by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

When I read “Teaching Secrets: Managing October Exhaustion” in Teacher Magazine online, I was interested in Elena Aguilar’s tips, as I thought the article would provide useful ideas for our JEA mentors, who are working with new journalism teachers and advisers.

Her article reminded me of the Phases of First Year Teaching that JEA Mentoring Committee member Nick Ferentinos discusses at our Mentor Academies. The chart (this one from is a good reminder to those of us who are veteran teachers of how new teachers feel during that first year — from enthusiastic to discouraged. And the late fall is when those new teachers’ optimism and energy are beginning to wane. Lesson plans to develop. All those papers to grade and report cards to prepare. Parent-Teacher Night. Discipline reports. Lunchroom or bus duty.

And the journalism teachers have another set of challenges if they are advising student media. Generating funds for producing the student media — selling yearbook subscription and selling ads. Meeting deadlines. Perhaps handling an encounter with the student editor or the school principal over a controversial article.

Here are the suggestions from Aguilar’s article that I considered most helpful to us as we coach new journalism teachers:

Re-ground yourself in the “why” — Aguilar advises teachers who are feeling discouraged to ask themselves why they got into teaching to remind themselves of the value of what they are doing. I think that’s particularly useful for new journalism teachers. Most agreed to advise so they could help students have a unique outlet of expression, to have an authentic voice, to learn “real world” skills, and (at least sometimes) to make an important difference in the life of the school. Mentors can remind the new journalism advisers of the value of this very special kind of teaching.

Celebrate successes — Teaching journalism and advising student media provide many successes. Deadlines met. Fewer published errors. Teamwork. Ad quotas met.

Learn to delegate duties — Delegating is crucial for advisers, and that’s where a publication staff should be helpful. Most editors want responsibility and will follow through. (Note that I said “most.”) Written job descriptions can help staff members understand what responsibilities are attached to which staff position — and how the adviser fits into the organizational structure.

Aguilar has two other tips that are related and can be very challenging to implement for inexperienced and experienced advisers:

  • Make good health a priority.
  • Reclaim fair working conditions.

Aguilar, who is a School Improvement Coach in the Oakland Unified School District, says that exercising and getting enough sleep are crucial for effective teaching. But that ties to her second point, which is that teaching needs to be restructured to fit into the eight-hour work day.

Almost every effective high school teacher is putting in more than an eight-hour work day. The school day is filled with teaching (typically one class right after another — with a 10-minute break in between). A planning period (if the teacher has one) is spent making copies, calling parents, meeting with other teachers. So it’s only after the official school day that teachers can write lesson plans, develop exams and grade papers. Media advisers often are putting in some of the longest hours in the school because they are working with staffs after school and on weekends to meet deadlines or to take students to media conferences.

Perhaps one of our great challenges as mentors is helping those new advisers be effective time managers — perhaps more effective than we were/are ourselves as advisers.

Aguilar ends her article discussing the burnout level of teachers. “In my district, 50 percent of teachers leave within three years; 70 percent are gone after five years.”

That’s one of our primarly goals with the JEA Mentoring Program — to keep new journalism teachers in the profession. So our goal is not only to help them get through the tough time of the first fall in the classroom but how to help them structure sustainable teaching lives that keep them in journalism teaching as a career.