Career Day at Fairfax High

Yesterday was career day at Fairfax High.

The list of professions represented on the roster was long: Accountant, Senior analyst. Funeral director. College professor. Government executive. Athletic trainer. Occupational therapist. State trooper. Systems engineer. Pilot. Pediatrician. Etc.

For me - the Washington Post Staff Reporter - the experience was a terrifying glimpse of yet another profession, Teaching. As I stood in front of the class, three groups of teenagers took turns filling the seats before me. Suddenly, the short outline I had scrawled onto a notebook looked very short. And the half hour I had to present began to feel like a very long time.

After introductions, I offered an overview of how I got into the profession and passed around copies of some stories I had written. Hmmm. Now what. Any questions? I tried to remember some tips I've heard from other teachers.

Check in. Are the students following? A rash of blank stares told me, probably not.

Engage. I tried to ask questions. What interests you about journalism? What's the last interesting news story you read?

Plan. Plan. Plan. I cursed myself for not having organized some nifty activity or pop quiz to get things going.

At the same time, I realized I was coming up against some overarching challenges. First, how to be encouraging about the industry right now? Become a journalist! Retire at 45 (with a buy out, if you are lucky)! With all sincerity, I did my best to recruit them. We need you, smart young people, native internet users, to help us transform the profession. Bring your ideas, your interest in writing and current events and help us get news out to new people.

Which leads me to my second challenge: Most teenagers I know do not read the newspaper or consume news in any traditional form. Newspapers? Forget it. Blogs? They've heard of them. Even the Daily Show - the new news source of the masses -- is faintly recognizable. Gossip goes a long way in high school, I guess. Facebook goes pretty far.

As the business models for newspapers continue to implode, I know of several journalists who are considering a move to teaching. Good luck, I say! My stint in front of the classroom yesterday was tough. But we could use some cross-pollination. More insight from the next generation will help us get our industry over this hump.

As an aside, I also gave the students a plug for math. While jobs are scarce right now overall, I explained, the vast majority of growing fields require a solid background in math or science. "A useful thing to pursue," I said.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  April 24, 2009; 12:08 PM ET
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These kids today! :-) When I was in middle school in the early 90's - not that long ago - for homeroom we had to bring in a news clipping and tell the class about it. In high school, there was only one class where we had to bring in political cartoons (I remember one time I tried to convince my teacher that Ziggy had a political theme that day).

But it seems like a good idea to incorporate news into all social studies classes. And while you're at it, bring the business pages into your economics class. I know there's limited time, but it seems like a working knowledge of current issues is at least as important for students as knowledge of what went on in medieval Europe. Maybe we should just bring back civics classes.

Posted by: tomsing | April 27, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

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