Teaching Journalism: You Can’t Be A Paycheck Player

Somewhere, I heard that half of all teachers quit in the first five years.  The number for journalism teachers is actually much higher.  The yearbook company that my school has used for the last 15 years sponsors a luncheon every spring.  They encourage the teachers to stand, first the newbies (usually half the room) and then the experienced ones.  They start with two years, then go by five years until around 10 years there are only around 20-30 still standing.  The oldest veteran usually gets a gift certificate for $100 or so.

Teaching journalism is a tough, demanding job.  You can not be in it to just pick up a paycheck every two weeks.  If you want to do this job, then it must be like that old Navy recruitment phrase, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.”

I know that there are a lot of journalists out there who may be looking at an unused teaching certificate that they were urged to acquire by a mentor in college.  There are others who may be looking into certification via alternate means in their state.  Both are perfectly good ways to get into the teaching field.  On the job training will mean much more than most of the classes you might take in college about teaching.

The real challenges will come when you actually get into the classroom.  You will be expected to teach writing, design, photography, desktop publishing, media ethics and law, marketing, advertising, public relations, first amendment rights, newspaper (both print and online), yearbook, broadcasting (both video and audio) and be able to master all the hardware and software to boot. You will often be expected to run the media lab with little or no tech support.  Much of what happens in your class is outside the domain of most school district IT personnel who are not used to supporting applications that are not part of Microsoft Office or their district’s basic software load.  This can be more true if you are a Mac lab in a PC school.

In addition, you will be expected to keep the books for your school assigned budget and any funds raised by your students.  At many schools, you will be expected to supervise student photographers or photograph many, most or possibly all school sports and events.  You will often be tasked with providing public relations for your campus – i.e. writing press releases when something good happens.

But that is not even the most demanding part of the job.  The real time demand is teaching students – as it should be.  You will be responsible for teaching them not only content, but how to work as a team on deadline.  They will need to learn how to revise their work without being crushed by criticism.  Many students will need to understand that they are actually allowed to make decisions about the content of their own work.  They must learn to balance their other activities (work, school and social) and their media class.

This is a hard job.  But the rewards are worth it.  When a student wins a state-wide or national award, the glow on their face is better than any paycheck.  When you see one of your students go on to a college that they really wanted to get into and then excell, it is worth it.  When the yearbook comes out and the students actually like it, it is worth it.

None of those things happen by magic.  It takes a lot of shepherding on the part of a good media teacher.  It is your job to first teach the skills, then help them sharpen their own saw, and finally to guide them – not lead them to making solid journalistic choices.

I can not tell you if this career path is for you or not, but I can tell you that you should seek riches or fame elsewhere.  You’ll never starve – there’s way too much pizza and snacks invloved for that.  But if you care about kids and want to see them succeed, and if you care about the future of journalism – regardless of the platform or even if they can make money from it or not – then this career could be for you.

If you only care about kids, then teach math or even English.  If you only care about journalism, then find a way to keep employed in the currently rocky times.  But if you care about both – I encourage you to do it.  We need more talented journalists who’ve “been there” – not just to tell war stories – but to teach, encourage and guide the next generation of journalists.  It’s an exciting time to be at the bottom of journalism so to speak.  The technology of today will allow these kids to do more journalism in new ways.  I know that I get more excited every day about the possibilities.

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6 Comments

  1. You’re preaching to the choir here, but this is such a worthwhile post. I’m a professional journalist who came to the classroom thru alternative certification. Every single thing you say is true, and then some. But it’s the best job I’ve ever had!

  2. Wow! Excellent post. It is a demanding job, but worth it. Of course I never think that when we’re trying to reformat the index in the yearbook because the pages weren’t set up properly, but still….I imagine I will return to this post many times next year as I take on the print journalism program at our school.

  3. Dealing with the district and its love affair with Microsoft is driving me out of teaching. I can no longer buy MACs.

    • That’s too bad. I was lucky enough to have a principal who helped me fight city hall so to speak 12 years ago. Right now, my current IT director is not pro mac, but she is definitely not anti mac either. Maybe you can find an advocate. First thing I would demand is that they replace ALL of your Mac software and hardware with NEW computers at one time. That will usually take the starch out of them – the price tag of killing a Mac lab.

  4. thanks this is a amazing article

  5. Great article! I’ve taught journalism (and I advise a college student newspaper) for more than five years. At first, I thought I would miss the excitement of reporting and writing on a daily basis, but what I found out is that I’m still immersed in the industry (and more on top of its changes) through my students. I love my job – your post confirmed why I do what I do. Thanks!


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