I had the good fortune to have dinner last night with a kind, generous writer, whom I’m not going to name because it would feel like a thudding anvil of a moment. (And I was just one of several people that he treated.) During dinner, he observed how seldom people thank their teachers. He has a point. So, here, I’ll thank Lynne Collins, Meredith Steinbach, J. Lyndon Shanley, Sallie Gaines and Sandra Cisneros, who were, respectively: my high school math/homeroom teacher, my first creative writing teacher, my poetry/Chaucer professor, my copy-editing instructor and the leader of the creative writing workshop that really got me going. I could probably build on this list, but that’s a good start.
The sad fact is, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people in my early life who should have been mentors, or at least found a way to adapt the Hippocratic Oath to their jobs, which involved working with young, impressional people. And, yes, at the risk of beating a dead horse — they’re all connected to my journalism education at Medill. (Note: So was Sallie Gaines, above.) Medill, it’s not you, it’s me! But here are just three reasons why I don’t donate money to my alma mater.
Instructor #1 stares up at me from time to time when I check in with the Romenesko blog, a daily habit even for former journalists who have made a complete recovery. I graduated in a pretty tough climate and, because I was completing only the unaccredited four-year undergrad degree at Northwestern, I received zero help in job placement. That was reserved for those in the graduate school. I sent out more than fifty resumes and got a job at the Waco Tribune-Herald, a Cox newspaper with a circulation of more than 50,000 at the time. It was actually a pretty good job and the right place for a nervous, fairly green reporter such as myself. My instructor mocked me for the rest of the semester, calling me the Waco Kid. Thanks for schooling me in the idea that it’s acceptable to ridicule someone you have essentially declined to help.
Then there was the editor to whom I was assigned while on Teaching Newspaper. This is a Medill program where credit is given for working at a newspaper as an unpaid intern. Because the paper gets the work for free, it’s expected to give the interns serious experience. When I arrived at the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal for my quarter there, my assigning editor was at a conference. She came back two weeks later, took me to lunch and said, “I told them not to give me an intern. I don’t want you, I am too busy to supervise you. You are on your own.” Thanks for what proved to be a pretty good real-life introduction to the newsroom and for letting me know that female solidarity in newsrooms was not guaranteed. I see that you are now in “consulting.” That seems like a good fit.
And, finally, thanks to the Medill instructor who commented on my weight every time he saw me. I hope you stopped that when you returned to the private sector. It’s gray-area, in terms of sexual harassment, but still kind of icky.
Praise a teacher, then slam one. That’s the game for this Friday at the end of a strangely productive work week.