Advising a student newspaper is very much like teaching a child how to ride a bike. Cautious and slow at first, a parent is right there, guiding, supporting, and coaching. As the child gets the hang of it and gains confidence, you slowly push away and let him or her ride off on his own, watching his every move from a distance and hoping for the best.
Sometimes the kid crashes, sometimes he stops himself, afraid to move on, and other times, he rides recklessly without any fear, throwing caution to the wind.
As the faculty adviser to The Montage, a student newspaper at St. Louis Community College – Meramec, I’m just like that parent in the newsroom.
In the beginning, I coach the students on story structures, photo techniques and the basics of design. I lecture on legal consequences and ethical considerations until their eyes start to glaze over. We banter back and forth about newsroom rules, ad placement, and maintaining objectivity.
As the students gain confidence and overcome the intimidation and fear of jumping into something new, I offer resources, guidance and support. Just like the parent clutching to the back of the bike seat, I’m always there and they know that they can always rely on me, bug me on Facebook, or call my cell phone when questions arise and the pressure is too much.
Eventually, though, I must let go. I have to let them experience this journey as independently as possible. As a firm believer in the College Media Advisers’ Code of Ethics, I know that students learn best when they have the opportunity to depend on themselves and their peers. They learn through trial and error, tears of frustration, and through the readers that enjoy what they’ve produced. Most of all, they learn the most when I’m not hovering over their shoulders as mom and rather standing on the sidelines like the cool aunt.
Sometimes, they crash and burn. Sometimes, they plunge headfirst into dangerous waters, throwing all caution to the wind. But most of the time, they take off a little fearful and then build up momentum, riding steady and stable.
As hard as it is to let go, it is much more rewarding to see the pride radiating from their faces when they complete each issue, knowing that they did it on their own. As much as I’d like to run alongside, hold on to the seat of their success and fix the sting of the scrapes and bruises that accompany the ride, I can’t and I won’t because it’s not my journey.
Instead, just like most parents do when their child cycles away, I’ll give them a big push, watch from a distance, and hope that I’ve given enough guidance and support to get them to their final destination.
– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: Sept. 1, 2009
Photo Credit: The Montage
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