May 6, 2009 / Whitt and Wisdom

How to manage the yearbook counselors’ class

Written by Anne G. Whitt, MJE

Next year’s staff was selected by the middle of April. Positions were set in May. In July the entire staff went to camp, where they named and organized the new book. The 12-member staff won the theme-packet competition and came home ready to take pictures and write stories.

Then school started.

Two weeks into the new session two seniors could not fit yearbook into their schedules. Even worse, Guidance sent 12 more students who could not fit in anything else. Besides Ceramics, taught the same period, already had 36 students and Yearbook now had only 10.

Finally, no more schedule changes are allowed. The adviser is stuck with this new, untrained class from the counselor. The class meets at the same time in the same room the theme-winning class meets.

The original staff refuses to drop the quality of the book for those new people.

To further complicate matters, some of those new people expect to receive A’s at report card time.

Accepting those students was not the adviser’s choice. What use to make of them is. This decision will affect the book. It may also affect the futures of the students. It depends on what the adviser decides to do.

First realize, if this all-to-frequent vignette frustrates the adult adviser, it even more annoys the student editor who thought she had everything under control.

This situation might be branded Impossible and forgotten if it had not so often played successfully.

Roseanne came to class in one such move. She did not especially love English. She never would have chosen Yearbook. Taking pictures would be OK. She did not really know how. She might have spent the year feeling miserable if she had not seen the adviser chock three bulging money bags into a drawer, lock the drawer and go on about the room.

The sophomore approached the adviser. “I know how to count money. My mom is the bookkeeper at a restaurant downtown. I know how to stack bills and wrap them. I know how to record checks. I would like to make that my job. You really should not leave money around like that.”

With a book in six figures, the staff soon saw Roseanne play an important role.

Two years later Roseanne’s senior English teacher made the assignment, “An event that changed my life.” Roseanne’s essay began, “My sophomore year I was placed against my wishes in yearbook class.” She ended the essay with, “Who would have imagined that taking a class I didn’t want would give me the confidence I needed to succeed in school.”

Ernie came as a freshman just after school started. His counselor said, “Only two classes are options for you at this late date. You may take Home Ec or Journalism.”

To Ernie, school was what had to be done from morning until time to play soccer. No. He would not take Home Ec. He would take that other course.

The nationally rated goalie caught on quick to this investigative business, to knowing everything before everybody else. He could write a decent story, especially sports stories. He knew the heart of the athlete. He found real stories behind the headlines.

By senior year Ernie was editor, even as he earned a full scholarship on his soccer.

Clarene lacked training. She also seemed to lack any yearbook-related skills. Actually, she might not have had a left side to her brain. She would not watch anyone use the computer program. She would not accompany any of the experienced staff on missions. All she wanted to do was sit as far as she could from anyone else and doodle.

When the DECA teacher began talking about going to New York City in the fall and California in the spring, Clarene remembered how the yearbook adviser had offered students 10 percent of their ad money to a school-related expense. Clarene figured she needed to sell $3,000 in ads to earn the $300 each student had to pay toward the New York trip.

Suddenly the phone belonged to Clarene. She earned the trip to New York and set out to earn California. Then it was prom tickets. In the history of the school no other single student brought in so much ad money in one year.

Drew’s first announcement to the class was that he was diabetic. He showed the insulin pump and alerted everyone that he was not hiding a cell phone at his waist. That said, he set out to explore the classroom. He opened a door to one of the back rooms and made a dramatic sound. He demanded of the adviser. “Why are all these computers back here?”

“Any one either does not work or its OS is too old. They have school tags, so we can’t dispose of them.”

Those teacher answers seemed lame to Drew. Without any further questions, Drew embarked on his year-long project and doubled the number of usable computers, which of course, he networked. On the side, he wrote a manual so the next staff could keep the system working.

The conclusion of this whole matter begins with the recognition that school is real life. Classes are full of students. Some we choose. Some we do not. But as advisers, we are the adults. We are not to grow for the students. We are not to bend them to fit our images. We are to be alert to opportunities that allow our varied students to develop themselves. The yearbook needs a variety of talents.

Usually after the parents see such drastic changes in students who find their unique niches, more benefits come to the staff. Roseanne’s mother talked her employer into giving the staff a beautiful lunch in one of its very nice private rooms. The adviser did not have to lift a finger or spend a penny.

We do not have to ask counselors to send us leftovers, but we help ourselves when we learn their value.

Anne G. Whitt, MJE

Anne Whitt, MJE, is a retired yearbook adviser who taught at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., and at the community college level. She was named a JEA Distinguished Adviser in 2000, and the yearbook earned state and national honors throughout the decades that she taught.