May 6, 2009 / Staff Management

Yearbook Challenges New Middle School Advisers

Written by Idea File Staff

“You can’t be too much of a perfectionist or you will never get the book done.”

That quote from Cindy Roth, Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane, Wash., explains one way new yearbook advisers get through their first year. Like many new high school advisers, middle school teachers often have the job thrust upon them. These five first-year middle school advisers tackled several obstacles during the 2004-05 school year, and made plans to avert them for 2006.

Staff and responsibility
New advisers usually inherit staff, and problems occur when adviser and student expectations clash. Those problems usually are corrected when the adviser can select a staff for the next year.

For example, Jessica Kutz, adviser at BAK Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., thinks a new staff will not have the problems the 2005 staff had with deadlines.

“Out of the 16 students, only half really worked hard to meet deadlines. I didn’t get to select this year’s staff, but that will be different for next year. I hand-picked the staff for next year.  I believe that will make all the difference in the world.”

And she has plans for her 2006 staff that should improve the yearbook.

“I want to focus more writing style and good photo composition. Taking good photos was the biggest challenge for the staff,” Kutz said.

Alina Alpizar, Palmetto Middle School in Miami, Fla., wrote a plan and selected the staff for the next year in the spring. She met with them before school let out for the summer, and they will be getting a copy of the plan for next year so they will be more prepared when school starts.

Alpizar’s staff will need to be prepared to be more responsible for their work. She said there was a situation this year where a student was assigned a spread but delayed the work, then was absent the day it was due. However, he wanted credit for the work. She said next year, it’s an F for students who don’t do the work.

Katie Dixon, Decatur Township Middle School, Indianapolis, plans on giving her students more responsibility for the book.

“I will get the staff chosen early and do some exercises with the program and have them take a more hands-on role,” Dixon said. “This year I pretty much did the entire book because I was learning as I went.”

Sara Wiley, Beech Grove Middle School in Beech Grove, Ind., decided to take all 27 students who applied for the 2005 staff.

“I’m so thankful that I made that choice, because some of the best yearbook staffers were those kids who don’t make the basketball team and are often overlooked for accolades. The eighth graders who had been on the previous year’s staff were elated to be able to choose layouts, pictures, text, etc.  And they loved that they were given credit for the layouts they did,” Wiley said.

Wylie had printed in the yearbook the names of the staffers who were in charge of each layout.

Intentional organization
Most people can make plans if they know what’s ahead. New advisers usually do not know the program, so they cannot plan for either the expected or unexpected.

Dixon found her initial lack of knowledge about the program frustrating.

“I flew by the seat of my pants. I avoided defining a ladder because I was uncertain about what I was doing and it really made things hard later,” she said. “I found myself doing the same pages two or three times because of poor planning. I had no guidance from the previous adviser.”

Roth said the hardest thing about being a new adviser was the learning curve.

“You are expected to know everything, for you are the teacher. Needless to say, I didn’t know everything. In fact, I knew very little. Research and educate yourself about best practices and maintain a strong and close relationship with your (yearbook representative). You will see them and need them a lot.”

And not knowing can lead to costly mistakes. Alpizar’s biggest challenge came after sending in proofs and learning there were missing links that she had to email to Walsworth. She was not familiar with Photoshop but the students were, however, they sent an entire spread of photos with the dates on them from the digital camera. They had to pay Walsworth to remove the dates.

Wiley had some unexpected staff surprises. “I had a plan and, for the most part, it worked. I didn’t plan on students abandoning their layouts and quitting the staff, but we worked it out.

“The organization developed as the year went on, so I’ll start the (next) year super-organized,” Wiley said. “Yearbook applications are also going to be collected before the end of this school year for the 2006 staff. There will be room for move-ins, but I hope to have the first staff meeting before school starts to get the kids ready to sell books at registration and help with advertisements. We’re going to advertise the yearbook and talk it up from day one in the fall, too.”

“We had a plan,” said Roth. “There were holes. The ladder was designed early but it kept changing and there were times that we underestimated the space necessary for each event, thus needing to move things around or change page numbers. Don’t do that.

“You have to be organized. Organize your photos, organize your spreads, organize the time you spend working on the book in class. Remember, this book is being created by the kids. Don’t assume that they will keep yearbook files organized without your guidance. You must be intentional about it!

“Next year, we will focus on organization. I will have files for each spread that have the photos in them along with revised articles, rosters and anything else that may pertain to the spread,” Roth said.

Staying ahead
The lack of organization is like a monster rearing its ugly head as your staff attempts to cover events. Middle school students need more direction for coverage assignments, as they are not mature enough or mobile enough to fully accept the responsibility.

Roth said her biggest challenge to getting her first yearbook done was “playing catch-up.”

“What sports don’t we have photos of? When can we take these team pictures? Where are the rosters? OH NO!” she said.

Her advice?

“Take tons of pictures! Every day, every event. You never know when you will need them. Make sure that all sports are covered. You’d be surprised how many different levels and categories must be accounted for. It’s not just basketball, it’s 7th grade girls Varsity, 7th grade girls JV, 8th grade girls Varsity, 8th grade girls JV, 7th grade boys Varsity, 7th grade boys JV, 8th grade boys Varsity, and 8th grade boys JV. And that’s middle school!”

From red to black
Dixon was one adviser who took over a yearbook that was in debt – in her case, by $6,000. The Decatur Middle School book usually delivered in the spring, but the 2004 book was not distributed until Christmas. She said it was difficult to sell the 2005 yearbooks because parents were still waiting on the 2004 book.

Dixon ended the year $2,000 ahead, despite sales problems and being located in a low-income area. She took several approaches to make this happen. She took orders for the 2005 book as she distributed the 2004 book. She initially sold it for $18, then four to five weeks later raised the price to $20, then sold it for $25 at distribution. She sold ads, which was not done the previous year, and she ordered fewer books than the previous year.

Two other factors helped the Decatur bottom line. The staff earned $1,000 by sponsoring a Pajama Day, where the students paid $2 each for the privilege of wearing PJs to school. Also, she received a rebate from the school photographer.

For 2006, the yearbook price will be $20 all year for ease of bookkeeping, she said.

But I like it
You can have these frustrations and bad experiences and still enjoy being a yearbook adviser.

“I really liked working with the students and seeing them take pride in their work,” Kutz said. “The stress of the deadline allowed me to bond with them, more so than with my newspaper staff.”

Roth enjoyed the creativity involved in yearbook.

“It is my favorite time of the day. I feel like I have an hour to play and create and watch the kids do the same. What’s better than that?” Roth said. “You will get to know your designers, photographers and journalists very well and they oftentimes blow you away… sometimes in a bad way but most often in a good way.”

Dixon said she was happy as yearbook adviser. “Many other clubs don’t have the satisfaction of a finished product, and that makes it all worth it…. I loved working with the students in a different way than a teacher.”

“Yearbook advisor was one of the most rewarding parts of this school year for me, because I was able to work one-on-one with great kids and help them create something of which they are proud,” Wiley said. “I am part of chronicling the year’s events and capturing the best in the students and staff at the middle school. That’s a priceless experience!”

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.