Julia_CroppedIt’s the worst time of the school year for publications advisers: semester change — when all the kids we begged to be on staff because it’s fun and challenging and prepares you for the “real world” decide they don’t feel like trying any more, so they drop our classes to take jewelry-making. Or team sports. Or school store.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. Most of the advisers in our state are examining our class lists for next semester and wondering what the heck we did to scare so many away. We wonder if our expectations were too high or if we were grading too hard.

No, we weren’t doing anything wrong. Students weren’t working up to our standards and they couldn’t hack it. So let them go.

Try not to spend too much emotional energy being angry about the kids who left. Focus on the kids who remain and want to be there.

For me, it’s 14 this year. These 14 students wrote stories worth publishing, took interesting photos, spoke to relevant sources and designed visually appealing pages. They stuck it out. They chose to be in a class that isn’t a blow off because they’re actually dedicated to journalism. I’m so thankful for my 14 worker bees.

If you are focusing on the kids who are left and you’re still feeling down in the dumps, here’s what you need to do:

STEP 1: Create a Facebook group for your former students.

STEP 2: Post a question asking them what they got out of your class and/or how they’re using what they learned in college and beyond.

Here’s a sample from one of my kiddos:

“With my training and experience in The Talon, I can happily say that I am the only freshman with a paid position at the Pepperdine University student newspaper: The Graphic. Every week, I write stories, design multiple pages and am a resource to those on staff – even those two or three grade levels above me. This would not be possible if it were not for the way in which Rochester High School and its administrators support student media. As someone who participated in the symphony orchestra, the Varsity basketball team and several clubs, I can attest to the fact that The Talon has prepared me better for college life than anything else in my four years at RHS. The tools I gained have given me direction, passion and financial assistance these first few months – something I would argue every college student desperately needs.”

Nate Barton, News Assistant at the Pepperdine Graphic

STEP 3: Read and re-read their responses until you know that what you do is worth it.

Once we get through the February fog, your publication will still be standing (and so will you). In fact, it will likely be even better because you were able to spend less time worrying about carrying dead weight.

In case you think your kids are struggling through the semester change as well, try some staff pick-me-ups:

  • Create a staff playlist with every staff member’s three favorite songs (and don’t be mad when someone inevitably selects “Gangnam Style”).
  • Do silly paper plate awards for each staff member.
  • Create compliment sheets with students’ names on them and pass them around for everyone to write a compliment about each person on staff.
  • Do a Spring Secret Santa – why not?
  • Spend a few minutes at the beginning of class every day asking kids to answer connector questions:
    • What’s on your bucket list?
    • Name songs that would be on the soundtrack of your life and explain why.
    • Who’s your Hollywood crush?
    • Where would you go on your dream vacation?
    • Who is the person you’ve known the longest outside your family?
  • Create silly actions for each student’s name (Jumping Julia!) and use them as often as possible.
  • Start planning who will take what at the MIPA One-Day Workshop on March 15 🙂

Maybe start off the semester letting your staff know that you’re glad they chose to stick it out and work. You’re thankful for them. Get them pumped about being serious journalists.

And realize that you are not alone!

Julia Satterthwaite is president of MIPA and the newspaper adviser at Rochester HS.