September 15, 2007 / Fall 2007 / Staff Management

New advisers can succeed

Written by Karen Ray

In a yearbook utopia, the new teacher would have a journalism degree, take photos like a pro, be able to manage a group of teenagers with aplomb and truly understand the importance of deadlines in the production of any publication.

In reality, though, the yearbook adviser many times has little or no publishing experience. He or she is expected to learn computers, photography, business and staff management, yearbook lingo, budgeting and journalistic writing while juggling a full teaching load.

According to national statistics, this kind of yearbook teacher lasts about two years. Even those with journalism degrees and publishing experience sometimes struggle. There are a number of problems that new teachers (and quite a few veterans) run into while producing the yearbook. Using the tips below could make for happier teachers who might continue to advise because their yearbook lives are much simpler, more satisfying and educationally effective.

Attend a workshop before the school year begins
Attending a great workshop or two to learn all phases of yearbook production is worth the time and money. Ask the principal to pay for it. Many workshops offer college credit or continuing education credits. And a big bonus is meeting and talking with other advisers to exchange information.

Trust but verify and set clear expectations

While some of the best students end up in the yearbook classroom, these are still teenagers who need guidance and direction. Set up a fail-proof grading system whereby they must show you their work in progress.

Thorun Crawford, former yearbook adviser and current Central Area sales manager for Walsworth, said that setting expectations is a must.

“The biggest mistake I see new advisers make is not clearly communicating to the kids what is expected of them and then not overseeing closely enough to see what is actually going on. They assume the kids will just do the right thing at the right time,” she said.

Communicate with parents and administrators
According to Kathy Craghead, 2003 JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year and just-retired veteran adviser at Mexico High School in Mexico, Mo., teachers sometimes get so overwhelmed with the actual production of the book that they overlook basic curricular expectations.

“I always tell young advisers to make the yearbook class as much like a traditional class as they can in certain areas. Principals and parents have certain expectations, particularly in the area of grades,” she said.

“During the teaching part of the class, give quizzes, projects and exams. Get points in the grade book. Use weekly calendars to keep up with who is doing what, then record these grades on a regular basis. Parents don’t have a grasp of when the deadlines are; they just want to go online and see how their child is doing in yearbook class this week,” Craghead said.

Let students do the work
Although yearbook often is a student-driven publication, many teachers fall into the trap of taking most of the photos, designing the spreads, selling ads and rewriting copy. No one wins in this scenario. The students do not have ownership of the book and the teacher will become overwhelmed with the amount of work to do.

Start production
This issue arises most frequently with staffs producing fall delivery books. There appears to be plenty of time before the first deadline, so students do not feel pressure to perform at their peak. When it comes time to begin working on a deadline, the precedent for putting off work has been set and is almost impossible to break. Keep them busy from Day 1.

Make the first deadline and the rest should follow
Deadlines are set for a reason. Books are scheduled to go through the plant based on the deadlines for each school. Missing the first deadline will snowball into missing the remaining deadlines. A school could have to pay charges to get their book on time or worse, not get the book until much later than the community expects. Parents get vocal about late yearbooks, and the principal, you and the staff do not want that pressure.

Read customer specification forms from the plant

Advisers need to look at the specification forms carefully to make sure the type of paper, size of the book, number of pages and elements are correct. Many book mistakes can be avoided with attention to these forms.

Stay on top of the budget
There are so many things to do that keeping track of the budget often gets pushed aside. Craghead said this is a huge mistake.

“I think new advisers need to be very cautious in the area of finances. Find out, preferably before accepting the advising job, if the yearbook is in debt. Ask if debt repayment is your responsibility,” she said. “Keep meticulous records. Never accept money without giving a receipt, and always keep copies of all receipts. If records are kept electronically, or yearbooks and ads paid electronically, keep backup records of all transactions. As in real life, don’t spend more than you have. Don’t get caught in the cycle of paying for this year’s book with next year’s money; this rollover eventually will have to be resolved.”

Use class time to avoid overtime
Students can and will get their work done during class if you keep them on task and make it clear when things must be done. Staying late, working weekends and not getting the book done until late in the summer will wear you out and burn you out.

Be the last person to see the pages/proofs before submission
According to April Fiesler, yearbook adviser and business teacher at Branson High School in Branson, Mo., this could cause all kinds of problems.

“Always, always be the last person to touch the pages before they leave your presence. I always run Good to Go and burn the files to the CD myself,” she said. “By doing this I know exactly what is on the pages and I never have to worry about students adding, deleting or changing things on the page. It saves everyone from a potential problem or lawsuit.”

In a perfect world, yearbook teachers would be the most highly trained educators on staff. Until that happens, though, yearbook teachers, both new and veteran, just need to learn about the pitfalls that may occur so they can be prepared.

Karen Ray