Finding a Niche

Written by Lynn Bare-Hester

It is registration time and we’ve put up posters saying, “Yearbook wants you.” We’ve run announcements advertising the yearbook class and distributed applications to interested students. Registration finishes and my principal calls me up to pick up the preliminary list. In addition to those students that my staff and I worked hard to recruit are students I don’t know.

I pull out my yearbook and start to look them up. Do they look like hard workers? It’s hard to tell. I put out feelers to find out if other teachers in my department know them. The responses come back. “Yes, I know her. She is a hard worker, but not a good writer.” Yes, I know him. He loves this school but he isn’t a good writer.”

When I first started advising 13 years ago, I wanted to handpick my students. My predecessor had done so and always had good books. I was oh so picky. I wanted people who had a strong interest in writing or photography or computers. I wanted a skill I could really capitalize on. I hovered over guidance like a hawk in the summer to make sure that I didn’t become a dumping ground for someone who just needed a class. I would take the preliminary list and get rid of any student who didn’t meet my strict guidelines.

Then it happened. I let Jonathan sign up for yearbook.

Jonathan was a great English student. He liked to read and he was enthusiastic so I recruited him from my freshman college prep class. He brought those skills with him to yearbook, but he was so unorganized. That first year was so bad. He couldn’t meet deadlines. We all helped him but it was frustrating because he just didn’t get the concept of late deadlines equals more money due to overtime at the plant. But, as I watched and tried to help him get organized and meet those deadlines, I had an epiphany. While this young man couldn’t meet a deadline, he had so many other talents.

He could take award-winning pictures. He could get good quotes out of people because he had the gift of gab. He could lift boxes and move lines of people on distribution day. One year, when our theme was “Mooving Forward” and the cover looked like a cowhide, he even dressed in a cow costume on distribution day and worked the crowd as we gave out the yearbooks. He could make everyone else feel good about what they did because he was always so complimentary about the talents of his peers. Not a day went by that he didn’t put a smile on someone’s face.

Jonathan taught me more that I taught him. He taught me that everyone has a skill that we can use in the yearbook room. I quit being picky. Now I work with the staff over the first two to three weeks of school and identify strengths and weaknesses. When I identify these strengths, I adjust assignments and deadlines to best utilize those talents. If I have someone who can take great pictures and isn’t afraid to get in the middle of the action, that person doesn’t complete as many layouts, but that person takes a lot of our pictures. If I have an organized person who isn’t a great writer or photographer, I use him or her to help with record keeping and billing. Sometimes I have someone who just has a lot of school pride and not much more. That person is just as important as the editor. That is the person who doesn’t mind going out to get quotes, or sell ads, or just help file photos and pictures.

I’ve learned that my staff is much happier if I don’t try and handpick every single staff member. If I take those who sign up, work with those students and learn their strengths, then we have a happier and more productive staff. Thanks to Jonathan, I know that it is better to take those dedicated students who come to school and want to contribute. With that hard-working and eclectic group, we have an awesome staff and awesome yearbook every year.

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Lynn Bare-Hester