Dream Job.

It was a rough week.

I really thought that last Sunday’s meltdown would be the worst of it, but I was wrong, and the hits just kept on comin’.

Saturday I spent six hours at school for the last newspaper deadline of the year. I started doing this a couple of years ago when we switched printers and no longer needed seven business days between layout and delivery. Kids come in on Saturdays and get the bulk of the work done. Since we started doing this, they aren’t at school as late or as often during the week, and therefore, neither am I.

During Saturday’s work session, an editor and I were chatting about how technology has made layout so much easier. I told him that when I was student teaching, layout was more difficult because of how we had to print and then physically paste up the pieces on broadsheet grid paper. Another student asked, “Did you enjoy your student teaching experience here?”

And I told him the story that I’m sure I’ve written about before–how disappointed I was when I got my student teaching assignment because once I decided on a career in teaching, I was all about literature. I only wanted to teach literature and writing and grammar and everything that made English wonderful. When I learned I’d only be teaching one English class and the rest of my assignment was journalism, I almost asked for a new assignment.

But I’m a rule follower and a make-lemons-out-of-lemonade kinds of person, so I stuck with it.

“It changed my life,” I told him.

“So how do you feel about teaching journalism now?” he asked.

“It’s my dream job,” I said.

I didn’t even have to think twice before I said it. Despite knowing I have to say goodbye to seniors who’ve changed our program dramatically, despite frustrations at nearly every turn this week, it’s still my dream job.

I’m glad he asked that question, because my answer reminded me that I’m still where I want to be, where I choose to be. And knowing I choose to be here makes it just a little bit easier to handle the rough patches.

Rejection.

Six years ago, I got everything I wanted.

Offer to teach at a Johns Hopkins University summer program? Yep.

A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study at Amherst College? Yep.

Present at the National Council of Teachers of English conference? Yep.

All things I applied for, all things I got. I felt pretty invincible.

Lately, though, I’ve been on a string of rejections. My students’ journalism work is not recognized as quality by state organizations or local universities. I didn’t receive a small scholarship to help with the cost of graduate classes. I applied to be an Apple Distinguished Educator and was denied. I’m currently waiting to hear back from NCTE again to see if I will present at their fall conference, and waiting to hear about a program with the Journalism Education Association.

I don’t expect to get either opportunity.

So it appears I peaked at 38.

My students deal with rejection all the time: positions on teams that don’t fall their way, scholarship money denied, colleges who say “Thanks, but no thanks.” So I see my recent streak of rejection as a chance to teach them: here’s how you handle it.

Don’t throw a tantrum.

Don’t look to blame others.

Don’t give up.

Reflect honestly on why you wanted whatever it was.

Decide if you still want it.

If you do still want it, reflect honestly on what went wrong. This can be painful at first, but most growth is painful. Identify what needs to change. Then, change. This is also at times painful, but reaps the most benefits.

If you don’t still want it, move on. Find another passion, another achievement, another goal. Reflect honestly on why you want it, then reflect honestly on what it takes to get it.

Then work. Work hard. Put down the phone, turn off Netflix, and sometimes, tell your friends, “Not this weekend.”

Rejection is a hard teacher. In my 17-year career, I’ve been referred to as a “hard teacher”–a label I quite enjoy. Because I know from my own education that the hardest teachers taught me the most, but only when I was willing to listen.

What is rejection telling me now?

Be honest. And don’t quit.

 

Write Through It.

This week in my newspaper class, we’ve been refocusing a bit. Recently awarded the status of “All-American” by the National Scholastic Press Association, we celebrated Monday by reading through the judge’s comments and suggestions. We discussed how to make the paper better. Then Tuesday, we tackled our website. Wednesday and Thursday, we dug into a journalism writing book and talked about our writing and our story ideas and how we can improve them.

It’s been a delightful week with my staff, a week that I’ve been able to remember why, 17 years ago, I took a hard left with my career path and said, “I want to be a newspaper adviser.”

It’s also been a hard week, as I’m adapting to a new schedule, one I’ve never had before–I am teaching 4 different classes back to back and it is messing with my brain. I’m exhausted. By Wednesday I realized I needed to recalibrate my ambitious schedule for the week and allow myself some downtime (nap, clear out the TiVo, watch basketball) lest I suffer a meltdown at an inopportune time. Knowing a meltdown was imminent, I also knew writing would help.

I’ve opened a post here on my blog every day this week, and haven’t written a thing. Just stared at a blank space, checked Twitter, stared at a blank space, checked Facebook, stared at a blank space, checked Instagram…you get the idea.

During our discussion about writing, my newspaper staff wanted to know how I get over writer’s block.

“Write about the writer’s block,” I told them. “Just write nonsense until it starts making sense.”

Funny how I’m able to give advice so freely that I don’t take for myself.

 

A Note From A Private Citizen.

For the first time in 42 years, the voters in my school district are being asked to vote on a $76 million bond for the public schools. I’ve hesitated blogging about this, because I’m a teacher and its passage or failure will impact my daily life. But I’m guessing most votes have been cast, as they are due by 5 p.m. tomorrow, so here are my thoughts, late as they might be.

As I’ve drafted and drafted and drafted what I could have possibly added to the white noise of “for” and “against,” I’ve boiled it down to these thoughts:

  1. Please do not hold present leaders accountable for the decisions of past leaders. Yes, oversight is important. Yes, fiscal responsibility is important. But please understand that every year for the past several, we have been cutting. Myself and most extra-curricular sponsors took pay cuts. We are limited in our copy budget. We no longer provide tissues for students–I typically spend $40 a year on tissues because students don’t bring boxes to share, as is so common in the elementary schools. Computers that should’ve been replaced years ago are limping along. Please don’t think we’ve been living high on the hog the past five years. Quite the opposite.
  2. Weigh the cost of the bond against the following factors:
    • Property valuations possibly falling as families move to Papillion, Westside, Millard, Elkhorn–incidentally, all districts that have passed more than one bond in the past 42 years.
    • A loss of quality teachers who, despite love of career and children, can no longer justify teaching in a district without needed resources or safety concerns addressed.
    • Private school tuition costs for when the public schools can no longer support the students they way parents have grown accustomed to.

I think one of the negative repercussions of the Internet is that we, as a society, increasingly expect quality content for free. We complain about newspaper paywalls or Netflix price increases because we are somehow entitled to everything. But we aren’t. And though John Dewey advocated for “free” public education for all, it’s never really been free. Like 911 services, road improvements and libraries, schools have always had a price.

Communities that balk at the price tag face dire consequences. 

For a student perspective on school funding, here’s the opinion of the editorial board of the newspaper I advise.

 

Without Labor, Nothing Prospers.

I’m looking back at the 90+ drafts I have here on my blog. Here’s one I started last November. I originally titled it “Football From Where I Sit.” When I finished it tonight, I took a different direction. The new title is a quote from Sophocles.

Two years ago, one of the assistant football coaches brought a contraption down to my classroom and said, “I thought you and your journalism staff might be interested in this. You can use this website called High School Cube and broadcast games.”

The wheels in my mind took off. I researched the product and the website and thought we just might be able to make it work. A rabid sports fan myself, I’d been trying to build more sports coverage into the journalism program. That season, we just ran video for football. No audio. We taped up the mic as best we could and stayed absolutely silent in the booth. By basketball season, we added one microphone, shared by two commentators. By spring, we purchased an amp, soundboard, and headset mics.

So I (along with Stueve) spent several Friday nights last season in the press box at our school’s football stadium, teaching student journalists on the fly how to call a football game. We don’t have an official broadcast class, instead we have an ad hoc curriculum comprised of our journalism training, decades of watching sports, and the sports knowledge of the students covering the games. Most of the time, this does not feel like work.

From the height of the press box, I get a panoramic view of the players, the trainers, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the band, the crowd, and in the midst of it all–a wee horde of journalists.

I rarely sit during these games, too hopped up on adrenaline, hoping everything goes okay during the live broadcast, fixing things when they don’t. Yet my feet don’t hurt (until I am sitting in my car) and I don’t feel tired (until I get home). It’s hard work, broadcasting these games, but it’s work the kids enjoy.

Like many public schools, we keep doing more with less in our journalism department, but I’m okay with that. I hope that in addition to the journalism skills our students learn every year, that they learn the value of hard work. As our program grows, so does our follower, viewer, and reader audience. We prosper, because we labor. And if that means a handful of late Friday nights, then it’s worth it.