In 1999, I hesitantly became a teacher in a private high school. The superintendent challenged me to begin a journalism department and start a newspaper. I replied, "But I am not a teacher. I don't know anything about education." He smiled. "Exactly! It is an elective. Just teach them what you know about journalism. I can see you are passionate about that...share your passion."
Fifth grade was when I first began to write. I would pen scripts to my favorite television shows like Bonanza, The Monkees, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. In eighth grade, my own English teacher, Mr. Wilson introduced me to journalism. I would never look back. I knew then what my major in college would be, and did not question it once. I went to the University of Texas in Austin during the time of Watergate and all that did was fuel the fire. I have learned all types of writing and always loved to share it.
But, it was what the teens taught me in 16 years that would be the really important lessons. Our journalism program expanded during that time to include a 32-page monthly news magazine, a broadcast news team, and the yearbook (a necessary evil for all journalism or English teachers). I ran it as if they worked a job. Often I would remind them, they could not fail the class, but could get fired from the team for not fulling the job descriptions. For so many, when they entered our Newsroom doors, they found life. Year after year, we brought home state and national awards. A local city columnist even wrote about the staff because he ran into our young reporters covering stories wherever he went.
Lessons this instructor learned included:
1. Set a high bar. The majority will hit it, and even exceed it.
2. Give them a dream and it will filter through all of their other classes.
3. Show them a pathway past high school to success and they will walk it just as you describe.
4. Be available and mentor them even after hours... news does not just occur during the school day.
5. Be open to all types of students. Some of the most academically challenged or the disciplinary challenges will turn around when they find something they love and see a career in it.
6. Be open and listen to everything they have to say. Never close off the discussion.
7. Finally, run the class as a team sport with a team mindset. We all succeed or fail together.
I am enjoying my new life outside of high school, but I do miss the students... even their music and constant texting. I hope there are others behind me who will encourage them to follow their passions. Before I left, I was walking across the parking lot at the end of a long school day, and the superintendent who gave me the opportunity yelled across the pavement, "Hey, Pam, you are a teacher!" I confess...I smiled as I got into the car.