Friday trip to Bloomington provides teaching inspiration

On Friday I spent my day in one of my favorite places (Bloomington, Indiana) with some of my favorite people (teachers and former students).

What better place to spend a beautiful fall day?

This school year I have the honor of serving as a member of the IU School of Education Armstrong Teaching Cohort with eight other Hoosier educators from across Indiana. The honor, funded through the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Fund and the Cook Group, helps teachers collaborate with each other and, perhaps more significantly, mentor teachers-to-be currently in the IU School of Education.

One of the values of working with teaching candidates is that their enthusiasm for education inspires me and reminds me of why I believe in our profession so much.

My day began as a member of a panel discussion with my fellow Armstrong teachers as we discussed the all-important first days of school with an auditorium full of outstanding future teachers. It continued as I met two former students for lunch, one of whom is considering a teaching career himself.

The day was meaningful for me on so many levels, especially since it provided me with the chance to dig myself out from underneath the mounds of papers to grade, RCD units to create, meetings to attend, and emails to respond to long enough to remember what makes teaching so fun — the people.

Our Armstrong Cohort consists of nine teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences across Indiana. Each of them amazes me. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “How did I get selected to spend time with these people?!” Their enthusiasm, talent, compassion, and dedication to their students and our profession inspires me. I hope to share more of their stories here in the coming months. Their stories deserve to be told.

Just as meaningful to me, though, was the chance to interact with future teachers. These young people are the future of our profession. My conversations and interactions with them left me both hopeful for the future and determined to do my part to ensure that teaching remains a viable, worthy profession in Indiana.

I write here often about my dissatisfaction with our current political leadership in Indiana and their lack of understanding of or belief in our teachers and schools. I hope my determination to support my profession in the face of our state’s weak political leadership is never mistaken for negativity. In fact, days like Friday leave me more hopeful about the future of the teaching profession than ever. When I meet so many gifted teachers-to-be — and when one of the best kids I have ever taught joins them in considering a career as a teacher — how can I be anything but hopeful?

Because tomorrow’s teachers will bring more than enough empathy, compassion, tolerance, and competence to their classrooms and communities to heal the damage done by Indiana’s current crop of failing political “leaders.” They may be our greatest teachers, because they knowingly choose to enter a profession devalued by the lies and incompetence of elected officials constitutionally sworn to protect it. That takes incredible courage. That takes real leadership.

That’s the real value of a day like Friday. It reminds me of the value of my profession.




Thank you to the IU School of Journalism

by Jim Lang

Disclaimer: I am wearing my faded gray IU School of Journalism shirt as I write this.

We are so often shaped by the people and places in our lives. Are the special places in our lives made so by the people we meet there? Or, do special places make the people we meet and the experiences we have more meaningful?

Today the Indiana University School of Journalism officially becomes a part of IU’s new Media School, a move that supporters say will help IU continue to be among the nation’s leaders in media, communication, and journalism.

The new Media School, housed in IU’s College of Arts and Sciences, effectively “pulls together” the journalism, telecommunications, and communications and culture departments into a single mega-school. Benefits include a more streamlined approach for journalism and communication majors as they more effectively produce their work across media platforms in renovated, state-of-the-art facilities in IU’s Franklin Hall in 2016.

It’s a bold move that, if implemented correctly, will ensure that IU remains among the nation’s best journalism and media schools.

The IU Media School has the potential to be a special place.

Even as we look toward the future, though, I’d like to take a moment to honor the legacy of another special place – the IU School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall.

For all practical purposes, that place ceased to exist at midnight today. The building still exists – for now. The exceptional faculty, staff, and programs are intact and will be a part of creating the new legacy of the Media School. But the School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall as so many of us know and love it no longer exists in the form that we knew it. And while the future looks shiny, new, and exciting, the past holds the true secret for continuing the legacy of excellence in journalism and media at IU.

The truth is that as I reflect on my many years of association with the IU School of Journalism and Ernie Pyle Hall, I treasure the people, experiences, and small memories more than any technology I used or skills I mastered.

Small moments with great people made Ernie Pyle Hall special to me.

Working late nights with good friends at the copy desk at the Indiana Daily Student. Proudly turning in my journalism law paper after an all-nighter (got an A, too). Scribbling notes on those tiny, carved up brown desks in the old lecture hall – those desk tops recorded history in the names and messages scratched into their surfaces. Sneaking a few minutes of reading – okay, napping – in the J-School library between classes. Laughing and learning with friends. Spending 25 summers teaching, counseling, conducting lights-out, and playing practical jokes as a counselor and instructor at the High School Journalism Institute (to the “victims” of those jokes – I’m still laughing). Learning from and working with the very best journalism educators who always demanded my best, too, and who taught us that journalism (not media – journalism) and education were the noblest of professions. Deciding to become a journalism teacher – yes, I made that decision inside that building. Watching my own students earn scholarships to and attend a school that has always been special to me. Developing lifelong friendships.

These are some of my memories, but each person who spent time in Ernie Pyle Hall carries his or her own unique stories. We need to share these stories. We need to honor those who helped create these stories. After all, that’s what we were taught to do, and that’s how we ensure that the legacy of the IU School of Journalism continues into the hallways and classrooms of the new Media School.

Those of us who learned and laughed in Ernie Pyle Hall feel fiercely protective of the school and its legacy because we know that it was never the physical structure, the curriculum, or the technology that made the IU School of Journalism so exceptional – it was the people.

That special place – and those people – did more than train us for a job or prepare us for a career. In so many ways, they made us who we are. They helped us learn from each other to create learning experiences and bonds that remain with us today. They made us think beyond ourselves. They made us better. They became part of our stories. That’s what great educators – and journalists – do. That’s what great people do.

So, as a proud graduate of the IU School of Journalism, thank you to every faculty and staff member and every friend who made Ernie Pyle Hall a special place of learning for me. Thank you for making me a better writer, storyteller, and teacher. Thank you for making me a better person.

And may the new IU Media School embrace the legacy of the IU School of Journalism — powerful storytelling, ethical journalism, and outstanding teaching — to become a place as special as Ernie Pyle Hall.


Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: A Special Place Defined by Two Special College Teachers

by Jim Lang

And then there was college and the IU School of Journalism. I double majored in English and journalism and spent an extra year earning my education degree, but the J-School was always my home on the IU campus. Those were the classes that most defined my college years. To this day, the Ernie Pyle Hall School of Journalism remains the most special place in Bloomington for me. Those who sat through a lecture class in the old, pre-renovated Ernie Pyle lecture hall and took notes on the far-too-tiny and intricately carved-up wooden desks know what I mean – you know you’re smiling at that memory now.

For me, the teachers have always been what most defined the excellence in the IU School of Journalism. We had great teachers. Yes, they were journalists, writers, photographers, researchers, graphic designers, and artists, too, but most of all, they were teachers. They were people who shaped our lives. And those of us fortunate enough to have studied, learned, and graduated from the J-School are all connected by the experiences and stories we shared with the teachers who influenced us the most.

For me, those teachers were Claude Cookman and Jack Dvorak.

I took a graphic design class from Claude back in the days when graphic design consisted of colored pencils, border tape, x-acto knives, and Pagemaker.

Pause for veteran graphic designers to nod and smile while everyone else takes a moment to Google “border tape,” “x-acto knife,” and “Pagemaker.”

The quality I remember the most about Claude’s teaching was his ability to demand excellence from each student in a remarkably comfortable way. He took a genuine interest in each of us as individuals and honored our diverse talents and backgrounds. He made it clear that we were all learning together in our classroom community and that the responsibility for our learning was ours.

As a teacher myself, the quality I have always most admired about Claude is that he never stops learning himself. He is a lifelong learner who has a gift for bringing out each student’s very best. His lessons have remained with me in my own classroom over 20 years later. When my own journalism students attend the IU School of Journalism to further their education, I always provide this advice: Take Claude Cookman’s classes.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of ways and times Jack Dvorak has been there for me professionally and personally in the 27 years I have known him.

I first met Jack when I attended the IU High School Journalism Institute as a high school senior in 1987, his first year as director of a program that has always meant a great deal to me. Since then Jack has served numerous roles in my life – teacher, faculty adviser, employer, mentor, and friend. Years ago he gave me the great gift of hiring me as a floor counselor at HSJI. I never left. Twenty-five summers later, I’m still there, although now I am teaching and my former students work as counselors. HSJI continues to provide guidance and opportunities for my own students at Floyd Central High School.

Jack has always been an advocate for scholastic journalism through HSJI and his consistent support and research, but his greatest contribution as an educator has been shaping the lives of countless students and educators with his wisdom, patience, kindness, and generous spirit.

More than any educator I know, Jack Dvorak makes those around him better simply by being himself. I would not be the teacher or person I am today without him.

I was blessed with so many outstanding teachers and professors at IU, particularly in the School of Journalism. These educators made IU a truly special place.

Friday: The Art of Teaching