Yearbooks are teaching tools

Posted Monday, Jun. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In response to your story regarding high school yearbooks, I wanted to give a little bit of background given my own experiences.

Before becoming a high school journalism teacher 11 years ago, I worked as a copy editor and writer for several large newspapers. I could never understand how so many errors ended up in high school publications. "Aren't they teaching the students anything?" I wondered.

After a few humbling years, I finally understood. Yes, we are teaching them something. Children--and yes, teenage yearbook editors are children--make mistakes. They misspell names, they write down the wrong grades, they mix up photos and captions while working on complex computer programs. And while we try to guide them away from those mistakes, we spend most of our time cautioning them away from the most egregious errors: fabricated or misunderstood quotes, libel, obscenity.

The truth is, these students are creating a publication from the ground up. Unlike those who work for major professional publications, they create all the layouts, take all the photographs, do all the editing, writing, and yes-- proofreading. They do this while taking seven other classes, doing homework, participating in clubs and sports and working part-time. Their work in yearbook is not perfect; neither is their work in geometry, or in history, or in Spanish or physics. Because they are students. And just as their math teachers use their mistakes on tests to help them learn, we in yearbook do the same. And sometimes that means letting them make mistakes so that they can experience the consequences.

It is important to note that while my colleagues and I do our best to check every page, and especially senior ads, mistakes do get by us. Because we are human, too. Besides approving photos, checking layouts, managing a large budget and accounts and assigning events, we are also teachers. Within our yearbook class, we have all the regular teaching responsibilities: attendance, grades, parent calls and general student mentorship. And that's just one class. When parents call me, they often forget that I teach five other courses every single day that have nothing to do with the yearbook. I am not a small business owner; I'm a teacher. I understand how an incorrect ad or a misspelled name can be upsetting. I fully support refunding the ads that were incorrect, or taking back un-marked books for resale. If you're not happy with the product, I understand why you wouldn't want to buy it. That's a lesson for the kids, too.

When I first became a yearbook adviser, my publishing representative promised to show me a perfect yearbook. When he pulled it out, all the pages were blank. Because there are no perfect yearbooks; creating perfection isn't my job. Teaching is. And when I look at the Mansfield and Legacy books, I can say I'd be thrilled to have advised either of them. They both show a passionate commitment to high school journalism, and a few unintentional misspellings or mistakes, while regrettable, simply does not change that fact.

Erin Mahoney-Ross


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