About halfway through my first year teaching yearbook at a small private school in Lawrence, Kan., I realized that my students’ motivation was waning. The problem? The editing staff wanted yearbooks to matter, but they weren’t sure that they did.
My students had neither the time nor the money to attend yearbook workshops or conventions, so I began looking for other ways to support my assertions that yearbooks were important.
Lisa Simpson was on the yearbook staff. So was Veronica Mars… briefly. And yearbook distribution days are featured in countless TV shows and movies. So with the help of a DVD player, I re-taught some of the lessons I had covered early in the year:
Inclusion is important
Nearly every yearbook adviser has, at some point, given a speech about the importance of including everyone in the yearbook. “If we don’t include an event, a person, a class,” we say, “then in 20 years, that event, person or class may as well not exist. People remember things the way we cover them.”
Yearbook staffs are incredibly powerful that way. But with that power, comes awesome responsibility.
Driving home this point is a challenge, because we have to talk in hypotheticals; concrete examples of what was left out of a yearbook are difficult to come by. Which, when you think about it, just proves the point.
I’ve turned to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for help teaching this lesson.
In that show’s episode “Homecoming” (season 3, episode 5), Buffy misses her last chance to have her portrait taken for the yearbook and begins to panic about being forgotten. She decides to run for Homecoming Queen to secure her place in history. “I just thought, Homecoming Queen…,” she says, “I could pick up a yearbook someday and say, ‘I was there, I went to high school, I had friends and, for one moment, I got to live in the world.’ And there’d be proof, proof that I was chosen for something other than this. Besides, I look cute in a tiara.”
This idea, that the yearbook is a record that students at your school “got to live in the world” is central to the importance of yearbooks.
Adults read their old yearbooks
The most difficult thing my editors faced on a daily basis was a strong conviction that nobody outside of the yearbook room was ever going to read their book. A fall-delivery deadline schedule and “yearbook signing” at the end of the school year that was nothing more than an hour for kids to sign tip-ins that they could stick in after the summer did nothing to drum up excitement about the book at school. However, I was armed with a strong belief that yearbooks would be important to our student body someday and a Blockbuster card.
The movie clip I chose to show my students was from the first half of the 2003 remake of Cheaper by the Dozen, but movies and television shows that show adults leafing through yearbooks or reading inscriptions are easy to find. Friends (season 8, episode 9), Joan of Arcadia (season 2, episode 2), Just Shoot Me (season 2, episode 10) and Zoey 101 (season 2, episode 2) are just a few TV shows that rely on yearbooks to drive a plot.
Yearbooks are important to strangers, too
Yearbooks are — or will be — important to the students who attend your school. However, yearbooks are more than memory and story books. Yearbooks are often used by law enforcement officers, journalists and historians for research, fact checking and identifications. Veronica Mars (season 2, episode 19) drives home this point when Veronica’s father, a private investigator, discovers that a local woman had stolen the identity of a woman who had died in a car crash by cross-referencing yearbook photos and names.
Several episodes of Law and Order, including season 13, episode 2, also show law enforcement officers using yearbooks to check facts and solve crimes.
These episodes can also be used to explain to students that accuracy in yearbooks is imperative. If the information is wrong in the yearbook, it could be misleading in an investigation or perpetuate an error in news reports or other books.
To keep us from spending the rest of the year watching TV and neglecting deadlines, my staff only watched a handful of the available TV shows and movies that contained yearbook references. However, as the year progressed the staff kept a list of yearbook references in the movies. Often, these yearbook sightings would become topics of conversations and my editors would steer class discussions toward the lessons that could be learned from how the writers had used yearbooks on TV and in the movies.
Thank you, Hollywood.