What We Do Matters

I may be wrong but I believe our job as video production teachers reaches much farther than those in academic subjects because what we teach is unique and very specific. One of the biggest things I struggle with both personally and professionally is motivating my students to WANT to be professional. I have never understood why the idea of being a slacker is cool - I always wanted more - more knowledge, more opportunities, more challenges, more of everything!

Each of my sports broadcasting students have to work Two live events each semester. I do this for a number of reasons and not the least of which is to put the students is a professional environment and show them how I expect them to represent themselves on the job. Recently, I experienced a personal struggle with a student like I have never experienced.

As with all media professionals, time is the most important thing. Period. You can be a bad camera operator but on time and I can work with you much better that a great camera op that is late. Vicki Michaelis from the Grady School Of Journalism says it best “85 percent of the job is showing up.” I have a call time of 90 minute prior to the first tip off for basketball games. It only takes 30 to 45 minutes to get everything set up. The rest of the time is testing and training. On this particular night, we were doing one of our smaller broadcasts but I didn’t change the call time since I knew one of the crew had never done a broadcast before. I did tell the veteran crew members to show up later but did not tell this to the rookie.

I arrive at the gym at 5pm to watch some of the JV game, talk with some coaches, and check in with one of the referees that also is my go to substitute teacher. Call time was 5:30 so at that time, I loaded the equipment for the game in and waited. At 6pm, my veteran crew arrived. I decided to make some changes to the plan since the rookie hadn’t shown up so I went back to the office to grab a couple of cables. I return to the gym at 6:30 and still no rookie. I am now angry and ready to take it out on the gradebook if you get what I am saying.

At 6:45, the rookie struts into the gym with her phone in one hand and a tray of nachos in the other. She then comes to the broadcast area and holds her phone to her ear at an angle and says to me “I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.” Prior to teaching I worked in radio and I learned the art of dead air….so I paused for a moment in an effort to save my respect and job. After a Two beat pause, I let her know her first steps are to get off the phone and put down the nachos.

At the end of the night, I reflected and recognized that her showing up 90 minutes late was the least of my concerns with her in terms of development. As the first broadcast of the night started, I asked her to shadow our graphics operator because she would be doing the graphics during the second game. I checked in a couple of times to make sure everything was going as I wanted. Then halftime happened….

When we aren’t doing a show during halftime, I let the crew relax, get a drink, chat it up with friends, etc but the rule is that they are back in position and ready with 2 minutes left in the half. The rookie wasn’t back at 2 minutes… 1 minute…. Or at all during the 2nd half. I happen to look in the stands and see she is piled up with what I am assuming is her boyfriend (also known as the student I ran off from the back door of the gym that was trying to sneak in without paying…).

One of my major philosophies when it comes to teaching is that our job is to give them direction and let them make mistakes if they don’t take the direction or instruction given. I made note of the situation and let the half happen without her there (This is another reason, I take care of my experienced crew members - they just roll with the punches). I let this student not take her role of the team seriously because I have found that pride is a much better teacher than I am. At the end of the first broadcast, the rookie comes back to the production area with her “I am ready to take on the world look.” I can’t hold back “It’s nice that you could come back to work…” Her response set up the way the rest of the night would go - “I watched and I understand what I need to do.”

The next broadcast is ready to go. I make sure we get on the air. I talk with my air talent about what I expect to happen (they are amazing volunteers with the heart of teachers as well) and just wait. Within 2 minutes, our clock is out of synch with the game clock. The scores don’t match and the rookie is very sheepishly asking for help. I sent the veteran crewmember to take game pics so It was just me and the rookie…..

I am sure you all have these stories if you are working with students in any form outside of the classroom. This is probably my biggest weakness as a teacher because I have to fight the professional in my that says “hire her a cab and send her home” or “let loose with both barrells so she can know that if this were the “Real World” she would be prepared to be chewed up one side and down the other.” While this is my weakness, it also makes me more aware of the expectations that I set forth in my students.

My goal as a teacher is that all of my students win 12 broadcast awards, shoot in the most exotic locations, and capture that plays that make history. I know that is not going to be the case but I have to do my best to prepare the students to be a professional as possible no matter their path.

Here is how I will handle this situation:
- The rookie has to complete and submit an event recap form. (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EuFnq8gJ2-gCynSjb1i_BC5aPjvcpTcSyUCUJu2oOek/edit)
- I will review the form and see what she has to say about the experience
- I will then make my notes about the event
- I will discuss the feedback semi-privately with her
- I will enter the grade she earned in the gradebook
- 10 point deduction for being late
- 20 point deduction for not working ½ of the game
- 20 point deduction for not be prepared for her game
- I will let her anger/shame/fear/doubt about her grade fuel her to share my discussion with her throughout the program. (Students talk but angry/frustrated/confused students talk more… and I know I will have to dispel some rumors)

The rookie will be ok. She is still young and this was her first event and she works really hard in the classroom. I wanted to share this with you because each of us will be in this situation at some point. Working with students is the most frustrating and most rewarding job in the world and sometimes it feels like we are on an island. I wanted to share this with you also so you can see that your job is more than a grade in a gradebook. Your job is to best prepare your students for whatever their next step is but if you lose your cool because of the pressure of a live event and students that need grooming, you will miss out on the opportunities to see those students growing into what you wished for them.

Now changing gears faster than The Rookie’s idea on her preparedness…. We are in the throws of basketball season and are slammed with 10 to 12 live broadcasts each week. My student crews are starting to get glassy-eyed and sick of basketball. As I mentioned earlier, I take this time of year to give them different tasks. My crews are two people - camera operator and graphics/director/audio engineer - and they typically switch between games. I allow them to make those decisions because they are cross trained and are all actually great at both jobs. In order to keep them fresh and excited, I will work a game or two a week and give them a game to do something different. I have found that a DSLR camera goes a long way to making students feel appreciated and excited.

I give the students the camera with the fastest card and lens I have (50mm 1.8) and send them to the floor to take action pictures. They smile like they just found the golden ticket. They feel like rockstars. All of their friends can see them on the sideline where no one else can go and the ultimate payoff is a plug on the program website when you post the pics.

We are also gearing up for our spring sports broadcasts. We are doing things a little different this spring to see how it works. Instead of going after teams to do all of their broadcasts and providing coaching footage, we are going to do a game of the week (Really it will be Two games) and focus on selling sponsorships. I have a student in our work based learning program that is a sports marketing student so I have offered a commission for anything he sells and we are going to see how it works.

We are making the change for several reasons and not the least of which is that all of the spring sports play over 25 games during the season so would broadcast scheduled would literally be 6 days a week. While the opportunities for students to make money is great, the probability of me losing my mind is greater. Right now, we will be doing more baseball than anything else because there are more games and because I like baseball about as much as I enjoy barbeque!

Next month, we will be a couple of weeks into the game of the week schedule and I will let you know how it has gone!


TomWhiteHeadshot 175Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to  produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.