I studied journalism for four years in college before deciding teaching would be the better fit for me. I pretty much hated every one of my internships, but I did gain some skills that have impacted my professional life as an educator.
Managing time and adhering to a schedule. My final college internship was the only one in which I worked mornings. It required a long commute with my day starting before 6 am. This was all new to me. I never had to be up so early on a consistent basis (previous internships were in the evenings) and doing so taught me how to arrange my schedule accordingly. Time management became more crucial than ever. It was a skill I sorely lacked going into college but one I had improved upon by the time I graduated. All teachers need to be able to manage the clock – in the classroom and in their personal lives (so the job doesn’t become the life!)
Not everyone will love me. At this same internship, I actually was bullied by my immediate supervisor. He was just all-around nasty to me. I never quite pinpointed the reason why. It just always was that way. Still, I did work for him and had to do my best to behave professionally. In some ways, I learned how to stand up for myself and defend myself without being insubordinate. Now, I do the same for my students (and myself, when necessary).
Some things are best left unsaid. A friend of mine who worked at this same internship shared a story one day: one of the on-air personalities at the internship had provided him with some religious literature and attempted to get him to convert. The situation was extremely uncomfortable for him, and I worried the rest of my time there that I would be the next target. I wanted to avoid this guy as much as possible (and I wasn’t the only one). Lesson: religion, politics, abortion…these types of conversations are best left out of the workplace (whether it’s a radio station or a school).
How do you ask a question? Questioning is the big push in NYC this year. Thanks to my journalism background, I feel like I have a leg up. Yes/no questions are useless, except for fact-checking. The best questions are the ones that make the interviewee – or student – pause and think. I had plenty of experience writing thought-provoking questions, and I draw on those skills today. And speaking of pauses, silence is a very powerful tool. We learned in journalism that if a subject didn’t want to answer a touchy question, we should stop talking and just look at them. Silence is deafening and unsettling. Working with kids, I try to use silence when something is bothering them. The more I talk, the less they will (usually), so maintaining silence may encourage them to open up.
There are always two sides to every story. Until you have learned to be objective, it is very difficult to understand this. As a journalist, I believed very strongly in the importance of removing myself from whatever I was writing or reporting. If you read this blog, you know I am always on the side of the students, but I have found myself in some heated arguments with colleagues when I’ve articulated the virtues of the administration’s perspectives and interests over our own.
I once wrote that four years of journalism were a waste, but to be truthful, the experiences I had have helped me conduct myself in a more professional way. I don’t use the journalism degree, but I do use what I’ve learned on a regular basis.