I didn’t know what to write today—I spent the first half in the hospital waiting for my husband to get his back injections and the second half trying to herd cats. Er, I mean, keep my students occupied before spring break when most didn’t attend school.
I looked up writing prompts, and the one for today fit perfectly: I like my classroom because…
Because it’s mine, it was the first professional space I didn’t have to share with a coworker. In every production company or newsroom, I have worked in, I’ve had to share a desk or office space with one or more coworkers but not this time. I could decorate my room to my liking without worrying about whether the person I shared my space with would care.
What made the shared space even more challenging was that I usually shared it with males. I tended to bring girlie things to decorate my desk with, and they would tease me. Now it was never anything malicious, ever. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing men, but hearing “Alex the piggy? Really?” Yes, really, and over time they all loved the damn piggy.
However, with teaching, I still have to be careful about what I bring in. I have to make sure it’s not something that a student can walk off with. Unfortunately, quite a few things gifted to me by students went missing while I was on maternity leave.
I had my tissue box cover broken. Not sure how it happened, but the screws came out of the lid. Thankfully they fell under the tissue box, and I could fix it. But I was unable to fix what was stolen.
Away from my primary classroom and heading towards my studio is a center room where students will go to work or decompress. They think I don’t know that sometimes when they go to the U table, I know they seek an escape. I don’t let students who I don’t trust sit in there. The room has blue lights thinking across the ceiling, and most of the time, the students only have them on. They love writing in the dark, but I don’t usually let them live out their vampire fantasies.
My studio is probably my favorite of the three classrooms. It’s where I can truly see how much my students have learned. They have to set the lights and cameras. Students also keep the room organized and clean. It’s their space as much as it is mine. I’m so proud to see them troubleshoot technical problems and work as a team, even when things may not always go smoothly.
Soon I’ll be taking everything off the walls of my classroom. I’m going to be moving from the middle school level to the high school level. I will no longer fully control my program and will work with my former t.v production teacher and mentor. I won’t have the same space I do now; however, my new classroom will be just as special. I won’t have a planning room or a studio attached to my main room. It’ll be down the hall. I won’t be the only person teaching the TV students how to use the equipment. It’ll now be teamwork. It’ll be a new adventure, and I’m sure I’ll have a thing to be my favorite in the classroom.
There is a disturbing joke that is all too real that describes the modern journalistic world: “never let the truth get in the way of a good news story.” And doing the opposite of this is something that I stress to my news students. I constantly tell them your opinion has no place in the newsroom. We are there to present facts. It doesn’t matter if the on-air talent enjoys the story or not because they are not there to sway the audience one way or another. We are conducting a newscast, not a talk show, and even though this is lost upon many professionals, as of late, I’m doing my part in instilling it into my students.
This week all my students were put to the test. We indeed had to practice what I preach. There is a new club starting on campus, one that not everyone agrees with. Quite a few of my students were very vocal in opposition to the club, while others did support it. I made a quick announcement before all hell broke loose.
I asked my anchors what the point of the news is? They said to present the facts. I asked them whether they liked the club, a fact or their opinion. Quickly they answered with an opinion. I said good, because your opinions have no place in my studio. I told them all opinions are kept outside my classroom walls. Just like their discussion of their latest boy/girl friend has no place in my class, neither does their attitude toward a story we’ve been asked to cover
This is where I reminded them that we have two religious clubs on campus. I asked my students if they knew my feelings about those two clubs, and everyone in my class said no. And I said good because my opinion on those clubs or any club does not matter, nor does my opinion on this new colorful, open to all safe space club matter. Because I’m there to teach just like they are there to report on what is happening at the school. Everyone nodded in agreement.
When my anchors read the story about the new club, you could not tell how they felt about it. Could they have had more personality in the newscast… Sure, of course, they could have, but I just chewed out the whole class for getting an attitude with each other. I swear World War three was about to go down over a rainbow club, and I was not about to have that.
My students know that I believe in the freedom of the press and how important it is to have journalists. But I have also taught them how to look at a new story and break down whether the reporter is presenting facts or facts with a bias. My eighth graders have gotten good at pointing out opinions in a news story and my seventh graders are getting there. If my students never progress more in their TV Production career, I hope they learn one thing: how to analyze a story, discover what the facts are, and break them away from the on-air talents’ opinions.
When I asked one of my students what I should write about today, she said, “write about us!” I told her that I had before. However, I didn’t think today would turn out to be such controlled chaos.
Today was a hot mess express. Actually, the whole week has been a shit show and a half. Students are losing their damn minds with the full moon. If you don’t think the moon controls the kids, you haven’t spent enough time around hundreds of students on campus. But today was probably the most hilarious of them all. Usually, my students run the newscast by themselves without any assistance. But since the computer that usually does graphics died, and the replacement needs to have my profile on it, they can no longer do their job adult free. Not that I don’t fully trust them not to change their grades, but I’m not giving them the opportunity.
Today’s class that handled the newscast has nine very vocal females and one far less vocal male. We had a guest classmate come in and add some testosterone to the room. It didn’t help much. The girls are still in complete control of the chaos. We did a few run-throughs of the script before recording. This gives everyone in the control room a chance to get familiar with what graphics will be coming up, who is tossing to weather, and setting the audio levels. Well, today wasn’t our smoothest rehearsal.
First, we had audio issues. For some reason, the student running the board thought she should start the show with the volume faders all the way up. The moment the anchors’ mics came on, it sounded like our speakers were blown. Everything was overmodulated. She started screaming, confused about why everything was so loud. I told her to look at her levels and bring them down. Instead of bringing them down, she kept yelling over the anchors. Finally, the line producer leaned over and dropped their audio to a manageable level.
The technical director rolled on our first take with the audio crisis averted. It should have been our only take since everything was going smoothly. That was until the audio operator forgot to unmute the weather anchor. Everyone in the back started yelling at her because we were only a story and a half away from being done with the newscast. My students pride themselves on being able to record in one take. They do their best to record live to tape and try not to leave anything for me to edit. They also know that the moment they mess up something, the ball starts rolling, and so many other things start to mess up.
And that is precisely what happened.
The anchors flubbed their lines a few times, and I threatened to fire them. They quickly switched roles, so the other was now reading the names from the basketball game. Things seemed to be going great until our audio person became distracted and forgot to mute everyone while the weather opening played. The recording started over, and anchor one sounded dead while anchor two sounded like he took speed. I told them they were both about to lose their jobs, and they promised they’d do better.
The line producer called standby and began the countdown. Then all hell broke loose. The floor director was in her own world and forgot to count the anchors in. So we just had the boys staring at the screen while the lounge producer started shouting in the head seat. Anchor one lost his shit, and my director ran out, nearly jumping up and down. She told him, “now read the announcements with that energy,” and he did. We were almost done with a great take until my audio operator squealed so loudly and threw up her arms that my weather anchor thought she had done something wrong. Everything was lost in the moment. We tried to pick up the take from the weather opening, but it was lost. We had to start over.
At this point, we had fifteen minutes left of our fifty-minute class. The new floor director counted in the on-air talent, and Anchor one sounded like he could pass for a zombie while anchor two, well, he could read the names, so we just had to roll with it.
I think I was ready to give up on the day. Everyone was out of sorts and making careless mistakes. We didn’t have time to switch, and the two that usually were my go-to on-air talent decided that today they were protesting because “like we always do it.”
We finally got a passable take. There were some graphic errors because the right arrow became stuck. That problem was the only one that could be fixed in post, so we kept it.
I really can’t be too frustrated. The kids did great. Repeating the script, punching the show, and rolling with tech issues with a fair amount of emotional control. I worked long enough in the professional world to know that not many adults could keep their composure as my 12 & 13-year-olds did.
The end of the third nine weeks has brought the end of getting my students back to working order. While I was away on maternity leave, things were lax, to say the least. So to get them used to working again, I let our big project stretch out longer than usual. As I talked with those who finished their project, we discussed the topic for the next news package. I really wanted to have them create a news package on their favorite book or comic, but the students didn’t seem as interested in the idea as I was.
As two students were talking, I overheard them discussing Bloody Mary. Student A explained to Student B the urban legend, and most of it sounded like the legend I heard of when I was their age. However, what I didn’t hear was the origin story, and when I asked them if they knew who Bloody Mary was based on, they said no. That slightly aggravated me. I was and still am an inquisitive person. If I hear about an urban legend, myth, or magical thing, I look it up. Sadly my access to information was far more limited than theirs. So while I rattled off her back story, I made my decision. My students would do a deep dive into the backstory of their favorite mythical creatures, folklore, or urban legends.
The next day, as my students edited, I had them stop so they could begin thinking about their next project. I decided to tease them with the idea of using their favorite book for their news package. The number of groans I received was hilarious. Even my students who loved reading complained this wasn’t their Ela class. So I gave them all a minute to calm down and asked them how they would feel about doing a project on their favorite mythical creature. This time the sound that erupted from my students was excitement and shouting over who would do what. But after three years of working with me, my eighth graders knew it would be a little more than that. I told them to avoid having ten projects on unicorns. They would have to select five different options and a summary of their topic.
Everyone stopped editing and started googling what they were going to pick. I regretted telling them so early, but when they get excited about a project, they wrap up the old one fast. My students know that I’m not too fond of bare-bones information. Even if they were creating a one to two-minute news package, they needed enough research to answer any follow-up questions I might have.
The point of the extra information is not just for my benefit. It’s also to help my students learn how to research, find multiple sources, and summarize their knowledge in an informative and exciting manner. This skill isn’t something they would only use in my class but throughout the rest of their academic and possibly personal life as well. My goal with my class has always been to encourage my students to be curious. If they hear about something interesting, my biggest hope is they want to learn more and, because of my class, will know how to find it and compare all sides.
Student C, knowing I hate clowns, asked if she could research Pennywise. I asked her if she meant the character from IT. And she nodded with a ridiculous smile. I told her the only way she could prove the character was based on something that came before the novel. Of course, I already knew that it was based on John Wayne Gacy, but I wanted to see what she would come up with. The next morning she came running into my class telling me a giant laundry list of what she learned and all the rabbit holes it sent her on. She hadn’t even started the project and had already learned more about her favorite character than she had known for the last two years.
I really do regret agreeing to let her choose pennywise however her seeking out the information was precisely the point of this exercise. I guess I’ll have to watch her project from behind my hands when it comes time to grade it.
In the last ten to fifteen minutes of school today, my building had to evacuate. When the fire alarm went off, all the students froze and looked at me. We weren’t sure if it was a drill, especially with how close it was to dismissal.
My class is usually organized chaos. My TV production students tend to be all over campus recording projects and being a little boisterous because they’re acting in their films. So for them to automatically stop what they were doing and look at me for guidance made me proud. As the alarm drilled over our heads, I picked up my walkie and listened. This was clearly not a drill.
At our last staff meeting, they made it very clear that if we were ever to evacuate our building or had to leave campus Because of an event, all students in staff members should have their cell phones. They even told women to grab our purses just in case we wouldn’t be allowed back on campus or into the building to get our keys. So I told all my students to grab their phones and throw them into their back pockets, and we waited for the announcement to dismiss us. South Florida schools no longer automatically run out of their classrooms when the fire alarm is pulled. We remain until our building is dismissed because we want to be sure it is a real fire or a drill, not someone who has decided to play a prank and pull the alarm or something more horrendous.
While we waited, there was a knock on my door. I looked through the gap, and it was two of my three students who were out filming. I asked where student C was, and they said he went to the building two office. Usually, that is not a wrong decision on his part, but today that was the wrong choice. That office, which is over the classrooms next time mine, is where they suspected the mechanical fire was coming from.
When they dismissed us to our location, there were only three classrooms who are dismissed. I watch students who usually constantly misbehave and act out, walking single-file lines and listening to their teacher without having to be told multiple times to behave. I cannot say how proud I am of each and every student that was at my school that took the situation seriously.
Students usually complain about the fire drills and ask why we do them. But today shows why they were important. Every student knew precisely where they needed to go. Every student knew how to handle themselves appropriately and listened when the teachers called roll to ensure we were all accounted for and present.
As we waited, my students asked if this was why I always asked them to create a schedule breakdown with their locations. I said besides that, it was an industry standard, but it also helped me locate them in case of an emergency like today.
As my last class of the day ended, a student of mine informed me that one of her academic teachers did not like my class. The woman’s words were, “That class is just a waste of time.”
I’m not going to lie; many snarky comments ran through my mind, and then I remembered that I teach middle school and what I say affects them. So my only response was, “that’s unfortunate.” What was truly unfortunate, aside from this woman’s thoughts towards my class, was that I’ve never had a negative interaction with her. I’ve never said anything bad about her, yet she was still trash-talking my class to the middle school students.
What is even more unfortunate, outside a trash-talking adult, was that this adult was putting down the student. The student was discussing the upcoming project when the teacher decided to share her opinion.
After digesting my frustration, I stopped to think for a moment. I don’t believe this person understands everything my class has to offer. It’s not just a place for students to learn technical skills that can be used in a future career. It is a chance for them to express themselves where they most certainly would not have the opportunity to do so in an academic classroom.
First and foremost, video editing is no longer isolated to the broadcast world. When I was looking to switch careers, nearly all job postings asked for basic video editing skills. The main reason for this has to do with social media. Almost all companies now use social media to promote themselves. Employers are looking for people who understand design to drive business to their social media accounts, websites, or even better, their front door. So if I can instill a basic understanding of graphic design and video production into my students at a young age, I am giving them an extra building block they will need in their adult life.
If we look beyond the technical aspect of my class and at what else there is to offer, you will see how vital the arts are to all students—especially those at the middle school level where they are trying to discover themselves.
When I started at this school, I was warned not to expect much from my students. They are young, and they probably won’t be able to handle everything I expected them to do. I listened. I assessed, and I decided that everyone was completely wrong. If we constantly tell our students they can’t do something or are too young to do it, they won’t be able to do it. But if we push them and give them the tools to climb the ladder, these kids have no clue that they “shouldn’t be able to do it.”
I have a group of 11-13-year-olds shooting live to tape news productions. I spent two weeks with them, teaching them how to use the Tricaster, line producer (basic line producing but still pretty hard), along with every other job in the control room and those in the studio.
Do they mess up?
Heck yes, they do.
But do they give up?
It’s not in their vocabulary.
At the beginning of the year, I had a parent who wanted to pull her daughter from my program because she was scared her daughter wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. I expressed to my guidance counselor that that particular student was fully capable of doing everything in my class. The only reason she had issues last year was she didn’t log into class until it was a quarter over and didn’t want to do the work. Five weeks into the school year, I knew if I needed to send out a student to get a news story or collect footage for a project, her hand would be one of the first to go up. She is now interested in either line producing or technical directing—two of the most challenging jobs outside of reading the newscast.
This student wasn’t my only shy student. Nearly all my classes have a handful of those who don’t want to be on camera. I get that sentiment. I hate being on camera. It’s why I’ve spent my career behind the scenes. However, I do not let my students hide. They are allowed to work through their anxieties, but they cannot succumb to their fears.
Last year, one of my strongest anchors was a boy who refused to turn on his camera at the beginning of the year. When he returned to school, he was very shy, so I tasked him with being my floor director. That meant he had to speak up and relay the messages from the control room to those in the studio. It may not have been his words, but he was finding his voice. About a month into it, one of my anchors was absent, and he asked if he could anchor. I very enthusiastically said yes. Every single student in the class was in shock. Students who had grown up with him said he barely talked. Let me tell you, that was no longer the case. His other teachers said they saw a boost in confidence that wasn’t there in his prior two years at the school.
Confidence is probably one of the most beneficial life-changing things that a student could take away from my program. Students gain confidence from failing while growing from their failures. I have students of all academic levels, from honor students to high functioning ESE. I hold them all to the same standards. Though I do not expect the same level of work, I expect them all to try their hardest and execute their best. Not everyone’s best will be the same. Thankfully, since I am not a core class, I know that I’m not forced to reach specific standards or pressured by a statewide test, and I have the chance to pause and work with my students. This year my T.V. One students will be creating a 2-3 minute silent film that they have written. They will create a travel promotional project that expands their knowledge of different cultures and places worldwide. They will be making a text-based informational video about one of our 50 states, teaching themselves and classmates interesting facts they didn’t know before. The last project they will be creating is a 5 minute documentary on a topic of their choice. In making their documentary, the students learn how to research, analyze facts, and present a compelling narrative with the least bias possible.
My second and third-year tv students are writing a 15-page script. I will be able to workshop with my students and review their work. I will be able to expand on what their ELA and Reading teachers are teaching in class. Because Lord help me, these students write like they are texting. The finished film will be about 15 minutes long. The directors, actors, crew, and basically every step of the production are under the control of the students. I am just there to help along the way when needed. Students are not only learning teamwork; they are learning time management and problem-solving skills.
This teacher was right. Students shouldn’t worry about my class. Their entire school experience should be about their core classes because those teachers can get in their standards while expanding on other necessary skills that young minds need to learn.
Or maybe people can see the value of having a well-rounded education and not judge what they do not know.