This is a sponsored post written for the Teach for America #BestTeacherEver campaign.
My grandfather always said that education was something no one could take away from you. Along with his wise words, I’ve come to believe that the lessons learned throughout life from great teachers always stay with us, regardless of what path our careers may take. This is a post that’s a bit of a departure from the others you’re used to seeing. It’s more of a story that I’ll hope you’ll read because it’s part of my lessons learned from the best teacher ever.
“Do you think I should sign up for journalism or yearbook?” I asked my dad during one of our many car rides. I remember being a high school freshman and contemplating this question as I sat in the front seat of his Mustang. I was at an age where I rarely asked my dad for advice but when he said journalism and gave me his reasoning I actually listened. He talked about how journalism would provide great writing skills for life whereas yearbook might be fun but perhaps the long term benefits would be fewer along with probably many other sage words that my teen self tuned out.
When it came time to choose electives, the fact that I only heard THE BEST things about the semester-long cub journalism class for sophomores and the legendary teacher who taught it, and the fact that many of my friends were signing up, sold me. And perhaps in the back of my mind, my Dad’s advice was floating around somewhere in my brain.
I was one of the unlucky ones who had to wait until spring semester to take Beginning Journalism with Esther Wojcicki, affectionately known as Woj to her students at Palo Alto Senior High (Paly), but it was worth the wait. Lessons on plagiarism, reliable sources, creating leads, writing headlines, and journalistic integrity were woven into instruction in a way that helped hone our voices whether we were writing news articles, feature stories, op-ed pieces, game recaps, and even restaurant reviews. We had some of the best assignments (go out to dinner with friends and write a review your meal using look-fors we discussed in class? Ok!), assigned with a smile but critiqued to help us grow. We all knew that if we did well, we’d be writing for The Campanile, the school paper we so admired and our peers looked forward to receiving every two weeks.
Enjoy issue 9! Try not to get it too wet ☔️☔️☔️ pic.twitter.com/QYcaQX61S5
— The Campanile (@TheCampanile) April 25, 2014
Junior year and the responsibility of moving up from cub reporter to staff reporter couldn’t come soon enough. Being a Campanile staffer (aka Camper) meant class in the giant lecture hall during one of the last periods of the day. The format of class was much like today’s open office model where the 60 of us (juniors and seniors) worked when and where we wanted, as long as we completed our work. We collaborated and communicated and there was an overarching sense of camaraderie even when we were working independently. We knew we were part of a team and we didn’t want to let each other down or worse, disappoint Woj.
The freedom and trust that Woj placed in us as teens was incredible. She imparted knowledge, gave us the tools we needed to be successful, and then loosened the reins to let us experience success and the occasional mistake. Surprisingly, no one ever crashed and burned.
Years later when I became a teacher, one of our new teacher orientation sessions for my school system involved reflecting on what kind of teacher I would be. Would I be a Sage on the Stage who would present content to students or a Guide on the Side who would teach learning skills through activities designed to stimulate thinking. I remembered how it felt as a student to be empowered through knowledge and the ability to access tools I needed to get the job done. The constant chatter among my first grade students at their tables may have made the room seem loud to anyone who opened the door but it was productive conversation and collaboration. Teaching my fifth graders how to podcast and then turning them loose to record and edit their stories yielded incredible results that were full of creativity. Sage on the Stage wasn’t my style. Like Woj, I was more like a Guide on the Side.
Now in my second career as a blogger and freelance writer, I’m finding that my dad was right. Indeed the writing skills learned from journalism class have stuck with me along with the lessons on integrity. In this space, it’s easy to get caught up in the next big thing and focus on only writing posts so they will come up higher when people are conducting searches for content or promoting, promoting, promoting to build your readership through different social channels. While I’m mindful of these things, I’ve always prided myself on being a good writer first.
Being thoughtful about my post titles is akin to writing good headlines. Taking the time to do proper research for my pieces means knowing where to find the most reliable information on the web. Journalistic integrity translates into personal integrity because at the end of the day, I want to be able to take pride in the work I produce as an individual in the space. And that means not stealing or ideas from others because that will always be plagiarism and content theft, regardless of whatever medium you’re working in.
These days Woj and the students at Paly celebrate the opening of a brand new Media Arts Center (MAC). According to the Palo Alto Unified School District, the brand new two story building that opened on May 1 “includes a two-story classroom building and media production facility for the English Department.” The journalism program that I experienced has grown to reflect the changing times and now encompasses an online magazine, broadcast journalism, journalism library, photography, and of course, the award-winning Campanile that I used to write for.
Woj is just one of the many incredible teachers whose lessons have carried beyond the classroom who deserve our thanks.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Teach For America invites you to honor teachers everywhere by submitting a personal photo (or the ones above from Teach For America) and write your own thank you note honoring your favorite teacher at www.bestteacherever.org. Your tribute will be used by Teach For America in a video that will become the world’s biggest thank you that will be shared nationwide after May 10.
The first 5000 people to submit a thank you note honoring your favorite teacher, will be sent a $10 DonorsChoose gift card, sponsored by State Farm®.
About Teach for America: Believing that all kids—no matter where they live, how much money their parents make, or what their skin color is – Teach For America believes that all children deserve access to a great education. As a national teachers corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect change in under-resourced urban and rural public areas, TFA hope to build our classrooms today with who will continue to fight for students tomorrow. In the 2013-14 school year, 11,000 corps members will reach more than 750,000 students while 32,000 alumni will continue to deepen their impact as educational leaders and advocates, eliminating educational inequality by developing such leaders.