“I received my bachelor and master degrees from Ball State University in Journalism. I love to write and photograph; I also love to travel and blog. I have been to 27 countries, and am planning a trip to Northern Ireland and Iceland this summer. I went to high school at Merrillville High School, where I was editor of our weekly newspaper.”
Q: Why do you teach?
A: I have taught for 42 years - quite an accomplishment, since I’m only 25 - ha - and the fact that I never wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be the first female editor of the Chicago Tribune, back in the day, and just took a job teaching high school for some income while my husband finished college.
The first year I hated being stuck inside and teaching, but then I started to really like it, and in my fifth year of teaching journalism and advising publications at Yorktown High School, I was met with a dilemma: the new principal wanted me to tell him who wrote a letter to the editor, where the name was withheld upon request - according to our publication policy. And even though I was young, I knew I couldn't betray the student and tell. So, I refused, which started a year of pressure on the newspaper students and myself, culminating in censorship of the kids by the principal. I was recommended to be fired for "not cooperating" and filed a federal lawsuit, "Nelson v Laws" (the principal's name) charging censorship and prior restraint. It made all the Indianapolis media. And a 22-hour open hearing with court reporters, lawyers, students, and administrators was held the last week of school in the school gymnasium with probably 1000 spectators.
There is much more to the story, as the school board voted to uphold the principal and fire me because behind the scenes they had offered me a deal to keep my job, but did not promise not to punish the kids for their opinion in the school newspaper. I turned down the secret deal, and that answer infuriated the school board who voted 4-1 to fire me. This was in 1979.
Since that time, I was rehired, the school board members were not re-elected, and the new school board at their first meeting fired the superintendent, the principal and the assistant principal and gave the journalism department $10,000 to buy new typesetting equipment. I found myself in a job I now loved because I had to fight for the kids and the first amendment, and it forever cemented my respect and teaching of the freedom of press throughout the rest of my career. Student voices matter - and no one should be afraid to write about injustices or matters that disagree with government or administration.
When I was young, I never wanted to be a teacher. Now that I am grown, I would never want to be anything else.
Q: Tell me about some of your accomplishments.
A: I have been invited to teach in nearly all 50 states, including Hawaii, and overseas, as well, notably in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Netherlands. I have written a book on photojournalism and on media writing. I have received numerous national honors, most notably named the Dow Jones Newspaper Funds' National Journalism Teacher of the Year, and to the Top 10 USA Teachers by the newspaper, USA Today. I served as a national board member on the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Virginia and was given a "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the Journalism Education Association.
Q: What do you do here at ISU?
A: I was happy to take my love for writing and the first amendment to Indiana State University in 2015, when I was offered a full-time lecturer and then full-time instructor position. I have taught Introduction to Media Writing, Comm 290; Reporting I and Reporting II or Narrative Writing, and Investigative Journalism.
Until this year, I was also the faculty sponsor for ISU's Society of Professional Journalism chapter on campus.
Q: What is your teaching style?
A: I believe in connecting with the students first and foremost. I want the students to know each other and me, so they are not just passive observers in the classroom. I try to inspire love of the news by discussing the news each class period as a bell-ringer activity. This also helps the students to brainstorm news story ideas that link the campus with international and national events. News is everywhere, every day, every hour, and it's up to the new generation of reporters to find it, to not be afraid to report it, and to be exceptionally resourceful in identifying and talking to primary sources. With so many differing perspectives in our world, I also try to impress on the need to interview many sources for a fair rendition of the news. We need to break this ugly impression of "fake news" and "sloppy reporting." Our world and our readers deserve better.
So, my teaching plans are to be inclusive and discussion-based. We write for others, and not for our own pleasure own vanity. I love the interaction with the students, but hope I am direct and honest in accessing their work - always giving them chances to learn from their mistakes and do rewrites now, while they're learning their craft.
Q: What do you like about ISU?
A: When working with my ISU students, I love their belief and work ethic. Some of the skills are low, but they are usually willing to put in the work to improve their writing and reporting. Often times it's easy to let life get in the way of a quality journalism education, but we've got to pick ourselves up, prioritize, and use better time management, so we can be good daughters, sons, friends, spouses, AND still give quality work to the classroom. Because this is their future, and it matters.