I sat alone in the large, dark auditorium waiting for the publications adviser session to begin. I had glanced at the agenda for the meeting at least twice. I could have memorized it had I looked at it again. It wasn’t that I felt bored just sitting there as minutes passed. It was the feeling you get when you know what to expect from an experience that has become like clockwork for a long time. It wasn’t long before I realized how much my experience as a high school publications adviser had been sewn into my life. It was as though sessions such as this one in the auditorium had become part of a routine, almost like a ritual.
Advising is an art. The craftsmanship of every single detail of advising takes years to perfect and it’s always evolving. Going into my second year teaching I was excited about finally teaching something related to my original career and college major. Following the housing crisis and economic troubles of 2008, I wanted to continue my journalist career but with a more meaningful twist. After a year teaching Spanish I finally found what I was looking for, but was I ready? No. But it only took a bit of willingness and and tons of passion.
The first year was not easy. I was expected to rebuild a program that was destined to dissolve.
Journalism and the Advanced Journalism yearbook and newspaper courses earned the label of dumping grounds from many teachers. The yearbook didn’t profit and its production process became a staff management nightmare. All plant deadlines were missed, pictures from previous years were used, people misquoted and misidentified, the list of classroom nightmares was endless. And there I was: a second-year teacher with plenty of love for journalism but no experience advising it. I organized the mess I inherited and quickly bonded with my students, creating a mutually respectful environment that was both fun and productive. By the end of the first semester we had completed half of the book but my hours proofing, editing and publishing pages were endless! By the end of the school year we made a profit of about $9,000, something that was unheard of in years. The demand to enroll in yearbook motivated me to design a staff application and seek talent that had a knack for art and design, excellent writing skills, proficient photography and others who simply had a driven personality and wanted to explore journalism. Our first yearbook camp group attended summer training that year.
Four years later I look back on all the routines, organization, structure, and long hours helping make these yearbooks possible. But they’re nothing more than that: just routines that your mind is trained for. It’s the abstract, what you can’t see that drives you into wanting to push these routines. You either have this force or you don’t have it. You’ll either make wonderful things happen or fail. Four years of UIL contests, awards, laughs, tears, travels and summer camps, celebrations and food, stress and plenty of long hours. I never continued pursuing opportunities as a journalist, but every time I see those young staff members looking through their yearbooks and once I publish that last page of the yearbook I never stop and wonder what if I had stayed in journalism? This is what I enjoy most and where I’m supposed to be.
Surviving the First Year and Success as an Adviser
- Find out your campus budget. You need to know how much money to start with and build upon for your yearbook.
- Find out who your publishing company is and connect with your sales rep.
- Find a professional photography studio. Get in touch with the sales rep for your individual pictures; coordinate photos.
- Design a syllabus to be a classroom management tool, and just like any class, outline your expectations and procedures.
- Create other documentation. Students should sign a contract, staff profile sheet, camera check out documents, and keep a staff manual (aka the staff Bible in which you list the staff, the pages they have been assigned and deadlines). Keep your Principal informed and provide him or her with manual that includes the policies on prior review and other guidelines outlined by you.
- Bond with your staff. You want these students to work for you and reach your standards. Advising is like coaching. It’s their yearbook but you are ultimately responsible for the behavior and results. You will want to build leaders and strong contributors for future leadership roles each year.
- Learn! Attend workshops, meet other advisers, communicate with your sales rep.
- Grow. Join a professional organization and have your students enter contests for team and individual awards.
- Stand out. Make staff Ids. I make them myself and have them laminated professionally. Design staff shirts, crate announcements, posters, and so on.
- Money guru. Stay on top of encumbrances and manage deposits and expenses.