Hiring Heart

Written by Christina Geabhart

They can’t always spell.
They can’t always read.
They can’t always write.

However, I have found Individualized Education Plan (IEP) students deserve a spot on my yearbook staff as much as the straight-A-in-every-English-class students.

As a young teacher in my second year, I found myself with a student who desperately wanted to pursue photography beyond the basic darkroom class. As a dyslexic, she had not turned in a perfect caption to date. She possessed anger management issues and fears of approaching strangers. Her average photography skills would normally not make the cut for yearbook staff, but she sure tried those last few weeks of 2004. Besides, what did I really know since I had never selected my own staff before?

If heart was what she had to offer, heart – I hired.

IEP students need special accommodations in their classes, such as a need to sit close to the board or use calculators. A plan is set that determines how individual teachers will help the student meet goals for improvement.

In yearbook class, it has been a long road – lots of practice; thousands of rewrites; drafts by the ton. And watching her conquer her limitations has inspired me to work harder and push myself further as a teacher.

There have been ups when someone loves her work or she earns an award; and there have been downs when other staffers do not understand why it takes her so long to complete a work or she feels she has hit a slump.

But each and every day brings her closer to meeting her IEP goals and her personal goals. And each and every day opens my eyes and the eyes of her fellow staffers.

I feel that by including her and other IEP students on staff, it not only helps them as students, but broadens the understanding of other staff members. Staff members have learned a great deal of photography from her, as well as her philosophy of photography and life. They now understand everyone possesses different talents and contributes differently to a whole staff. I learned patience. I understand that students who might require more of me as a teacher also give back more in return.

In an editorial for the school newspaper, she was asked to talk about her most influential teacher. “It was freshmen year when a teacher took a leap of faith in asking me to join her yearbook staff. I wasn’t the best photographer she had but she believed in me like no one else had…. Not only has she given me a chance to be a part of something meaningful, she has pushed me to be the person I want to be.”

She still can’t spell.

She still trips over words when reading.

She writes draft after draft to reach an acceptable level.

But in her heart she’s a world-class photojournalist with her finger on the shutter button.

  • Courtney Light

    Oh, wow, G!
    I was googling you looking for the newest article published in the paper about you when I stumbled upon this. I’ve never read a full story of yours before, and this article is amazing! I should have expected something this powerful and inspirational from you especially.
    When I read this I can see this little girl, and now i realise what you want me to be!
    Thank you so much for everything!
    Courtney.

Christina Geabhart

Christina Geabhart, CJE, has taught yearbook and newspaper for more than 10 years, as well as broadcast for five years, at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Mo. She was a 2009 Dow Jones News Fund Distinguished Adviser and the Missouri Journalism Teacher of the Year. Prior to teaching, she worked as a reporter and editor for Kansas City metro newspapers.