How I Got Into Teaching And What I Hate To Teach

I got into teaching kind of in a backwards way.  I always wanted to be a writer.  My grandfather used to let me tell him “silly stories” when I was about 3-years-old and after that I just always wanted to be a writer.  OK, for a while I wanted to be an astronaut, but hey what kid growing up in the ’70s didn’t.

I did kind of lose touch with writing for a while during middle school, but found it again as a writer for my high school newspaper.  I also took a video class in high school.  The two sparked my interest in journalism and when I went to college, journalism was a natural.

I loved working for my college paper and took every journalism class on writing and video I could.

The year after I graduated, the Dallas Times Herald was bought out and folded.  Then two years after that the San Antonio Light folded.  The market was flooded with reporters out of work.  After graduation, I took a job at a TV station.  I worked as a production assistant (the lowest of the low), but quickly got a promotion to Promotions Director and then worked as an On-Air Controller.  I really enjoyed working in TV.  But I started to wonder how much of a future did I have in the crowded world of journalism.

I interviewed for two journalism jobs while at my first job and there were so many other candidates for each position it was scary.  So, I went back to school and became a certified teacher.  I knew that teachers were in high demand and I could at least teach journalism, even if I couldn’t find a decent journalism job.

But then I was hired by another TV station as a producer/director – better job, more money, more fun.

It was at a PBS station on a college campus.  I was also expected to teach the students how to do all the jobs at the station.  I loved it.  I really liked working with the kids.  This was fun too.  And so after about two years I took a teaching job at a high school.

At first I didn’t teach TV because back in ’95 TV equipment was out of our budget.  But in 2001 we started our TV program.  Small at first, but eventually we have grown up to a weekly program.

As a journalism/media teacher I am called on to teach a variety of different things.  Just last year I became certified in Media Technology – this means I can now teach about six new classes.  Before I was certified to teach Newspaper, Yearbook, Photojournalism, Broadcast Journalism and Journalism.  Now I can teach web design, video technology, multimedia authoring and two other classes that I’m really not quite ready to teach.

Out of all the classes I teach, the one I hate teaching is photojournalism.  When I first became a teacher, my principal gave me my class list – I had three sections of photo-j.  I had one class of photography in college and I remember that I hated it.

In college I never got the hang of depth of field, didn’t understand how f/stops and shutter speeds worked together.  Only got the basics of ISO down.  I felt the magic of the darkroom, but didn’t understand it really.  I was only able to get my 10 assignments done through luck and persistence.  I usually got B’s and did get one A – a creative shot of a hood ornament in the rain.

After that class, I swore that I would leave photography to the photogs.

I did get an SLR from my parents as a gift.  I used it off and on for the next couple of years.  But mainly it sat, gathering dust.

When I got my nearly 90 photo kids my rookie year.  I started reading the photo books that had been left to me by my predecessor.  I was about one chapter ahead of the kids all year long.  Luckily none of them really knew anything about photography.  This would never fly today.  Most kids have a digital point and shoot and use them a lot.

Today we are all digital.  No more darkroom – which I hated.  Our darkroom was never fully functional.  Something was always broken – an enlarger, one of the safety lights, a developing tank, etc.  The chemicals were constantly needing to be refilled and kids used the photo paper like it was a candy bowl.

But that is all gone.  Yet I still hate teaching photojournalism.  Mostly because the kids who take the class have no skin in the game.  My other classes produce some kind of product – newspaper, yearbook, news podcast, web site, etc.  But this class is only one semester long and the kids produce individual works, but nothing they do as a group for others.  Most just sign up because it looks like fun.  They hear that photo kids are allowed to leave the classroom to take pictures.  And that is all they ever want to do.  ISOs, f/stops, depth of field – who cares?  They surely don’t.  My video kids think depth of field is cool.  My yearbook photogs slowly but surely learn how to control f/stops and shutter speeds.  They get it because they want to.  They want to learn it to make something better.

So, I guess I understand why math or English teachers are sometimes bitter.  They get kids who have no motivation to learn, but are expected to teach them complex subjects.  I at least have mostly motivated kids.  Except photo-j.  My dream is that one day I won’t have to teach photography, except to my yearbook photogs.

Still Dreaming…

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3 Comments

  1. I guess you can’t use your photoj kids to do yearbook photos? Or hire them out to take pictures at dances or for the sports teams? My yearbook kids can always use more photos and I wish I could get more help from our photoj teacher, but no such luck. He’s into his own thing, mainly photoshopping as many photos as possible into weird pics.

  2. Jobs in TV/print made me think I could never go back to teach… as in, journalism has declined so much that I can’t imagine telling kids to pursue the field.

    Maybe the online stuff — with its unlimited space — will be better and offer more space for real reporting. Or not.

  3. I think that the net will open journalism up to more people, but I do worry how we will monetize important investigative journalism and less interesting, but needed civic journalism. But I think journalism on the web will be better than either print or TV ever was.


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