Benjamin Harwood: Highlander Adviser, 2006-2013

The truth is, advising the Highlander was never part of the plan.

Years before, I had left television news, in search of a different career path. I was sick of the sensationalism. Tired of the late nights. Frustrated TV news was less “news” and more the “thank God this stuff didn’t happen to you” half hour.

After returning from a second round of college, my goal was to find a job teaching high school social studies. The idea of teaching journalism seemed disingenuous. Why would students want to learn a subject from a guy who quit the business, I thought. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I was fortunate enough to land a teaching job at Seaholm, newspaper wasn’t in the mix. The main gig was to teach Econ, American government and advise the yearbook. At the time, the newspaper was an afterthought – an after-school club that published a few times a year. The adviser was already gearing up for the year and we had briefly discussed figuring out a way to share space in the production room.

So Imagine my surprise when, midway through the second day of school, principal Terry Piper stopped me in the hallway to ask if I’d take over advising the paper. I was too stunned to say anything other than “yes” – I loved my experiences on my high school and college newspapers and I was just happy our unscheduled meeting wasn’t to tell me I had screwed something up and was fired.

The first order of business was to transform the club into a class. I was convinced Seaholm had a talent pool unrivaled anywhere else. All we needed was the dedicated class time to polish the rough stone. To their never ending credit and bravery, Piper, English Department Chair Kyle Hall and the Board of Education shared my vision and helped turn the club into a class. And like that, we were off.

The stories and the journeys leading to each lede, each interview, each roadblock, each headline and each caption are endless. Some led to awards, others led to a student’s first byline, a few picked up steam on the web and at least one (that I know of) led to a crusade by a few parents to try to shut down the paper, punt me out of the district and perhaps the greatest three month teachable moment I’ve ever been privileged to share.

But what I’ll remember – and miss – more than anything else are the students and the incredible moments I shared with them. It’s tough to play favorites. Each staff was wonderfully unique in its own way and never ceased to find ways to impress, amaze and provide opportunities for learning. But, for those reading, I’ll let you in on a not-really-a-secret: newspaper *was* my favorite class, and my newspaper kids were my favorite kids. So, in journalism — a field where objectivity is crucial, I had an inherent bias. I admit it.

Most administrators I know will tell you what they miss the most about teaching are the relationships they built with their students. One district, one title and two years removed from Seaholm, I know exactly what they mean. In my seven years with the Highlander, I built relationships with hundreds of amazing people. Just thinking about them now reminds me I would need a few hundred more pages to do justice and capture in words some of the more memorable students. Each one made an impact on me.

I will always be proud of the way Highlander reporters, editors and photographers approached their craft. They had fun, shared more than a few laughs, but always took their roles seriously and professionally and took pride in running a legitimate news publication — even if I made them revise their story for the tenth time to find one more source. This was truly their paper and they bravely pursued the stories that mattered to their school community. I’d like to think that was reflected in the Highlander’s body of work.

The Highlander has a rich and storied history. Two of the earliest Golden Pen Award winners, Birmingham teachers Vida McGriffin (1957) and Guy Jameson (1960) both had ties to the publication. In my brief stretch with the paper, I was honored to watch more than 100 students win more than 150 state and national journalism writing awards. Some went on to run their own college newspapers. Others discovered a talent they never knew they possessed. I’d like to think, along the way, we all had fun and told great stories.

After doing my best to leave the journalism field and avoid teaching the subject, it’s telling my most satisfying moments in the classroom occurred in that production room. But, given the students I was privileged to teach, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I am ever thankful for the moments and memories I shared with the Highlander and proud to be a tiny slice of the publication’s rich history.

Here’s to 75 more great years.

P.S.: No, Editorial Board, you still cannot do “Meet the Highlander Staff” instead of an editorial this issue.

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