Long Hours and Finally Using My B.A. in Journalism

Thru the ViewfinderI’m not tired. I’m miles past tired. This evening was the third school event evening and the second yearbook photo shoot. I should have driven home after the shoot, but I couldn’t end the week without a brief pilgrimage to CompUSA and dinner at In-n-Out. So with Leo Laporte’s podcast keeping me company through the long hours, it dawned on me that I was actually doing the journalism that I’d been working toward for years.

I mean, there are parts of my life that are completely out of balance or are missing altogether, but somehow this business of pushing my kids to create this book is really becoming a powerful force in my life. It makes the long hours somehow exciting. We’re creating something. It scares the shit out of me, ye ol’ fear of failure. But, I don’t think about that. I’m just trying to keep a handle on what stories we’ve covered, who is working one what, and getting over the next unknown. I guess I didn’t realize that this is very much like what it was like when I was teaching video journalism to 5th and 6th graders and running a video TV news program five years ago.

Eleven years ago I was looking at my very first classroom and discovered that my 6th grade students weren’t so much about the reading thing. But they definitely loved cameras and computers. So I adapted my “whole language” training and instead of writing journals I had my students make PSAs (Public Service Announcement) commercials and mock news programs. It was a lot of work for me, because I had to do all of the editing. But I loved coming up with projects like having them do a voice-over on what they thought their parents meant when they talked about the “Real World” and made a music video using Jane Child’s “Welcome to the Real World” song.

All of this experimentation led to a position creating a video-journalism program as part of Magnet school grant. Thus I went from working with my cheap little S-VHS mini-camera, the school’s one VHS-camcorder and a couple spare PCs in my classroom to equipping all 40 classrooms on my campus with four or more networked iMacs, TVs, VCRs, brand new 30-station iMac lab and video studio with three $5,000 Canon XL1 cameras, four mini-DV cameras, and Trinity video/audio switch. It took the first year just to get the computers into the classrooms, networking cable and servers installed, and electrical facilities upgraded to handle the load. Oh yeah, we didn’t have the portables needed for the iMac lab or studio during the first year either. The next two years went to creating the process needed so that we could give every fifth grader an opportunity to write, record and edit the remote video packages and give every sixth grader an opportunity to work in front of and behind the cameras in the studio. By the end of the third year I almost had a handle on the whole process.

fact01The reason I’ve gone into this whole retelling is because I’ve known the long hours alone in the studio and the fear of having to create something completely new every day. One difference was that back in the day, there were no other elementary schools that I knew of who were attempting to have a completely student-run video journalism program, whereas today pretty much every middle school has some yearbook program. But for me, it’s a completely new experience and I’m having to learn how much I can give my students to do and how much I’ll have to do myself. In that way it’s a bit like my first years in my own classroom where I ended up picking up all of the editing chores. Funny how I seem to always find myself in a position pushing the technology envelope trying to find the communicator in my students. I really do love this shit. JBB

Come To California from the album “Blue Sky On Mars” by Matthew Sweet