I’ve had many wonderful teachers through the years, but a reporting teacher I had in college was not among them. At the time, I wrote sports for a local newspaper, the Lakeland Ledger, mostly covering prep sports games and helping with agate one or two nights a week. For the previous two years, I had also worked full-time at a local newspaper, Fort Myers News-Press, as both a writer and agate clerk, learning a great deal from talented journalists who edited my stories as I sat by them – probably the best possible experience a young reporter could receive. So I knew a bit about trends and current practices. Yet, this teacher started picking on a minute detail, something along the line that newspapers absolutely never use the word ‘today’ in news copy, something I knew was false from experience. This teacher acted as though my response were mutinous, or worse, was anti-journalistic, so he rolled into some inane lecture about the importance of AP Style or keeping traditions alive, although I am not certain of the details because my eyes had already settled into the back of my head and my brain had hit reverse hard enough to kick up some dirt. As soon as class ended, I walked over to the dean’s office and changed my major to English.
Tomorrow, our school will hold an open house for potential students here at Eastern Illinois University. Inevitably, parents will ask about job opportunities in a profession that has certainly been contracting. However, jobs are available, especially for smart graduates willing to work diligently, take chances, and hone their skills in college courses and for student media.
I never seem to have enough time to cover everything I’d like to address in classes, especially when student writing skills continue to diminish – at least, that’s been my perspective after teaching at colleges for the past 16 years. In a 16-week class, the best I can do is address some basic writing problems, which range from a weak vocabulary to an inability to piece together coherent, grammatically correct sentences. I typically correct sentences when students submit their required news stories, but I know this is insufficient. These students, if they truly want to become media professionals, will need to take several more writing and grammar courses in order to communicate effectively in a field where the best communicators battle for the best jobs.