Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To my students

Today marked an end of an era: my last day as a journalism teacher. Tomorrow marks another end of an era as my beloved senior class of 2011 graduates from high school.

Although I can be pretty good at hiding it at times, I am a sappy sentimentalist. So, as a school year and a chapter of my professional career comes to a close, it's impossible for me not to reflect.

I started teaching journalism five years ago in the fall of 2006. From the beginning I loved being back in a newsroom setting, guiding students in what I believe is an important life skill, a crucial community service and arguably the single most important high school co-curricular activity. I have not lost my zeal for teaching journalism or working with my amazing students.

But last summer and into the fall I realized I wanted my after-school life back. And I wanted change. And I wanted to go out on top -- and I think that I did. This was the best year for journalism at my school in recent history. Just as I firmly believe a sitcom should end while it's still funny and a wedding should end right when a bunch of people still want to keep dancing, I feel you should make professional changes when you're still enthusiastic about the job. It's scary to replace my reliable and fun(ny) journalism students with two new classes of students I've never met, but I look forward to the chance to experience some professional growth and to cheer on my kids from the sidelines as they produce what will no doubt be incredible work under the guidance of a new, enthusiastic and talented teacher.

Each year I offer my graduating seniors some parting words of advice, most of which have to do with making the most of college because those are the most amazing four years of your life and you need to soak up every opportunity. But I didn't leave my underclassmen with advice today on our last day together. So, I'll leave them with this:

1) Do your research. Remember that when you write your articles or produce your broadcasts you need to be an expert on your subject. If you don't know your subject it will show. When you write an editorial, there is such a thing as a good opinion and a bad opinion. A bad opinion is an uninformed opinion, so don't be that guy.

2) Be nice but be firm. At interviews, ask the tough questions. When working with each other enforce deadlines. Hold each other to high standards. There's a time to be a friend and a time to be a leader; you can be both but you will have to learn to balance those roles.

3) Be nice to your new adviser. It is difficult to walk into this job. Few people in the world know what it's like to take on this job. Don't make her regret it :)

4) For the love of journalism, clean up after yourself! Put your trash away. Push in your chairs. Put your laptops away NEATLY. (That's the last time you'll hear that from me!)

5) Make Stax proud and win a Pacemaker.

I am grateful to my students for the fun times they've given me. Although it's a ton of work, I've never disliked a moment working with these students. They also have been really generous at the end of this year, writing me a surprise goodbye message in the senior issue of the newspaper, giving me beautiful bouquets of flowers and several gift cards to some of my favorite places (including a certificate to The Container Store with an attached note telling me to stay literally organized...and I will blog about what I do with the certificate when I use it down the road). They have also left me with some of the nicest comments and notes I've received in eight years of teaching. These are all tucked away in my file of feel-good teacher notes, possessions I will always cherish and pull out in November when things aren't looking so hot.

After eight years of teaching, it's easy to identify those stellar students. I have found them, and I can give them no greater compliment than this: If Matt and I are fortunate enough to have children of our own one day, I hope they will be like one of my journalism students.

And in the spirit of my journalism students' obsession with Twitter, #loveyouguys, #staxout.

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