When I took my English teaching job last summer at my alma mater, it came with the yearbook class as my sixth course. It turns out, I was the fourth adviser in five years to take that class. One junior and one senior girl had taken the class the year before, and therefore were the default junior and senior editors, but the other 14 students didn’t know what they were signing up for. The class was notorious for being one of the most drama-filled classes in the school (possibly because it is almost always entirely female). The class handles all its own sales and budget. There is very little oversight from anyone, but there is the expectation that we actually produce a 200+ page yearbook and not go into debt. It’s the sort of job that very few people get excited to take, and at the beginning, I was one of them. By the end though, I loved it! In July of 2015, I started a google document titled “Yearbook journal” and throughout the year, put anything and everything it in – venting about the class, reminders for next year, questions to ask my Jostens rep – and a year later it is 17 pages long. My rep asked if I would teach a new advisers session at a fall workshop, so this post is a reflection as I prepare for that!
|Our 2016 cover|
INTRO – July 2015
I let myself into a small, windowless, carpeted first floor classroom that even after 4 years of school there I’ve never set foot in. There is a jumble of desks and chairs that look like the leftovers from various classroom clean outs, a well-loved kitchen table in the middle with initials and male anatomy carved into it, two Epson scanners that are about 15 years old, 14 iMacs purchased in 2010 (some without keyboards), and five Canon cameras, two of which did not turn on and I could find no battery chargers for them. There were maybe 5 lens caps to go around; we needed at last 16. While our school is extremely tech-friendly with 1:1 ipads and strong infrastructure, I think yearbook was forgotten. Registration is in two weeks, and for the first time we are taking school photos at registration instead of in August during the school day. I receive an invoice for about $1100 from Jostens for the spring supplement that is supposed to go with the 2015 yearbook; I haven’t received my first paycheck and I need to figure out how to do a purchase order to spend money I’m not sure we have. I try to email the Jostens rep I was told we use, and find out he left his job. Welcome to yearbook!
Somehow we ended up in possibly the hottest classroom in the non-air conditioned part of the school for photos; because of the lights and backdrops we couldn’t use the fans, and a few windows didn’t open. Everyone’s school photo looks wilted. I am there to direct photos and pre-order yearbooks. Parents ask me questions about ordering photos, which go directly through the photo company. I end up with some checks to Inter-State Studios trying to order yearbooks, checks to Jostens meant for school pictures, and checks directly to the high school which I can actually deposit. I have no experience managing money for anyone other than myself, and over three days I suddenly have nearly $3000 in cash and checks to find homes for. Definitely a lesson in accounting. It was a rough a three days.
I try to do some team-building with my students; my class has 4 juniors and 12 seniors, 5 of whom are on the varsity volleyball team (and therefore are unavailable for basically anything outside of school all season). I try to do a practice interview activity to teach basic journalism skills like follow-up questions; it fails abysmally. I give them the working cameras and send them out to practice taking pictures; it becomes patently obvious that save for one or two students, none of us have any idea how to work a real camera (including me). They kept asking me, “What do we do in yearbook?” and I could only answer, “Well, we make a yearbook.” Thankfully my inability to teach follow-up question skills prevented them from asking, “How?” as my answer would be, “I don’t know.” [I recognize now that had I not been creating new curriculum for my other two English classes at the same time, this teaching period would have been much more successful.]
Excellent yearbooks have a theme used throughout; the students the year before had chosen the theme “ALL OR NOTHING.” When I asked the editors why they chose this theme, they said, “We picked it out of a book.” One editor and I attended a workshop where we learned how to integrate themes and colors, such as catchy headlines or symbols used on each page (think: “FALL” throughout with the “all” font emphasized or “NOTHING but Net” for a basketball headline). The only real thing we managed to do was design a cover with photos of ALL different kinds of students, with a gradient fade to white (NOTHING). After struggling for weeks to integrate our theme, we dump it and change to “Giving it your all” to bring in some aspect of the school’s focus on service.
|Example ad page|
Our primary fundraising is through senior recognition and business ad sales. Parents put in baby pictures and Bible verses and the like, but we’ve never been good on business ads, despite having a huge network of alumni locally that support the high school. I brought in an ad sales lady from the newspaper to give a master class on how to sell, and the kids got really excited. We even set up sales incentives, where they could get money off their yearbook or gas cards for certain dollar amounts. Unfortunately it took me several weeks to put together our marketing materials, and by the time I got this done in November, they had lost momentum. I required students to attempt to sell to two people, and get documentation. Some scheduled appointments during class time to do this (which was fine), but I got burned twice: once when kids told me they had an appointment and didn’t and returned to school with McDonalds (and then told me how “the manager was rude to them”); and once when kids had an appointment but left all their sales materials at school; they lost the sale and probably that customer forever. Lots of notes in my yearbook journal on how to do that better next year. We didn’t hit either of our sales goals and ended the year with about a $32 profit (but we weren’t in debt!).
I had a syllabus from last year’s teacher, but grading was tricky; I basically set out a new grading structure every quarter. It’s a project-based class, so I tried to model it a bit on our video productions course. For the first quarter I had them fill out participation logs, where they told me what they accomplished each day. This was okay, except that with everyone assigned to different spreads on different schedules, while one was frantically finishing the Homecoming spread in October, another was assigned to a sport that hadn’t even started yet – and was mad at getting penalized for having nothing to do. This worked in the video course because everyone, while working on different projects, still had the same deadline.
I then started a weekly tutorial assignment, where student had to watch a tutorial video or read an article every week, then summarize it for credit. The idea was to polish the skills they needed – how to use the F-stop properly for gym lighting, or best ways to pose a subject for a portrait. Instead, kids picked wildly inappropriate videos because they were short (“Travel photography in Venice!” “How to photograph a bathroom for MLS listing”) or just in general doing the absolute bare minimum. By third quarter I had a system where they needed to do a tutorial a week, two layouts with story, and take photographs four times. Even then, I didn’t have a proper rubric for the spreads, they sent terrible journalistic emails with no proper questions or even explanations (“Please send me a quote about track by Friday”). Way too many students ended the year with an A when they didn’t deserve it, but I learned my lesson to create higher standards BEFORE the year begins, not in the middle.
One of our school parents (not a yearbook student) subs frequently and is also a professional photographer who often covers events for the school. He came in and led several classes for my students on photography, and popped it when he subbed to answer questions and check out our work. Throughout the year he also shared many photos with us when our kids didn’t cover an event or to supplement. The yearbook was so much better with his help. Also, the new Jostens rep our school was assigned to was excellent; he stopped in at least once a month to work with me and answer questions, and was so supportive as we built the program. Finally, the high school’s communications manager, a former newspaper employee, was so helpful in classroom structure, sharing information and photos, and helping me plan for next year.
In spite of all the student push-back and senioritis, several students seriously did step up and we ended up completing a yearbook to be proud of. Journalistic stories are not our strength, but we had more events photographed, more students covered, and a more cohesive yearbook than in the past several years. In fact, we qualified for Jostens’ “Yearbook of Excellence” award (only six Indiana schools got this last year!). 73% of the student body purchased a book; 78% of the students are in the book three times or more; and we hit every deadline for cover and page submission. Flipping through the proof, I still have found a few small typos, but far fewer than in past years. Next job interview when I get asked about a project I am particuarly proud of, I will say the 2016 yearbook.
One of my spreads I put together!
What I really took away this past year is that I didn’t give my kids enough valuable work or create a culture of motivation. I read Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership, several of John Maxwell’s essays and books, and spoke to as many yearbook, newspaper, and small business people that I could find. I realized we can do so much MORE as a class; with only 16 people, so many had nothing to do most days. Next year there are 26 enrolled. I have decided to spearhead the return of our school newspaper, The Lu-Hi Voice. It hasn’t existed properly in over five years, but we are going to relaunch it as an online WordPress-run site. I renamed the class Publications, and students will be organized like a newspaper staff, with an Athletics Editor, Human Interest Editor, and Marketing Manager. There will be more delegation and leadership roles among the students. A student will be in charge of camera inventory, so the teacher doesn’t have to go in during her free period and make sure everything is charged. Students will produce the content for the newspaper, and pull the best of it for the yearbook. In addition, I am going to launch a publications club, so students outside the class can contribute writings, reviews, editorials, devotions, and photos.
We have a school website but it really is geared more toward marketing and parents; this site will be student-driven, and give the kids a way to see what they’ve produced in a real-world setting. I had a staff meeting in May of the 2016-17 publications class; 24 of 26 kids showed up. I’ve had several work days throughout the summer to layout next year’s yearbook; five kids have come in and out already. We’ve updated our sales packet, designed logos and watermarks, and created a tentative style guide and theme for the 2017 book. Six students are going to a daylong workshop in two weeks with me. Grading will be a la carte so students can focus on what they want to do – writing, photography, marketing – for their points, instead of assigning kids who do not have an eye for layout to do spreads, or students with terrible photography skills to shoot a fast-paced basketball game (both of which happened this year). I took a continuing ed course this spring on DSLR cameras so at last I know how to use the cameras we purchased this year. Even though I am not teaching the course this fall, it is set up so that the students can run with it and really make everything special.
So that’s my yearbook experience! Thanks for reading.