March 18, 2014 / Spring 2014 / Teaching Moments

From complaints to confidence

Written by Brandt Ayoub

Three years ago, a “spread” was Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner on the dining room table. A “gutter” was what I helped Dad clean leaves out of in the fall.  A yearbook was what I automatically received every year in college, but to which I paid little attention.

Then, at the conclusion of a promising interview for my first-ever teaching job, the principal broke the news that the position wasn’t simply to teach 9th grade English, but yearbook as well. As a recent grad desperately in need of a job, I eagerly accepted, and was quickly and painfully exposed to the unknown world of yearbook.

One week in, I was utterly overwhelmed. How do I work this online program? Where will I get all my pictures? What do my students do in class every day, when I have no pictures yet? Wait, I’m in charge of school picture day? Every day, I left work discouraged simply because I didn’t “get” it.  To top it off, I’d inherited a staff of students who were more interested in high school drama than anything yearbook-related.

That first year’s book was printed-and-bound evidence of my incompetence in advising a yearbook program.  When the book was released, I suddenly found errors I hadn’t seen in the less-than-thorough editing stage. Students’ names were scrambled. Caption size was inconsistent. Seniors’ photos were missing. Soon, parents and students complained; in fact, some parents threatened a lawsuit.

I began year two in utter fear of failure. So I micromanaged and graded every student, every day. I created checklists, rubrics and guidelines galore. I dedicated endless hours on Sunday afternoons to my yearbook program. I made certain the second book was successful (and it was!), but I exhausted myself in doing so. When I finally hit “submit” on the final page one month into my summer vacation, I vowed I would either figure out a way to successfully manage yearbook, or begin the job search.

I didn’t begin the job search. After dedicating minimal time over the summer into designing a newer curriculum, my yearbook class has improved remarkably. I attribute this improvement to the fact that I get it now. I know what to expect and how to prepare my students. I’ve found the balance between demanding individual responsibility and managing — but not micromanaging — each student. Students are apparently excited, the class is trying new marketing strategies, and we’ve selected a trendy theme that has the student body engaged in submitting its own photos. This year, it feels as if I’m leading a team, not micromanaging a random group of students.

It was common to hear me complain about my position as yearbook adviser during my first two years. But now, yearbook is (dare I say it?) fun! It’s rewarding to see students engaged in creating a trendy book; I’m comforted after the success of last year’s production.

In those first two years, I didn’t believe it was possible to ever feel confident in advising the program. However, I’ve transitioned to running a program with personal confidence. This year, that confidence has made all the difference.

  • David Massy

    I enjoyed your article. I’ve become a scanner instead of a reader but your lead grabbed my attention. I stop reading until there was no more to read. Thanks.

Brandt Ayoub

Brandt Ayoub teaches 9th grade English and Honors 9th grade English, in addition to teaching yearbook at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind. In looking for his first teaching job, Ayoub, with degrees in English and Spanish, was "hoping to teach, well, anything, anywhere," however, yearbook was not on his radar.