My kids have picked up on the fact that I have a thing for newspapers. Maybe that’s because I’m constantly bringing in clipped out articles to share with them at the start of the day, and I talk about each one as if it was the most exciting discovery I’ve made in weeks. Whether they’re about our school’s soccer coach, a paleontologist’s discovery or area test scores, I try to bring in anything that I think will be vaguely interesting to 11-year-olds or somehow related to what we’re studying. I really just want to increase their awareness of the world beyond the very tight-knit, inclusive community they live in. And it never hurts to build some appreciation for a dying industry that I might like to get back into someday. My only sign of success so far has been the comment, “Man, Ms. S., you are just ALWAYS finding these newspaper articles!” I’ll take it.
One strategy that I have for trying to stay sane is always taking note of any similarities between my teaching life and my previous life as a journalist. My findings so far:
1) Blame your editor = Blame your principal.
When you’re a journalist, any difficult questions you need to ask, major requests you need to make of your sources or displeasure with your final written product can always be blamed on one poor soul: your editor.
EX: You’re offended that I asked you if you were involved in the crime? Sorry, I really didn’t want to but my editor said I had to. You know how it is, right?
EX: You’re super annoyed that I’m rescheduling our interview yet again and requiring that it be in person? Yeah I’m so sorry but my editor is always making me do these terrible things! He’s so difficult to work for!
Just about every editor I’ve worked with openly encouraged this kind of scapegoating, and it was usually always true, anyway. This might not be quite as encouraged in the teaching world, but it still flies. With the population that our school serves, there are often some weird grade placement decisions that parents don’t agree with. As much as I wish I could help the parents out, I refer all of these complaints to the principal because it’s just really not something I have any control over. The scapegoating thing actually works very well in a lot of different situations due to our school’s “unique” administrative set-up, where you’re just as likely to contact the principal about needing an extra desk in your room as you are for discipline problems or curriculum issues.
2) You’re constantly cramming information about unfamiliar subjects into your brain last-minute so that you can pretend you’re an expert when you share the information with other people.
That’s basically journalism in a nutshell, especially at a smaller daily paper where you don’t write about one assigned subject.
EX: You need someone to cover a protest about confined animal feeding operations? Sure, lemme just go refresh my knowledge of obscure Midwestern agriculture laws. Be ready in 10.
This is pretty much what teaching has been like so far, for me at least. Sure, I have a college degree and consider myself to be passably well-informed. But do I remember anything about the types of hominids that lived 2 million years ago? Um no, almost positive I never even learned that in the first place. Also, math has never been my strong suit, and I’ll readily admit that I was not 100% confident with my long division skills before practicing at Institute this summer. Because let’s be honest, in real life we use calculators. The scary thing is when my students come up with super creative or insightful questions that I did not think of while skimming the textbook the night before. I try to be as honest as possible, and usually commend them for such out-of-the-box thinking, and suggest we look up the answer together.
In journalism, someone might read your article and on rare occasion email you a question that you can easily research and respond to on your own time. But in teaching, you will be bombarded with rapid-fire questions, and they won’t always stop when the lesson’s over. Some days you’ll be well into a math lesson and a hand will pop up, “Ms. S, I just had this question about those hominids. How did they know how to make babies?” Well, that might be a discussion to have with your parents.
3) Most of your day consists of asking questions.
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory for both journalists and teachers, though teacher questions are much more likely to be semi-ridiculous.
From the rhetorical: “Is this what you are supposed to be doing right now?” “Do you think it was a good choice to throw a paper airplane at your classmate’s face?
To the annoying: “Do you need me to hold your hand and walk you to the bathroom, or can I trust you not to start a water fight?” “Who spilled a tube of sticky lipgloss all over our classroom reading chair?”
To the unanswerable: “Why are you ripping your notebook into tiny pieces and then hole-punching the pieces when you are supposed to be doing math?” “Why do you think that if you’re talking in Somali I somehow can’t hear you?”