Tag Archives: newspaper

No Fear

Flags fly at half staff at the Dec. 14 4A state semifinal Rider vs. Lancaster game at Northwest ISD Stadium following President Obama's directive after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 26 students and faculty members dead.

Flags fly at half staff at the Dec. 14 4A state semifinal Rider vs. Lancaster game at Northwest ISD Stadium following President Obama’s directive after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 26 students and faculty members dead.

An hour after I’d taken a camo, guns up photo with my newspaper editor one of my students ran into the newsroom and said we needed to turn on the TV. I logged on to CNN, saw “school shooting,” and we turned the station from our school feed to 27.

We’re on December deadline for the magazine and yearbook, but all work stopped as we watched Anderson Copper walk through the horrifying facts he knew. A minute in he said elementary school and 20 dead, more feared, and for the first time in my career as a media teacher, I said “Turn the news off.”

I told the students if they wanted to follow coverage, they could log on to news sites. No one argued, and most quickly sent I Love You texts to their families then went back to work in the room immersed in black and gold state semifinal football game excitement. I prayed silently at my desk, then pushed the reality of the world away and focused on ROHO (Ride on Honorable One) and OFOT (One Family, One Team), two of my school’s unifying concepts. The pall of the events unfolding in Connecticut simmered beneath the surface, but for the most part we purposefully wrapped ourselves in the bubble of avoidance.

After the game, one of the best I’ve ever seen other than the fact that we’re not moving on to State, I sat, soaked and freezing, and posted that I was turning my phone off because I didn’t want to lose the bubble. I made it 45 minutes, and then my news addicted personality took over.

I devoured the New York Times coverage of the shooting and prayed some more. When we got home around 1 a.m. I jumped in a hot shower, prayed again, and went to sleep.

This morning I woke up angry and horrified and so incredibly sad as I thought of those babies and their teachers and that principal and those guns that fire so many bullets so fast. The police press conference added to that anger because the man speaking had to request that the media leave the parents alone when the names of the dead children are announced. It won’t be long and politicians will add to the anger because they’ll turn this into a Republican vs Democrat soundbite opportunity.

Now I’m sitting here on the computer, blogging once again about an unthinkable tragedy brought on by violence and brokenness. Once again I have to say we can’t let the monsters win. We can’t live in fear.

Monday, we’ll have to talk about this in my classes. I’m a media teacher, and this is life.

I’m thankful for yesterday’s bubble. I’m thankful for OFOT and ROHO. I’m thankful for prayer, my school, my students.

I won’t live in fear. I’ll still go to school, to the movies, the mall, to New York City on an airplane. I’ll still dress in camo on Camo Day, I’ll still “get my guns up” and scream “Go, Raiders.” I’ll still pray silently at my desk when the unthinkable happens.

I won’t live in fear. Not ever.

I did WHAT instead of going to the gym?!

One of my students wrote an amazing column for the last paper of the year about her constant truancy. She likes school. Likes her teachers. Loves her friends. But when it comes time to get out of bed, she just can’t make herself. When I read her story, it resonated with me. Only my truancy applies to the gym. I love a great cardio workout, I enjoy classes and time on the elliptical. I haven’t eaten sugar since the end of Spring Break. It’s getting to the gym that’s the problem. I love it once I’m there, but making myself go is torture. I mess with my shoes and my audible account and check Facebook one last time and do dishes or vacuum or call my mom. Until this week I put off the gym for over six months. Then this week happened and I had two great days, one crazy day where going to the Y was out of the question, and then yesterday, the day I chose to do laundry and clean the bathroom instead of making my way to the gym (possibly an all-time low). Today, I made myself go. I opened tweet deck, checked Facebook, played Bejeweled Blitz, ran (no, not that kind of run) up to the school, played with grand doggy, watched Gossip Girl (the Darota Wedding, totally worth it), finally made myself get in the car, realized I didn’t have the book I’m listening to on my iPhone, went back inside to download Insurgent by Veronica Roth because I HAVE to listen to something if I’m on the elliptical, and FINALLY made it to the Y. It’s a miracle. I’m tired just writing about everything I did before going.

Once I was there, I loved it. I love the way my heart races and how after 40-45 minutes of cardio I feel like I can really breathe. I love the way my shirt gets sweaty and I look like an athlete even though I’m the least athletic person I know. I love the smell of the anti-bacterial spray we use to wipe down the machines and the sound of weights from the room next door. I love the Y. And still, I know tomorrow I’ll put it off, dreading the moment I make myself get in the car. It makes no sense.

Maybe if I can figure it out, I can help my truant students, too.

Don’t forget Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee, new this month. Guardian Angel training’s a tough gig. One wrong step and someone dies.

Order it here!

It’s All About WHY

Today was one of the best days I’ve had at work in a long time. The yearbook still has a bajillion pages due, and most of those pages have no pictures because of deadline issues, our ad sales are down by $7k and book sales are down around 140 (around $10.5K), I ate THREE cookies–not the diet nasty things that taste like paper but the yummy frosting topped sugary scrumptious melt-in-your-mouth buttery delights–AND still it was one of the best days ever.
One of my kids fell in love with journalism today. She fell in love with the power of writing stories that matter, stories that can change the world. She was in J-1, and she kind of sort of liked what we did and LOVED the first amendment discussions and debates we had, but STORY was an extra add on she had to muddle through to get on staff.
Today I talked to beginning staff about the difference between an assignment and writing stories: Assignments are what you turn in to English teachers. Stories need to say something powerful in a way that resonates with the student body. You search for stories, you talk to people, you feel the words when you’re writing them, and when you’re done, you look at everyone in room and say This IS AWESOME, and you know it is because you did the quality reporting to make it awesome, and then you wrote and revised and wrote some more until the story was there and it made you feel something, something more than the blankness of looking at words on paper that mean nothing even though they follow the news or feature format. Last semester two of our papers were filled with stories. The last one was filled with assignments. We never want a paper of assignments again. Ever.
Back to today:
We’d finished looking at samples of assignments vs. stories, and I told the kids I wanted to see their questions for their first stories by the end of class, and the girl said, “But, Mrs. Lee, I don’t know what to ask. I don’t get it.”
That confusion is normal for cub reporters, but she was really frustrated by it. I gave her some people she needed to talk to and started to give her some question ideas, but I could see her frustration was growing worse than ever, and in that moment, I realized she hadn’t completed step one of writing. She didn’t know WHY she was doing the dating violence story.
So I asked her why.
And she said because it was the story she’d signed up for.
And I said, nah, that’s not why you’re doing the story. I have a paper filled with stories and you picked this one. WHY?
And she said because it’s important.
And I said what does that even mean? Be real here. WHY are you doing this story? It certainly doesn’t have to be done. WHY does it matter. WHY?
And her eyes filled with tears and she said BECAUSE IT DOES. IT MATTERS. And I said “That’s right. It matters. It matters so much. You did the research yesterday. You saw the numbers, and they’re huge. You saw the outcomes, and they’re horrible. You see that there are girls on this campus in violent relationships who feel alone and isolated and desolate and they don’t know where to turn or how to cope or what to do. And you’re going to show them by telling others’ stories that they’re not alone, that there is help out there and that they don’t have to stay in the relationships. You’re going to talk to the people who can help. You’re going to give them HOPE.
Then we talked about how to write the questions. I always start with what I want to know, what interests me, and I build from there.
She left my room on fire to find those stories. She’s bringing her questions tomorrow.

I have no idea if she’ll finish the story. I hope she will. It’s a tough first story to do. But I do know I remembered the power of the high school journalist, the importance of the high school reporter, and the absolute necessity to do something more than fill our pages with assignments.
What we do matters. We just need to remember WHY we do it.

Too Much?

Last month I took a group of five of my best and brightest to San Antonio for a conference. All five are seniors. All five are in multiple AP classes. All five were in their rooms by 10 p.m. every night doing multiple hours of homework. When I said they were in too many APs, they all said they didn’t have a choice. They had to take that many APs to graduate in the top 10% and earn guaranteed admission to a Texas university.
I’m worried about where this push for academic overload is going to lead my kids. I don’t know how yearbook and newspaper can continue when I’m constantly fighting for kids. The ones I have are stretched too thin as it is.
It’s made for a worrisome year.
I know I need to give this to God, but man, it’s HARD to do that.
Okay. Vent over. Back to work.

Moving Day

I’m moving rooms. I almost said no. New is tough. It’s hard to let go of a place you’ve been in for over a decade! It’s especially tough since DD spent four years in the old newsroom. But the new space is bigger and better and I can’t believe I almost said no because of nostalgia. I won’t be at Rider forever. Even if I spend the next 13 years as the newspaper and yearbook adviser, someone else will follow. I can’t let my memories and the names written on the wall keep me from moving forward.

Things I’ll miss about the old room:

It’s hard to find if you don’t know where to look.

The courtyard window.

Easy access to the studio.

The names on the wall including DD’s, including my former editors who got engaged this year after dating for years. The started dating when they were sophomores in newspaper together. Their brother and sister are on staff now. When they got engaged, the sister painted a heart between the names. (So sweet!) The random places people signed the walls all over the room. The fact that there’s no room on the walls because they’re covered in design ideas, old posters and quotes kids say throughout the year, the fact that you have to be able to pay attention in complete chaos because the newsroom is tiny and there are usually four classes going on at once, the way I can be at my desk and look out across the room and tell if kids are working at every computer except one, the memories of staffs for years stopping work for random deadline dance parties, the ability to turn off the light and disappear from the school because without lights most people don’t know where we are, the Newsroom Lane hallway with first amendment posters, the phone IN the room so kids answer and make us laugh if I can’t get to it fast enough, the cabinet that used to hold curriculum but now serves as a binder holder for binders that never get used (An AP Stats study guide from five years ago was found there this year! Seriously, never gets used!)

The move is a good thing. The only bad thing is photo camp starts tomorrow. It runs from 9-noon. They turn the air off in our building at noon. It’s going to be 111 the rest of the week. I’m thinking the move might have to wait until all day air next week. Even though that means someone’s going to be moving in while I’m moving out.

Don’t forget Don’t forget Prodigal is on sale now. Click the link to buy or preview. Coupon Code: ZH29T good this week! Use it and the book’s only $0.99! Sisters with secrets.
Eighteen years ago, Cass Deason Myers ran away from home and heartbreak. Now she’s running away again, this time to the home she left behind. A preacher’s wife, Cass finds herself questioning her faith and her marriage. Her sister’s phone call asking for help with their mother provides the perfect opportunity to escape.
Anna Deason-Fite-Turner doesn’t want or need help for herself or her three daughters. But her mother is another story all together. Calling Cass is a last resort. But when Anna finds the bottle of pills in Momma’s dresser drawer, she knows she has to call her sister. Unfortunately, Anna knows when Cass comes home the whispers will start, and once again, everyone in town will compare perfect Cass to her failure of a sister, even though she’s the one who stayed behind.
Prodigal: a story about family, faith and the redemptive power of love.


Sad Day

A couple weeks ago while we were at Publications Camp, a girl connected to several of the students killed herself.

It’s not the kind of phone call you want your kids to get. It’s a phone call that takes place all too often these days.

The girl, a kid in high school, was a victim of cyber-bullying, but she was also fighting depression.

So often teenagers are told their depression isn’t real, that they’ll “get over it,” but in the moment, that promise of being fine one day seems more of a fairy tale than truth.

Last year we did a story in the newspaper about how social networking has made bullying so much worse. Used to you might have trouble with a handful of kids. Now that handful can be hundreds. If the person being bullied has a smart phone, that’s non-stop harassment about their clothes or their hair or their sexual preference or their choice of music or who stole whose boyfriend and who’s a skank-ho. When I was a kid, you could walk away, today the bullying follows you everywhere you go.

I didn’t know the girl who took her life. She didn’t go to my school. But I’ve seen plenty of others like her, just getting by, trying to hold on to the idea that it will get better some day.

We’ll definitely be doing another cyber-bullying story this year. Until it stops, we’ve got to.

The End

The end of the year is always so busy. It’s a time for reflection. I have a lot of that to do. It’s easily been the toughest year of my teaching career. I’ve had some of the best kids ever, thank GOD! I’m not sure what happened to make things so incredibly difficult. I think I spread myself too thin. I have this amazing kid on staff who does too much, and I’m always telling her she has to make choices. For the last year I’ve wondered why she has so much trouble making those choices and now here I am once again at the end of the year questioning whether I can do everything, knowing something has to change.
The big stress came when I took on the video class at the same time my staffs started dropping in size.
Last year I tried recruiting more students instead of only using kids who came to me on their own or through my J1 class.
Kids think yearbook and newspaper are going to be all about fun. They don’t realize what all goes into that one spread.
And this year I didn’t handle their shock so well.
Same thing for the kids who didn’t do. After a semester of trying, I made them get their schedules changed.
I’m ready for this year to end.
I’m excited about what I already see happening for next year. We’ve set camp dates, we know San Antonio conference. Over half the yearbook staff is made of seniors.
These days I keep hearing politicians talk about how lazy teachers are, about how we’re part-time employees and how we have summers off, so our jobs aren’t that hard.
As I look forward to this summer in a way I never have, I wish more than anything a few of those politicians could spend a year with me. It might be interesting to see how they feel in May.

The Bad News

If the all the cuts proposed are adopted, I’m losing more than 10% of my pay next year. OUCH!
The good news: I work for a district that made this process completely transparent. As painful as this is, it’s not a surprise. And I’m not alone. Several people will be taking huge hits. And unfortunately those hits will affect those of us who spend several extra hours a week and time with our students on weekends more than it hits those who show up for work and check out at quitting time. Unfortunately, those of us going the extra mile had the salary stipends that could be looked at. The state government has to balance the budget, and they’ve chosen to do so on the backs of public servants and the children of the State of Texas. The district has to make budget. End of story. Our budget committee was made up of people from all areas of our district, not just the supers and admin. They studied every area possible to find the cuts, and they did what had to be done. I appreciate the people who gave their time to serve on this committee. Hopefully, their hard work won’t go unappreciated.
What bothers me is how so many people in the public are reacting to the cuts. So many people are saying hurtful, horrible things about teachers right now, and it breaks my heart.
We give our lives to our jobs. You won’t find us on long business lunches with glasses of wine and margaritas or at the gym for 4:00 a fitness class before running home to get dinner together for our families. At night we spend time with our families when we can, but almost always, we’re working on grading papers, giving quality feedback, or doing lesson plans at the same time.
Yes, public education spending has increased in the last decade. But society expects astronomically more from us than they did a decade ago. Are there areas of waste? Sure. Schools are bureaucracies. Waste abounds in bureaucracies. Are there bad teachers out there. Yes. But finding them isn’t as easy as non-educators seem to think. And it costs money to get them out of the classroom.
Today at lunch a friend said she knows a single teacher with two children who qualifies for federal assistance. That makes no sense.
I’m terrified right now. It seems to me that this is a battle for the USA. This is the country where everyone gets a quality education. Where hard work means something. Where children of poverty can change their lives, and that change starts with school. But the US is changing. Poverty levels are increasing, the middle class is shrinking and the rich are getting richer. We’re truly becoming a society of haves and have nots with little upward shifting taking place over the course of time.
All this said, I know I’ll be okay. God’s in control. A couple years before she died, my grandma told me the story of her life during The Great Depression. So many people lost their homes and jobs, tent cities cropped up everywhere. She lived in a tent. My house is paid for.
I won’t get to build the house we wanted to build right now, but I have a home.
I won’t be going to Vegas on vacation, but I have my family.
I won’t be getting a new car, but my car works.
I won’t be spending a lot of my own money on my budget-less publications program, but I probably should have stopped that a long time ago.
So yes, I’ll be okay.
But our schools, that’s another story. A story controlled by politicians and lobbyists and people who have no clue what we do every day on campuses across the nation.

Why I Teach

I teach because I enjoy my job. I enjoy journalism and writing and current events and debates and discussions and books and movies and computer programs and kids who yell, “Mrs. Lee, help! The spinning pinwheel of doom won’t go away.” Or “oh GOD, I think the server just disappeared.”
I teach because most days when the alarm wakes me up, I don’t hide under the covers and say “I don’t wanna.” Most days I get myself going and by the time I walk in the building, I’m ready to see the teenagers who’ve changed my life from year to year and the adults I work with.
I teach because I can tell a room full of kids the Big Fat Man story, and even though those who’ve heard it before groan, they still laugh when I get to the nonsense ending.
I teach because it’s the one place a room of teenagers ASKS me to make up a song on Garage Band and then sing it to the one who needs to hear the words.
I teach because sometimes heartbroken, hurt, angry students will tell me their stories, ask for my advice, and actually take that advice and do something with it.
I teach because I love working with kids who give up their weekends to compete by taking tests with the hopes of moving on to the next level (hello UIL!).
I teach because I think it’s amazing to watch a kid revise and revise and revise for a check plus because I tell them I won’t give them a grade for anything less (even though the gradebook clearly shows I will).
I teach because I love it. And even though tomorrow will be one of those pull the covers over the head and say “I don’t wanna” mornings, by the time I get to my classroom (or before if I don’t hit all the lights on SWPKWY), I’ll be excited to be there, ready to make a difference.

Last Day of Spring Break

We set up an old computer so I could use Rosetta Stone to re-learn French. So far I can tell you about old and young people, running, jumping, cars, planes, short and long hair, lots of colors and animals. I got to skip the numbers lesson because I still remembered that. Yay!
I’ve cleaned one room and my kitchen cabinets are half way de-cluttered. I even used a hammer on one of them.
I kicked off break marching in Austin, went to hockey game, got a little office area set up, read two great books, downloaded the second in the Hunger Games series to listen to, caught up on e-mail, watched the rest of season 2 of Bones and some of season 3, ate too much some days, not enough others, worked out every day…at least a little, got my hair colored and trimmed.
So here it is Friday.
On Monday our local budget committee will present their recommendations for cuts to the school board. There’s a story on dallasnews.com that says the Senate has cut the funding shortfall in half for public education. It will be interesting to see if that proves to be true.
I needed Spring Break this year. Like always, it’s gone too fast. Hopefully next week isn’t too painful.