The Journey is Worth It

By:  Michelle Turner, Adviser, Blue Jay Journal, Washington High School, Washington, MO

In the Beginning

By the spring of 1998, I was close to leaving education after two rough years. After many heart-to-hearts, I was repeatedly given the same advice: try another school district and if it doesn’t work out, THEN consider leaving education.

The School District of Washington was one of several places I interviewed. I was told the position would be mainly teaching English that first year, but in the years to come I could slide into teaching photography, and/or print journalism… as long as I was open to teaching their broadcast journalism class that met one hour a day, and not only teach it, but take it to a “new level.”

I thought, “That could be fun.” In fact, I said that to many of the people I met with during the interview process. I told them I thought I could figure it out and enjoy it along the way. After all, I had just taught junior high drama for two years, and I hadn’t done anything involving theater since my senior year of high school. They liked my attitude, especially since others they interviewed for the position seemed fearful of broadcast journalism.

To say it was easy would be a lie. 

Can Anybody Edit?

I inherited a broadcast program with one video editing system (Media 100, anyone?), one reel-to-reel (that eventually flew off and cut my nose), a few VHS cameras and microphones sporting duct tape patchwork, a random box of nearly 100 pencils that said “Blue Jay Journal” on them, and about 20 kids…who loved to inform me to my face (and behind my back with cameras running so I could hear it on tape in edit) that I clearly had no clue what I was doing.  

Here’s the crazy thing: the feeling was mutual. It became very clear very fast that they had no idea what they were doing either. 

I was told they would know how to create stories and how to edit video, that they were all self-motivated and driven, and that over half of them had been on staff for a year or two.  Truth be told, they were used to little creative freedom and used to LOTS of supervision. 

As trust built during those first difficult months, many admitted to me they never touched the mouse or keyboard on that one editing system during their past two to three years in the program. I found that to be mind-blowing. One student in particular named Blake admitted this to me and we worked to fix the situation so he could do some basic edits. In time, he got pretty good.

Eventually most of us got along with each other and we learned together how to edit video, tell some cheesy stories, and make a few shows that were incredibly rough around the edges.  I learned quickly that year for the program to work, the kids had to have ownership in it and to actually touch the mouse and keyboard. 

Students Take Ownership

In the course of the next three years we were able to transition the program into one that fits this mantra to this day: “Yes, I am their ADVISER (notice the all-caps), and they are the student leaders and producers of the show.”

I was able to build the confidence within the staff by insisting that they decide the content, shoot the footage, edit their pieces… and that they take ownership.  It is indeed THEIR show.

Will I help them? Yes. Will there be times I may delete something that isn’t up to standard and say, “Start over” or simply suggest they rearrange a b-roll sequence if that is all it takes to make the story flow better? Yes. 

Beyond giving the kids ownership in the program and being their ADVISER (not the show’s producer), we were able to make some improvements to the equipment side of the situation. In time, we ditched the reel-to-reel, duct tape enhanced VHS cameras, and eventually reached where we are now, with four edit bays, four iMacs of various ages, with Final Cut Pro software. Last school year, we finally left mini-dv land and joined the rest of the world by shooting on SD cards. 

Growing the Program

We even have our own “Introduction to Broadcast Journalism” class that feeds into our more advanced program now. I was elated the day I pitched that as an elective and my principal at the time, Dr. Marty Riggs, agreed to let the class launch. That one-semester crash course about what good broadcast journalism should be, and how to tell a story using audio and video, really helps us see who will fit well into the more advanced class. 

I am the first to admit that our equipment isn’t “plentiful” and “abundant” or even the most advanced (Final Cut X? Ahhh nope not yet!), but the ownership and pride students feel for the program is. It is something you can feel when you walk into the classroom when the staff meets; it is almost tangible.

For the past few years, I have had another “Blake” on staff.  Unlike my first Blake, this one is leaving the program with the ability to find, shoot, and edit stories alone when assigned to--yes, we do the “backpack” – “one-man band” story style at times. He is also able to teach new students how the process works. He treats our TV show as his show, and takes great pride in it. He is a reminder that when you let your students “own” their program and lead it, the whole dynamic will change for the better. Will there be growing pains? Sure. It’s worth it though. It really is. 

And, for the record, I am grateful I did not leave education, or let myself be scared away from a career that I can not imagine my life without. Two rough years in a place that did not “fit” me nearly drove me away from a career that I have now been in for 18 years. I am so grateful I listened to all the advice people kept giving me, and I am grateful that I thought broadcast journalism looked like it would be “fun,” because it has been, and continues to be for me every day. 

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