I learned the “five Ws” of journalism at a community college in Houston in 1975. Yes, I know that date may freak some of you out as you may have been “busy being born” back then, but that’s not what I want to communicate in this post. More important, after that first journalism course, I decided to major in Psychology because of all those questions, the one I was most interested in answering was “Why?”At the time, I had no idea that “feature writers” do get to explore the “Why?”or that “service articles” can supply the “How?” And that’s how I ended up being a feature writer for so many years, and not a news reporter. It’s also why when I got my first master’s degree it was in American Studies, not journalism. I thought American Studies would best serve me in my work as a magazine feature writer. But since the advent of the world wide web, the market for long-form journalism has declined.
On a more optimistic note, I’m a believer in life long learning, and that through mindful living and critical thinking, we are continually re-inventing ourselves and adapting, an apt approach for someone who is what used to be called “middle-aged” and is back in grad school while media is in “transition.”
At this juncture, I’m registered as a student in the English department’s Rhetoric and Composition program. This is my second semester at Texas State. I have concluded that my calling is teaching writing at a community college, helping students starting out where I began. Now, wouldn’t that give this narrative a tidy ending? In fact, I’m already there — sort of. When I decided to go back to grad school — and needed a relatively undemanding job with flexible hours — I was hired to be an English/Writing tutor in a Learning Lab at Austin Community College. I am inspired daily working with students who are “inadequately prepared” for college work but determined to succeed nonetheless. I can see myself growing old, happily continuing to work with these students. For many of them, English is a second language. I’d like to use journalism to teach those students how to write clearly and think critically.
But there are more jobs in teaching basic writing courses, critical thinking, literacy and English Comp I. After all, it was the writing and thinking and being engaged with the issues of the times that drew me to journalism, and I can get some of “that” in the English department. And, I’ve also been “out there” recently, and though I was paid well as a blogger and “content provider,” the work I was doing was closer to advertising copywriting than journalism. I love teaching more, which is why I’m in this class.
I need one more graduate course in journalism to go back to teaching journalism as an adjunct at Austin Community College. I already have more than 18 hours in graduate journalism courses that I took at UT Austin as part of my masters degree. But on my transcript, those courses look more like American Studies courses than J courses, and thus, according to accreditation regulations, do not qualify me to teach journalism.
But there’s another reason I’m in this class. The lure and love of journalism. It’s been my “home” for so long. I don’t know if I can stay away, whether I can “convert” to being more of an “English” teacher than journalism teacher. Maybe it’s like that line in The Godfather … “I keep trying to get out….but they keep pulling me back in.”