My journalism chapter is ending… and I’m ready

After 20 years, my run as a student newspaper adviser has come to an end.

No more helping students craft editorials on sensitive topics, like transgender bathrooms, bullying and discipline policies. No more showing student editors how to gently communicate honest feedback to new, easily discouraged reporters. No more lying awake in bed wondering if the next issue will earn me a tense phone call with an administrator.

No more technology fails, budget disasters or late print nights, either.

Advising the Mounds View High School Viewer (for 17 of those years) is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I’ve had the chance to work with so many supremely talented, opinionated, persistent teenagers, some of whom went on to careers in journalism, screenwriting, speechwriting and law.

I’ve also had the chance to work with teenagers whose only reason for getting up in the morning was the Viewer. Some of them made it through high school because working on the newspaper — producing something tangible that gave them a voice — provided a sense of purpose they couldn’t find anywhere else.

One student in particular stands out; I’ll call her Leigh. Adolescence was a long trial for Leigh, as she struggled to deal with an eating disorder, substance abuse and cutting. Leigh was out of school for rehab almost as often as she was there.

But every time she returned to school, she returned to work on the Viewer staff. It was her refuge, her connection, a place where she could shine.

I’ll never forget the editorial Leigh wrote, not long after the 2003 school shooting at Rocori High School, about the anger many bullying victims at our school felt every day. It was raw and hard to read, and it made people in our community realize that our pleasant suburban school was not immune to these problems.

Leigh is now a college graduate with an impressive career, and she and I have stayed in touch. She has told me the Viewer helped her survive and navigate those years; that alone has made this job worthwhile.

So why step down now?

It was a difficult decision. Teaching is a strange career because it’s one of the few “professions” that offers no clear path for advancement and new challenges. Oh, you can become an administrator, of course, but if you want to keep teaching, the clearest path is stay put, do the same thing, year after year. That sounds like a recipe for burnout.

I’m not really cut out for doing the same thing, year after year, at least not forever, and I’ve been advising the Viewer since my current students were babies. Too long, really, to stay fresh.

As much as I’ve loved teaching journalism, I also love supporting young entrepreneurs, training teachers in active learning strategies, improving my economics and psychology classes and, of course, working on my own writing. This year, juggling so many interests became too much and sleep too scarce. I want to have a life outside of school, too.

I realized that if I’m going to keep pursuing new ideas and ventures — and protecting myself against burnout — I need to let go of some of the old ones. The oldest, by far, is journalism.

And so, as hard as it is, I will watch my very last issue of the Viewer be distributed tomorrow, and I will pass the torch to a colleague who is excited and prepared to take over.

I’m glad to have a happy ending to this chapter — and eager to see what comes next.