Over the last several weeks, I have had some hard conversations with teachers from around the country.
These teachers range from award winning veterans to still trying to find the employee bathroom rookies. They range in physical age and gender. They are both industry vets and teachers who have only taught. They all share the same story… “I am sinking. I don’t feel like I am doing a good job. I am not preparing the kids they way I should. I am overwhelmed” I admit that I was in the same state a while back.
I am going to make some assumptions for the remainder of this article. I am going to assume that you are reading this because you are a teacher. I am going to assume that as a teacher, you are a type A personality. I am going to build off that assumption and say that you are most likely highly competitive and more than likely look at what other teachers are doing and compare your program and students to theirs. I am going to assume that as you look around, you are either really excited about what you have going on or really think that going back into the industry may be the best thing you can do for the workforce.
Now, with those assumptions in mind, I want to tell you that you are doing a great job! What you are doing in your classroom is wonderful. Seriously, it’s not you. If you have one kid who is learning, you are doing a great job. Teaching today is VERY different and I would argue that teaching video production has changed more in the last 5 years than any other subject. Please don’t think I am bashing academics* or other career-tech programs but follow me as I explain. The demand for video content has grown exponentially in the last five years. It’s everywhere. In the past, if students put out some video products the response was “that’s cool” or “man I wish I knew how to do that.” Now video products must flow from the classroom immediately and consistently. News, sports, clubs, administrators, community entities, and more all want video and they want it now. If you are in a small community, they not only want it now, they want it for free and from you. Video has permeated every aspect of life and this is the biggest thing that has changed about our jobs.
I believe that schools now start a program and the expectation is that the program starts to pay off immediately. This may be completely self imposed on my part but as I look around, I see it everywhere. New programs take tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to start and the expectation is that the content will begin flowing immediately. Having shiny new toys is no longer good enough. The expectation is that people see what the shiny new toy can produce despite the same struggles the other subjects face. Often, video programs new and old face a bevy of obstacles that others don’t. Lack of support from admin or colleagues. Lack of funds. Lack of concern when it comes to student placement. Completely off base expectations from all stakeholders and enough criticism to require years of therapy. What we do is difficult and it’s not going to get easier unfortunately…. Now that we know what the problem is how can we address it. That’s the million dollar question…
I am a firm believer in “managing up.” By managing up, I mean telling those that you report to what’s going on, what’s needed, and how it will impact the outcome. Now, I am not at all saying to go ask for more people, equipment, etc; unless you need it. I am saying let them know what’s going on. When something happens that is good tell them - even if it is a student who according to the reports, etc can’t read who performed as the anchor that day and read from the teleprompter or if you had something different that worked. Tell them about it. Ask if they saw it. If you set the expectation that they watch your stuff, they will! When something bad happens, tell them. Why did the show not get on the air that day - tell them. Why is there the glass from a $100 lens on the floor - tell them. Managing up has helped me in so many ways. I learned to use it when I was in the industry. I would literally take time every day to talk to one of my superiors to let them know what’s going on. It helped me time and time again.
Outside of managing up, you have to manage YOUR expectations. A month or so ago, I realized that I was running a race I wasn’t prepared for. I pulled back my expectations. Communicated those changes and ran with them. As much as I hate to admit it, I look around and see what others are doing and I try to steal those ideas. I try to steal their success at the cost of my success (and sanity). I spoke with someone last week who lamented that they regret starting a weekly show because that has become the expectation. I also talked with someone who regretted starting a daily show, sports broadcasts, and multiple social media posted each day… because that too has become the expectation. If you find that your expectations are out of line with your abilities, have a serious conversation with yourself and determine what must go. Then “manage up” and detail to them the need for the changes and the short and long term impacts of those changes.
What’s left? Make the changes in the classroom. Explain to the students what’s changing and why. Explain with the framework of “you are going to experience this when you become a video professional.” I try to be as honest as legally possible with my students about what goes into the management of the program. I think it helps them understand why things work the way the do and I also HOPE it shows them that I really do care about their learning experience.
Now to something you can take with you right now. First take 10 minutes a day to do nothing. Seriously. It’s possible. I have made a point to take 10 minutes each morning and do nothing. It sometimes is in the form of the massage chair in the gym and others it is simply just sitting in my car listening to the radio for 10 minutes before I go into the school. This has helped me tremendously. It’s a time for me to just think. I go through my list of things to do that day. I think about my wife and kids. The only rule is that I don’t go on social media and I don’t talk with anyone. It’s just me time!
Next, I started to find ways to streamline what I do. I found a format that I liked for our social media posts, I saved the file (and supporting files - audio, etc) and shared it with the students. Now they can do the editing and it always looks the same. Now I just have to approve the final product and schedule the posts. Speaking of scheduling the posts, I rekindled my love for Hootsuite over the last month or so. If you aren’t aware, Hootsuite is a social media application that allows you to schedule your social media posts across several platforms. There is a calendar presentation so you can see exactly when and what you are posting. I take about 10 minutes each day and schedule the posts - eventually I will have a student that I trust to do the posting and I will hand it off to them (Hello Work Based Learning…). The image above is a snapshot of the amount of content we are pushing out using hootsuite… and this isn’t our live show or our sports broadcasts. This is just announcements/promos about the show and school.
This seems counterintuitive to the previous point but I have started to rely more and more on video lessons. I used to have a flipped classroom but now I have a “Mr White teaches for 10 to 15 minutes, the students begin working, Mr. White helps as needed, and sometimes just tells the student to stop working and watch a video” classroom. Taking 10 minutes once a week to go through the process via screen capture saves me hours each week. Sometimes the issues students face in class are simple and other times, they are completely off base and need support that you can’t give in a class of 20 who are all working so rely on the video to help. Taking that time up front helps me every day. Often it gets to the point where I tell the student to not only go watch the video but I tell them the time to start because it’s something that others have struggled with (teaching fail on my part usually).
Finally, take some time to remember why you teach. I teach for the relationships with the students and my peers. I love what I get to do every day with my students and I think most of them like what they get to do with me (Except the director this morning who acted like it was the first time she held a rundown in her hand...she’s not a fan today but I will mend that relationship tomorrow). I love what I get to share with my peers both locally and across the nation. I love hearing success stories as well as the occasional fail. Teaching is a tough job but it is a great job. No matter your situation, find something positive. It may be one student who smiles when they walk in the door but find that positive and push through until you can find another.
You are doing great things, changing lives, and most importantly there is a student who got up this morning and got their day started just to spend a class period with you. Take care of yourself because if you aren’t there, that student’s life changes forever.
*My wife is a high school english teacher so I have to be very careful.
Tom White is the digital media instructor at Morgan County High School in Madison, GA. Currently teaching TV production and animation pathways, Tom's programs have received state and national honors including the 2016 NFHS Network School Broadcast Program Of The Year.
Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.