Leading the way in scholastic journalism & media education since 1924

Mentors to ‘Help Young Things Grow’

By Sandy Jacoby

I believe.
I believe when the Washington Post and the New York Times report that almost half of new teachers leave the profession within five years while we baby boomers are exiting in the hundreds of thousands.

I believe widespread research that shows that the quality of teacher drives student achievement; I’ve always believed that in the 35 years I’ve advised student publications.

I believe that JEA mentors matter in countering the dangerous trends. JEA mentors will strive to inspire quality journalism teachers and advisers, to improve their teaching practices and to build stronger scholastic journalism programs, programs that give diverse students voice and allow them to exercise their rights to free speech, delicately balanced by responsible journalism. I am passionate as a mentor about informing my own practices to “help young things grow,” as Thorton Wilder wrote.

Mentor training led by Nick Ferentinos and Steve O’Donoghue of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative crystallized more clearly these beliefs and the mission I share with nine other JEA mentors. Our training in Philadelphia tapped into those deeply held beliefs about the value of scholastic journalism that had inspired our careers.

Training fired us up as JEA’s program focused on a transfer process for our knowledge and decades of experience.

To avoid the loss of our accumulated wisdom, we as mentors can guide the next generation of advisers.
From exercises that helped us define our roles as mentors to practice of mentor language that supports growth in beginning teachers, the training connected our prior experiences with student teachers, other mentor programs and student publication staffs. The hours flew quickly from 7:30 a.m. to the dinner hour of 6 p.m.

Yes, we became the Hallelujah chorus in that short-long day.

When JEA Mentor co-chairs Julie Dodd and Linda Barrington approached me, I enthusiastically offered an “Amen.” They affirmed my personal awareness of the need to turn the tide to retain newspaper and yearbook advisers through an aggressive action plan.

Yet, Steve and Nick’s training with support from Linda, Julie, Peggy Gregory, Candace Perkins Bowen and Norma Kneese that day charged us up to collectively, joyously sing the Hallelujah refrain for scholastic journalism.
Teeming with excitement, we found our most valuable tools in formative assessment of beginning teachers, individual plans which we will revise to meet emerging needs, and especially, the collaborative logs with which we will deepen the professional practices of our mentees while deepening our own.

What can I say?

I loved it; we ten mentors loved it.

We so understood the isolation that surrounds beginning journalism teachers and advisers because rarely does another teacher in a building share the challenges of a publication staff. I remembered in the training activity those first year feelings of being overwhelmed but amazed at how students were motivated to improve writing, sharpen writing skills because of publishing for a real audience compared to the teacher-only audience of most English assignments.

We knew we had stayed advisers long enough to value the tremendous rewards that resulted from the hard work of publications; we had stuck around long enough for our grads to return from college and careers to reinforce us through their gratitude and recognition of life-long learning skills developed in journalism.

Because of JEA’s program where content-specific mentoring can generate “better teachers, better learning and better student media” as Executive Director Linda Puntney has written, we know we have the opportunity to impact educational culture and our school communities.

We 10 know we are striving to make history through mentoring, paralleling what journalism teachers and programs have done through producing excellent communicators and outstanding leaders.

We boomers always planned to save humanity, and we still do, one journalism adviser at a time.

Hallelujah!