March 1, 2012 / Spring 2012 / Teaching Moments

Adviser learns from students, support groups

Written by Jessica Young

At the moment the call came about a job interview for my current job as English teacher and newspaper adviser, and eventually yearbook adviser, at Orange Glen High School, I was straddling my fluorescent pink suitcase, waging war to close the bag’s zipper. I debated, but hopped off my suitcase, allowing shoes, shirts and unmentionables to spill onto my bed, and answered.

When hired, I was informed the newspaper was struggling; it lacked student support and quality contents. I poured over old copies of the paper, identifying strengths and weaknesses. I familiarized myself with the writing styles of returning writers. I sent letters inviting staff members to meet me and discuss the upcoming year. I was convinced I held the perfect prescription for saving their newspaper.

But the students hated my ideas for layouts, editing circles, deadlines and personal accountability. I had hoped my excitement for journalism would infuse a similar passion in my students, but instead, I just overwhelmed them. It never occurred to me that my interest in rejuvenating their publication could be interpreted as condescending, disrespectful and disconnected from their paper’s goals.

For the first month of school, I relived the war against my giant, pink suitcase. I was stuffing my students full of design and AP style. But they were simply waiting for me to let go of the zipper so they could reject my ideas. I realized I had to reorganize and repack. I needed to acknowledge my students’ experience, and strategically squeeze in new concepts. I simply could not tug the zipper shut and force my students to do everything the way I thought they should.

Building on these initial lessons helped my newspaper program grow in strength and size. Now as yearbook adviser, innumerable obstacles have presented themselves, such as staff management, organization and effective editing techniques. Connecting with a variety of resources has helped me overcome these challenges.

My Walsworth yearbook sales representative is my biggest supporter. I have a wealth of contacts in the Journalism Education Association (JEA), including an outstanding mentor and friend in Konnie Krislock.

I am also incredibly fortunate to have an administrative staff that values the work of my student journalists and recognizes that their publications are learning tools.

I simply couldn’t do what I do without the support system I have built for myself from colleagues, friends and the JEA Listserv. I am not the first person to set out on this journey, and I’m not the first person who has ever struggled to fit everything into my students’ suitcases — others have done it successfully and they will share their methods if I just ask.

Every year is like a new trip for the staff and me. We have to prepare for our trip, remembering to leave room in our bags for the lessons and knowledge we are going to gather along our route.  As an adviser I know my itinerary may differ from my students’, but our destination is the same — to create a publication that we can all be proud of.

Jessica Young

Jessica Young, MJE, teaches photography and advises the yearbook and newspaper at Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif. Young was named a 2012 Rising Star by the Journalism Education Association (JEA). She is the President of the San Diego Journalism Education Association and was co-chair of the local committee for the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Diego in April 2014. Young also is a member of the Quill and Scroll board of trustees and directors.