With the changes in news, many reporters, editors and producers are looking to academia for their next job. After all, how hard can it be to teach?
Plenty, especially for someone who is not prepared for the classroom.
What does it take to teach these days? Long gone are just lectures and plain PowerPoints, replaced with video montages, YouTube clips, TED talks and other forms of information entertainment. Student attention spans are short, and patience is a virtue not to be underappreciated by faculty.
College classrooms are now more of a precision drill, especially for people who teach basic writing and reporting. Patience is absolutely required as faculty repeat (and repeat and repeat) the basics of news writing. Patience is also a virtue to be used when wading through some pretty awful first articles by people who have never written anything other than elemental English papers. Couple lack of experience with declining writing skills in general makes for a steeper learning curve than what most professionals expect.
Many professionals think their experience is the most valuable thing to bring to a classroom, and in a way it is. As a general rule, students do not want to hear the war stories and how tough newsrooms are – they want to know what they need to make it in the industry, so give them the facts and help them get where they want/need to be before graduation.
For professionals thinking about making the switch, it can be a rewarding experience, but here are some key things to know before making the leap:
• Know where the students start and where they end, especially in the progression of writing and thinking like reporters. Realize many are starting from zero. A great thing about teaching is watching a person’s progression from rookie student to a capable media person.
• Learn how to use war stories effectively. Take a measured approach; use the stories only when they fit into the progression of teaching.
• Understand the academic system, and appreciate that it can be glacially slow during decision-making.
• When teaching writing, learning to be a writing coach is helpful to both sides. Coaching builds the student’s confidence as a writer and helps the teacher better understand where they are not communicating well.
• Have a sense of humor. Humor will get any faculty member through some of the strange and, occasionally, a dark situation when students misunderstand what is being said to them. Laughter really is the best relief valve.
It can be scary walking into that first classroom and seeing all those eyes questioning the teacher’s ability. It can be frustrating when a student refuses to listen or understand what is being said. Spending nights grading also gets tiresome. But, the primary role of the educator is to give the students the skills they need to succeed.
Then, every once in a while, a teacher gets one of those students, someone who has talent beyond words who will go out and do well in the profession. Watching a former student take on a major story or just do solid journalism is a feeling without equal. It makes it even sweeter when that student calls or e-mails after graduation to say thanks or (even better) you were right.
That is what makes teaching worthwhile.