Deadlines. Getting to work on time is my first deadline of the day; being prepared for each class and wrapping up the lesson before the bell are two more. I have bills to pay, taxes to file – more deadlines. I used to shoot for preparing dinner at a reasonable hour, but have tossed that one out as unreasonable these days. I definitely have a deadline for getting to bed if I want to be worth anything the next day, and the alarm seven hours later denotes the deadline for what might have been a pretty good night’s sleep – maybe.

I pose deadlines with my assignments, whether they are for news stories, edited photos, completed spreads or final corrected proofs. I and teachers like me have other classes, so there are deadlines to set for essays, research note cards, and various projects. We have our own deadlines to meet in the meantime, for posting lesson plans, getting grades in and, well, you know what I’m talking about.

Since we know students’ lives are going to continue to demand they conform to deadlines, it makes sense to teach them the value of meeting them now – but how?

I have no magic answers, but I do have some advice, none of it original.

  • Set mini deadlines. Sounds easy enough, but set them EARLY. Post or publish them where students will be expected to access them. I set newspaper publication deadlines and yearbook publisher deadlines before school starts. Mini deadlines are easily set from that point. I print out monthly calendars for each staff so they know the deadlines, but each has access to master calendars or deadlines in the server or in staff manual.
  • Make ‘em count. For news staff, missing deadlines is worth up to 20 percent of each assignment’s grade built into the rubric. Missing a mini deadline by a couple days isn’t as harmful to the grade as missing the RTG deadline – that’s Ready to Go, the Friday before we build pages on Tuesday night. Missing that one is a bad deal.
  • I also set up a three-strikes policy, but with small staffs, it’s hard to implement.  Ideally, when a staffer misses RTG deadline three times (counting assignments, not issues), she’s no longer on staff. If changing classes is not possible, I’ll find busy work that may include bookwork. I’ve only used this once, though I could have way more often.
  • Another stolen idea for motivating my newsies to finish up page building on late night at a decent hour is the promise of breakfast. If they finish by 8 p.m. on late night, I’ll bring them breakfast on “dead day,” the day after press deadline, but before delivery. In my first year or two, I was foolish enough to stay until 1 or 2 a.m. letting them finish building pages. No more. But we still stay until 10 or 11 p.m. so that after edits the next day, we can make press deadline. Usually at least a couple times a year I bring fresh fruit, Carl’s Jr. biscuits, milk and juice.
  • Stole a great idea for my yearbook staff in the book “Play that works” that you can find at the JEA bookstore. We now have presentation days in every deadline – one Friday for copy, the next for design and the next for photos. The idea is that after hitting the mini deadlines and edits, the story should be ready to present to the staff for feedback. Writers open their story from server, project it on screen and read it to other staff members for feedback. This is a deadline grade for which I use a rubric. They don’t like admitting to everyone they don’t have their work. Same thing for design. Students present their spreads. Now when it comes to photo presentations, everyone presents three photos taken during that deadline time, whether they had any due in that deadline or not, because, frankly, everyone should be helping gather photographic content, both in and out of classrooms. The photos include well-written captions with lead-in and quotes and/or background information to add depth. This activity steals away time from production, yes, but it gives me something solid to grade, and it motivates staffers to meet deadlines. It is also VERY valuable for feedback. We never accidently use the same photo on two spreads, nor do we seem to overuse the same people in stories. This has helped us catch these things because everybody sees what everybody else is doing. It’s not full proof, but we like it.

These are a few ideas that have helped our staffs, and though we’ll likely always deal with missed deadlines, at least we have a few methods in place for countering the damage.


About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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