there are the days when the six word stories I could compose would invite speculation or questions. Today was one of those days. The only things I could think to write must exist in my personal journal, and most likely will live only in my memories and perhaps an occasional conversation.

It didn’t help that I woke up sad, so some of today’s events just augmented that sadness. I started to panic a little because spring break has started, and breaks are notoriously difficult for me.

And then this post popped up in my Facebook memories.

I can’t quite articulate how much work it is to keep my depression in line. Work I often do not want to do.

Here’s a scene: at 3:00 p.m. today, I’m sitting in our office with Stueve, and students are milling in and out of our office, grabbing equipment and asking questions. I know I should eat my yogurt and granola, because I know I should go to Jazzercise at 4. But I don’t want to do any of those things. And I say it out loud, I don’t want to eat my yogurt and I don’t want to go to Jazzercise.

I want Cheetos and Ding Dongs and an 8-hour escape to Stars Hollow.

And the student sitting in a chair in our office said, “You should eat your yogurt and you should go to Jazzercise because you know you’ll feel better if you do.”

She’s right. I know I’ll feel even marginally better if I do. So I eat my yogurt and I go to Jazzercise, and I feel marginally better.

It’s the first night of spring break, and here’s what I know: writing will help, and scheduling time with friends will help, and working a little will help, and watching movies will help and of course, yogurt and Jazzercise will help make sure the next ten days won’t send me into a spiral.

So here’s today’s six word story: Some days, you do what’s necessary. #EvenWhenYouDontWantTo.

 

 

Oh, Teenagers.

In recent weeks, I have read and heard a myriad of complaints about today’s high school kids. I am weary of the broad brush used to paint these individuals.

I’ve been teaching high school now for 17 years, and every year, I defend the kids I teach more and more. And while I readily admit there’s some kids that have tested every nerve, I have a news flash for you:

The adults in public education have made me want to quit way more often than the kids.

Teens are impetuous?

So are adults.

Teens are self-absorbed?

So are adults.

Teens are easily manipulated?

So are adults.

Teens are disrespectful?

So are adults.

Teens are reckless?

So are adults.

Come at me with all of your examples of teens who are just The Worst, and not only will I counter with teens who are just The Best, but I’ll also provide examples of adults exhibiting the same behavior you’re complaining about.

It is unacceptable to point to the younger generation of your choice as the source for societal problems. It is past time we start harnessing their passion, ingenuity, and skills to make the world better, instead of scrutinizing their methods as impractical, based on the sole reason of  “that’s not how we do things.”

Stop vilifying teens, start listening to them.

Stop ostracizing teens, start mentoring them.

Every day, teens impress me. Every day, teens surprise me. Every day, teens inspire me.

Allow for the possibility that they can do the same for you.

 

 

#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:

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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.

 

I Love Public Schools.

Today is I Love Public Schools day, an initiative of the non-profit organization NELovesPS. This non-profit has spent the past several years traveling the state, telling the stories of Nebraska Public Schools at a most crucial time.

Nebraska’s current governor, Pete Ricketts, has made no secret about his desires to thwart public education–though he wouldn’t use the word “thwart,” he’d use the word “reform.” He advocates “alternative pay structures” for teachers (code for doing away with unions); he advocates for the proliferation of charter schools (his father funded one just down the road from where I teach); he advocates for voucher systems.

Then, just last week, a state senator introduced a bill that would give the governor control over the state Department of Education.

Not for nothing: Ricketts himself donated to that state senator’s campaign.

Here’s what I always find interesting: when pollsters ask Americans their opinions about public schools in the U.S., their satisfaction is dismal–Gallup’s most recent poll has that number at 47% general satisfaction. But if you break that down to local schools? That satisfaction number almost doubles, to 82%.

What does this tell us?

People, in general, like their local schools. So here’s some things I really like about Bellevue West High School, where I teach.

  • We have an admin team that supports student journalism and encourages us to grow.
  • We have a stellar fine arts program.
  • We have students every year who get into fantastic colleges.
  • Our alumni succeed in college–at both under- and post-graduate levels.
  • Our athletic teams are competitive.
  • We have several AP course offerings.
  • We have partnerships with UNMC, Metro, the Henry Doorly Zoo, and other local businesses that give students current, real world experiences.

There are really good things going on in public schools. And if you think there aren’t good things happening in your local schools, then do something about it. Volunteer. Run for school board. Go to Donors Choose and fund a project. Support NELovesPS.

Nebraska has always done a pretty good job of keeping educational boondoggles at bay, instead relying on local districts to make sure they are giving children a quality education–often with much fewer resources than other states.

There’s much to love about Nebraska Public Schools. If you can’t find anything to love about public schools yourself, go ask a teacher to educate you.