How to make a deadline

“Early is on-time,” they tell me. “On-time is late.”

I have a lot of band students on my yearbook and news staffs, and I think it’s time to take a page from the band director’s doctrine.

The band students know his theory is, “If you’re not early, you’re late.”

True to form, band, as a class, starts 30 minutes before first hour for the rest of the school. As teachers and students pull into the parking lot to begin the day, band is already practicing their marching program, and they’ve been doing so since 7:15 a.m. They didn’t arrive at 7:15. They started marching at 7:15.

I tell you that to tell you this:

We need to be early to be on-time with our yearbook and news deadlines. The simple reason is that there are always unexpected obstacles – always.

Always.

This year, we are switching from a fall delivery yearbook to a spring delivery yearbook. Previous staffs have all preferred to have the entire year in the book so we’ve worked two or three (or more) weeks into the summer to create one complete book delivered in the fall. This year, we’re trying a spring book, but the last deadline is just before spring activities. We’ll create a summer supplement to cover those.

Spring books mean earlier deadlines with more pages, and they have to be met or we won’t get the book in time to deliver before graduation.

Yesterday was the first day of our Fall Break, which extends through Tuesday. Our first deadline is Monday. That meant we showed up yesterday to finish pages for the first submission. I was thinking this qualified for “early”.

Granted, this first few weeks has been full of learning how to yearbook. And there have been dozens of decisions to make – big and small – regarding design. Deciding the theme itself was a big one, but few realize the number of tiny decisions that have to be made and then implemented throughout for consistency. Will the number for the caption AND the lead-in be demi-bold? Will we use a period after the photo credit? Are non-staff members “Photo by …” or “Courtesy of …” and how do we credit news staff when it’s their photo? So. Many. Decisions.

So a little more than half the staff was able to make it to workday yesterday, and while many were finishing spreads, many were editing for all that tiny stuff.

One obstacle after another got in our way.

The morning started right off with a corrupted InDesign spread that wouldn’t open.

We spent half an hour or so trying to troubleshoot that one. I used Mac’s Time Machine option, going back to an earlier, saved version, but it still wouldn’t open. I called Herff Jones’s tech support, and the specialist had me email the file to her. She couldn’t open it either. Just when it looked like the staffer was going to have to design from scratch (I actually felt tears welling up behind my eyes), I tried Time Machine again, going back an hour earlier in the previous day’s files, and we got a version that would open – minus a couple of steps that hadn’t saved.

That was the big one, but we had photos that wouldn’t place for mysterious reasons, links that went missing for mysterious reasons, and the regular stuff that comes by learning. Photos needed lightening because they print darker than the screen shows. Stories had been placed without being edited because it was someone’s first time. Captions needed more information. Name spellings hadn’t been double-checked. We had to make a decision to add periods after photo credits that didn’t have them or remove the ones that did have them.

You just have to plan to need more time.

You have to plan for the people you need to interview to be unavailable.

You have to plan for photos to need to be retaken sometimes.

You have to plan for InDesign to crash.

You have to plan for a photo to not be where you thought it was.

You have to plan for links to be broken.

You have to plan for people in photos to defy being identified.

You have to plan for a power outage and the fact that you hadn’t saved since you created that last mod.

You have to plan to finish early or you’ll be late.

We’re meeting again Sunday afternoon to finish, and we’ll meet that Monday deadline. Then we’ll celebrate being awesome.

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Driving Miss Snidesky

Snidesky checks her printed driving directions at a stop. Photo courtesy of E Whiteside

Snidesky checks her printed driving directions at a stop. Photo courtesy of E Whiteside

Took my biggest crew ever to summer yearbook workshop this week – nine.

To an area of Oklahoma City I am unfamiliar with.

Let me confess a little background information about myself: I’m not a confident driver. That doesn’t mean I’m not a good driver. I just dislike going into areas where I am unfamiliar with the territory. Put me in the midst of overlapping highways with Expressways and Turnpikes that change names when you veer left or right and the fear of taking the wrong exit or, worse, not taking the right exit, just gives me a bit of anxiety – especially when I’m in charge of kiddos and need to be somewhere fairly on time. Fortunately for me, my students don’t possess the same type of anxiety, and for some reason, have enough faith in me to get us where we are going.

Double-fortunately for me, the student sitting directly behind me, my upcoming business manager (organizational, calm-under-pressure skills) had my back, loves driving in The City and knew the area. She was as good as a GPS – with a calm voice.

Triple-fortunately for me, my driving buddy and co-adult, who had planned to just follow me, has a great sense of humor and a high tolerance for my misadventures. She tailed me as I changed lanes, whether because I don’t like to be behind big trucks I can’t see around or because I was getting mixed signals from the kids about where I needed to be for the upcoming split in the highway or which direction we needed to go off the exit. Shotgun is supposed to be the navigator and direct me from my printed map and directions, but hey, how many yearbook students does it take to interpret Snidesky’s directions amid actual highway signs?

Thank you, cars in the right-turn lane to Northwest Expressway off Lake Hefner Parkway, for letting two well-marked white Suburbans crowd into your lane Monday afternoon. You didn’t look particularly happy about it, but we appreciate it.

Tuesday morning, we were off for a new adventure – that of getting 2.6 miles from the hotel to Oklahoma City University campus to get our workshop on. I didn’t even need to print that map – had it right up here *taps temple with index finger.

Well, okay, I somehow missed getting back on that expressway, but no fear – I’d been looking at the maps of the area and I knew where we needed to be. We’d just find a good through street to take us to campus. Well, I kept driving, finally deciding to take the one that would feed us directly into campus.

How was I supposed to know it would first lead us into a residential area before it went to campus? Let alone one with curvy streets and dead ends. And there was that garbage truck I waited a bit to go around. Looking at the bright side, those were some nice houses to look at. Kids claimed they wanted to go back and look again. Those are some good kids.

Still, I knew where I was. I just couldn’t figure how to get where I wanted to be. So we maneuvered through a few more streets until we got back onto a main one that would lead to campus. And there, constantly in my rearview, were our traveling companions. I wondered more than once about the conversations in that vehicle.

When we arrived at our destination – still on time and even the first school represented – it was not lost on me that the working theme the kids had come up with for the year has something to do with …

… wait for it …

… something about journeys.

Should be a great story on the yearbook page.

“Think about that pretty girl!”

Picture day.

If you’re a yearbook adviser, you just got a flash of my whole day. But there are a few details that make every picture day, er, um, unique – memorable. The same was true today.

Ever done picture day during construction on your campus?

There, you just got a few more pictures in your head, didn’t you?

Let’s call it an adventure that started as I raced to get to school by 6:30 a.m. because I remembered as I was going to sleep last night (isn’t it weird how you suddenly remember EVERYTHING you weren’t supposed to forget as you’re drifting off and can do nothing about it?), that I hadn’t turned in the “Facility Request” form. Therefore no one would know to meet my photographer, Joe, to let him in the auditorium at 6:30 a.m. so he could set up and be ready to make people smile whether he or they felt like it or not. I got there just after he had the band director let him in. He reminded me that the band director at every school is always there early.

On my first trip to the office to use the P.A. system, I learned two things: it was cold (I hadn’t brought a jacket) and though the water line break from the day before had been repaired, water had been restored to all buildings except the auditorium. Restrooms out of order. That would add interest to the day.

I enjoy listening to the photographers interact with their subjects. “You have brothers or sisters?” prompts certain facial expressions. If it’s not the right expression, a simple “Who wins the arguments?” might generate a better one. “Say cheese” is no longer the standard. When I hear “think about that pretty girl,” I never know what kind of expression it will generate either. But Joe has a string of ’em.

This was a retake day, so while I didn’t necessarily expect it to be incredibly busy, I was still disappointed at the low turn-out. It seems about three quarters of the student body do what they need to do to get their pics made, some more enthusiastically than others, but that last 25 percent just don’t want to play. What made me sadder, and even a little frustrated, is that a significant portion of no-shows were faculty. While we have a faculty of around 80, there will only be about 50 or so on the yearbook pages, and some big name players who got caught up in other responsibilities on both the original picture day and this retake day, were not photographed. Now the yearbook staff has to decided how to handle the missing people on the portrait pages.

I know everyone feels differently about getting their picture made on picture day. Some like to do it, some hate it. But I wish everyone would realize that the picture isn’t just about the person in the picture. Having that photographic account of these people at this school on this day is documentation that at some point most of us want to look back on. We want to be able to look back and recall the art teacher that made us feel special, the math teacher that could never explain things the way we could get it or the coach who made us learn to stick with something no matter how tough it was. To decide to withhold that opportunity from others because you don’t want your photo made or because you don’t want to take the time to get it done is a little bit selfish.

It’s also valid to note that the yearbook staff is responsible for putting that piece of history together, and they are cheated from a better product by those who would withhold that photographic part of history.

Striking that Balance

One of my brighter ideas this year was scheduled workdays – Saturdays that yearbook staffers come in from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, about one per deadline, to try and get a ton of work finished without having to rush off to the next class. The other obvious advantage is that most everyone else is here too, so if a staffer is having trouble with transitions in a story, or writing captions on a page or finding more class dance photos, having the others here provides extra help. I figure if the newspaper staff has “late nights,” then yearbook should have “work Saturdays.”

Works pretty well, except that it’s difficult to make Saturday mandatory, when families have other ideas about how weekends should be spent. I try to stress to those who cannot be here on a workday, though, that the time needs to be made up, especially if they are behind on anything. Face it – this is yearbook – everyone is behind on something.

We had limited success with yesterday’s workday. Got our first page submission in – 27 pages, which should have been 37, and should have been a month ago. We are fall delivery, so I’m not in the same panic some of my peers would be in under these circumstances. And we’re in better shape than last year, but that was such a mess that it’s not much of a standard to measure against.

As I think on where we are now and how at this point in the year things really begin to move at a higher rate of speed, I begin to get that uneasy feeling. My three editors know it well too. The only three returners, besides a photographer who isn’t with us this block because of scheduling issues, remember what it was like to worry over staffers not doing their jobs second semester last year, and they remember working through summer with last year’s editor to complete unfinished work.

This is where it gets sticky for them as leaders and for me as adviser. I really need to have an uncomfortable staff meeting Monday. I need to hold those who are behind accountable and make them come in during Encore until their work is caught up. But a couple of issues complicate things. Some of the work that is behind is the fault of staffers who left us at the semester. Who do I hold accountable for those spreads? And here’s the clincher for me – if I get too cranky NO ONE WILL WANT TO BE ON YEARBOOK STAFF.  It’s so hard to strike that balance. Yearbook is supposed to be fun, but it’s hard work. When the kids get behind, because they have some fun in class or because it’s uncomfortable to talk to people they don’t know, or someone else was supposed to get the pictures, write the story, talk to someone, I have to hold them accountable, and it ceases to be fun. Then they just have to go talk to a counselor and get their schedule changed. Or they simply don’t come back next year and yearbook gets a reputation for being hard and run by a demanding crankster.

The best I can do, for the book, for me, and ultimately for them, is to calmly hold them accountable. We’ll have that meeting. I’ll show them where we stand and tell them what I expect:

“We got 75 percent of our deadline met one month late. That’s not acceptable. We have new deadlines in addition to completing old deadlines. That requires extra time.  When you signed on, I told you this was hard, but fun. You signed a contract, an agreement to finish on time. Things get much busier from this point on. While you are working on these late assignments, you will also be covering the current assignments, keeping them from getting behind. Once we have finished these delayed assignments and met our next deadline, we will celebrate.”

It’s all about striking a balance.

Transparency

I must be honest: the main reason I started this blog is so that I would have a way of keeping track of the time and energy I put toward teaching classes and advising my publications staffs. I love that I’m also learning some new (to me) technology that I will be passing on to my journalism students and that I have a justifiable creative outlet as well – although, I have to question why I have to justify a creative outlet for myself. Oh, yeah, because I have too much to do as a teacher and adviser to spend time selfishly being creative.

Now that my secret is out, I have to confess and apologize for what is now obvious: it’s been two weeks since my last post. I am sorry. But to address my initial need to document time put toward, I must bog us down with information. I’ll try to do this quickly and painlessly (which should be easy, since I’m old and forgetful).

The week of September 12 was memorable for several things. I spent Monday and Tuesday after school following the new protocol before referring students to the office by calling multiple parents about such infractions as disturbing other students, not focusing on work, not turning in work, truancy for Encore. So far this year I have had more of those conversations with parents than I have had in my previous four years of teaching combined.

Tuesday was remarkable for the promise that it held and the disappointment that was revealed at the end of the day. For months, citizens have worked to create an acceptable compromise to the bond issue that was voted down last April. This one, it seemed, was what the people wanted and would agree to. The result would have been vast improvements to our 50-year-old campus, making it much more suitable on a basic, day-to-day basis as well upgrading the technological possibilities to help our students be more competitive technologically both as students now and as productive citizens later. The bond, however, did not carry a large enough majority, so it’s back to the drawing board again.

Wednesday wasn’t any longer than usual, but I had less time when I donated my plan period to cover a math class for a teacher gone to a workshop. Took some work with me, but when I realized his kids wouldn’t work unless I was strolling among them, I put my work away.

Thursday afternoon and Friday morning were open for Parent/Teacher conferences. I think I had seven parents or sets of parents come by. Guess I could add in all the phone conversations I had earlier in the week.

I did Friday on very little sleep. Dog barked at 1:24 a.m. I never went back to sleep. Did those few Friday morning conferences, a lot of grading, and some yearbook work. Dashed home for a late lunch then caught a ride with my teacher friend the webmaster, and, cameras in the trunk, we headed to the evening’s football game destination an hour and a half away. Of course, we built in time for a brief shopping trip and dining before the game.

My sophomore-in-college son and is girlfriend met us there (a halfway point for all of us), so we had some visiting in between photographing the game, pom, cheer and the band. And I actually stayed awake all the way home – midnight. Long day.

Saturday morning came early as I rose, grabbed the camera again, met a yearbooker at the classroom for more photographic equipment, and we headed for the park to catch some cross country pics. Those turned out much better than the football pics. I have so much to learn about photography. Daylight is my friend, and I am lost without my friend.

Last week I pushed hard to get the grading caught up.  This was aided by the fact that I stayed home sick on Monday. It was one of those illnesses that largely requires that you simply have a bathroom very close by. Other than that, you can actually get some work done.

Good thing I felt better on Tuesday. It was my turn to play freshman sponsor and watch dance practice from 7 to 8:30 p.m. I always get a kick out of the class dance pep rally. The students who are involved work hard to get their choreography just right and throw in enough originality to be competitive – although everyone knows that the seniors always win, even if they suck. It’s interesting, though, to watch some of the freshmen, who don’t really know what they’re up against, fool around and not take it seriously enough. Kudos to the choreographers, the leaders, who put up with a lot to try and pull off a good performance from a cross section of their entire class. My kid’s a senior, but I secretly root for the freshmen to impress the masses.

Finally heard from my yearbook rep on Wednesday, nearly a week after he said he’d figured out the index bug in the program and managed to get my index finished. Since attempts to email the file to me had failed, he was going to up load it to Dropbox and send me instructions, but I hadn’t heard from him in a week. Got the file, but the PDF plug-in wouldn’t work. Waiting game again while he works with tech support to try to figure out this new problem. Kids will be lucky to have the 2011 book for Christmas. They may be lucky to have the 2011 book before the 2012 book. I stayed late editing the file that wouldn’t go, because eventually it will.

The rest of the week went smoothly enough, though when I think of all I need to do to get this 2012 book off the ground, while still worrying about the old one, and production week is coming up for the first real issue of the paper, and, oh, there’s that English class to teach . . . it worries me, and I’m blogging.

Hurry up and wait…

The life of a publications adviser is manic. We have one speed: hurry. Seems there are always more things that need to be done than there is time in which to do them. Though I’m sure last week ended in the same frenetic mode, frankly, it’s a blur I cannot remember.

The week began with a yearbook goal: get the names from the group pictures proofed and marked for the 2011 book index.

The deadline on getting the last of the pages marked for the index – well, besides the fact that the book SHOULD HAVE BEEN FINISHED IN JUNE – was that my yearbook publisher rep was coming Tuesday afternoon to help me place those indexed names on the index pages. When you only do something once a year, and the rep has you do it differently (a better way?) than the instructions in the starter kit direct (confusing), it’s easier to just have him come help. And he’s willing – he’s a helpful guy.

The end result, however, was that after all the hurrying to finish so he could do his part when he arrived, the software has a bug of some sort, and the indexing portion won’t work. We can’t figure out why. Even my super-rep is perplexed. So now I’m in “wait” mode again, while he tries to resolve my problem.

I’m in “wait” mode as well on a particular lesson I need to present to my yearbookers. A great, energetic, positive staff, they’ve been busy selling ads and attending events, gathering content, but it’s time to show them basic design. For this I use my handy-dandy MacBook and the projector I was granted by the McCasland Foundation a few years ago, and I walk them through the process of eyelines, axis, dominant elements and so forth. Preparing for the lesson earlier in the week, I noticed a small, but important element of the lesson missing.

Oh, technology, you are so wonderful … when you are working correctly and we have all we need. The small adapter that allows my laptop to talk to the projector has mysteriously disappeared from the cable to which it was attached last week. No one borrowed it. No one moved it. However, I realized that when I am not using it, the cable simply hangs over the edge of my desk … dangling over the trashcan that sits beneath my desk. The only explanation I can come up with is that it fell into the trash. It never attached securely. In fact, at one point, I had it Scotch-taped to the cable, but it was borrowed a time or two, and I just never taped it back. I’m now trying to reach Apple, get a PO approved and order another one.

“Wait” mode.

Practical uses for flaming cowboy hats

I worked until 7 p.m. tonight. It was a good thing. I FINALLY uploaded the edited proof pages that were completed the day before faculty reported back to school this year. Yes, the pages are for LAST YEAR’S book.

A delay, which I mentioned in an earlier post, caused the editor to work throughout the summer to finish the book, with some, but very little help. The delay was caused by incomplete work. There are a couple different ways to look at the situation: 1. Some staff members let the staff and adviser down by not doing their work, even after continually being warned and even helped. Or, 2. The adviser failed to hold the students’ feet to the fire and demand that the work be completed. You can lead a horse to water…

Anyway, the final content pages are final. That feels pretty good. Wish I felt as good about the index. There’s always the weekend. And I managed to get this done after hours, without the need for the flaming cowboy hat mentioned in the post title.

Flaming cowboy hat, you ask?

Let me explain. When I took this position four years ago, the room came equipped with six molded, felt cowboy hats printed with, yes, flames. Don’t know what they were originally purchased for, but I’ve found a good uses for them.

In fact, the top 4 uses for flaming cowboy hats are:

4. They are fun for group pictures.

3. Entertainment editors who are also show choir members use them in solo performances for Mr. Irresistible pageants.

2. They’re great to draw parts from when you make your freshman English class perform “Romeo & Juliet.”

And the No. 1 use for flaming cowboy hats in a newsroom is … They act as an invisibility hat so that the wearer can edit or write with no one allowed to distract them short of a fire in the room or cessation of breathing.

My newspaper kids have known this for a couple years, but somehow, that knowledge had escaped the yearbook staff. Could be that most of them graduated last year, leaving only four returners.

Anyway, as the yearbookers came into class this afternoon, they found me furiously typing away at my keyboard, which, of course, didn’t stop them from trying to hand me ad sales contracts, ask for change for a dollar, share a moment or ask other questions. Needing to concentrate on the email reply I was typing, I hollered across the way to bring me a flaming cowboy hat. The newbies were stunned to, if not silence, then at least a lower volume as I placed the hat on my head, made the ‘shush’ sign and continued typing.

When I finished, I called class to order, slapped an agenda on the board, beginning with 1. Flaming cowboy hats, and explained the No. 1 use for them.

Now we’re all on the same page.