Friday, Aug 16th at exactly 10:31:54pm, I'll end 20 years, 11 hours, and 54 minutes in network television news. I hate writing the sentence. Reading it turns my stomach. It's scary, and I have a multitude of mixed feelings. But it's time.
I've been in TV news for a little more than 20 years. Half. My. Life. And for 16 years of that time, I've worked the night shift. Usually 1:30pm to 10:30pm. That's longer than all my children have been alive. They've never known me to be home regularly at night during the week. Basically, during the school year, I only saw them on weekends. Don't judge. It worked for us. For awhile.
Early on, the kids were so young, most of their activities were on weekends. But now, sports are often on weeknights. They are involved in more things - with night activities. I'm missing things. Important things. While I'm reading the 200-billionth script on firework safety, my kids are belting out solos dressed as fruit, racing go-carts in Boy Scouts, and making great catches at the plate in their baseball games. While I'm going to meetings about needing more meetings, my husband is drying tears, praising accomplishments, and sharing day-to-day experiences with the boys.
I want to be home to help check homework. To hear about their day. To sit down to a meal.
But it's not easy to give something like this up. It's a pride thing. And I can feel the disappointment from people in their reactions. Maybe I'm imagining it, but even so, there's guilt. I LOVE TV news.
I LOVE writing for newscasts. I love making important decisions about coverage. I LOVE breaking into programming. (Sorry, I know it's annoying - but if we're breaking in it's because it's something "big" - and that brings a great adrenaline rush.) I LOVE finding creative ways to present a story. I LOVE when a reporter or anchor tells me they like something I've written...or that I've helped them. I LOVE working with producers and seeing them "get it." Yeah, good stuff.
There are many things I don't love. But we all have those things, with whatever job we have.
So, this is not a change I take lightly. I've agonized over it.
But I'm doing it.
I've taken a job as a Broadcast TV instructor. It's with the Kansas City Public School district. If you know anything about the district - you probably just made the face everyone makes when I tell them. (Kind of a "What the HELL are you thinking?") If you don't know about it - it's a "troubled" district. It lost accreditation a few years ago. There's been trouble keeping a superintendent. Trouble with school board bickering. All the schools have metal detectors. I know - I've covered KCPS for more than 10 years. And let me tell you, the job interested me BECAUSE it's KCPS.
When people are ripping on the district - they are ripping on my community. Sure, I live in "luxurious" Lee's Summit .. but when someone asks where I live, I say Kansas City. I decided I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Or put in a more mushy fashion: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Kansas City students deserve a good education. They shouldn't get "less" of anything - good teachers, good equipment, good support - because they happen to live in a certain part of town. This job is teaching the thing I know more about than anything else. I'll be working with KCPS-TV - a student run television station for the whole district, shown on cable channel 18. So, it's a way to keep in the business, so to speak, while also trying to be one of the many "good" things about KCPS.
And there are good things! The school I'm teaching at is the "Paseo Academy of Fine & Performing Arts." If you're from here, hearing the word "Paseo" makes you cringe. It shouldn't. I have a whole new feeling about it.
Students have to audition to come to this school. You don't pass the audition - you don't get in. And this school focuses on the "arts." Students must declare a major - from subjects like creative writing, visual technology, fashion design, vocal music, instrumental music, dance... and oddly enough broadcasting. They have to take "core" classes here, too. But they're here for the arts. These are talented kids. They're proud they got into this school. They are diverse. They are smart. Think: a whole high school of "Glee." Though I have yet to hear anyone break out into song, but that may be just because I only know how to get to my classroom and haven't been in the right part of the building.
During the interview process, they warned me - these kids are "different." They pushed on the "why would you want to come here." And they warned me - yes, the kids are smart and talented, but many come with baggage. You know what, all the more reason to step up.
I attended a back to school orientation for the entire district staff. It really changed my dark, negative feelings about the district. I walked in and felt like I was at a political convention. Schools sat together, with someone proudly waving their sign. Many wore matching TShirts. Many brought noise-makers, and poms poms. These people were quite obviously proud of their schools and their work. The convo hadn't even started yet, and I was inspired.
I sat down and looked around in awe. Thumping music played. Various schools yelled their cheers. Slides played in the auditorium. It's what I would have expected from one of the more "privileged" districts ... like Lee's Summit or Blue Valley. But this was Kansas City.
Then came the speeches. Sure, they acknowledged there was work to do - but they showed major progress...enough for provisional accreditation. Every speaker was high energy and motivating. When we interview Dr. Green (superintendent) for news stories, he's always just a "talking head/official." In this environment, he was a proud ringleader, jumping up and down and yelling 'ooooweee'! He made me laugh. I like what he had to say. If only the rest of the community could see THIS part of KCPS.
Our speaker was a feisty professor from K-State. She sounded like Wanda Sykes. She really whipped up the crowd with her humor, and her take on teaching and education. But she really got me when she talked about how teachers "love their kids." Because "they are OUR kids." I could hear "Amens" in the crowd. She talked about how we had to love these kids, and be their family, because for some it would be the only love and family they know. Loving them at school will help prevent them from seeking love in the wrong places. I heard "I know that's right" yelled in the crowd. It was one thing to be moved by this speaker's inspiring words. But it was another thing entirely to hear the crowd reaction. These teachers DO love their kids. They ARE proud of their work. And just, wow.
So now I'm trying to be a teacher. This does not come naturally for me at all. Sure I can talk TV 'til the cows come home. Sure I can teach producers. But this is different. These are high school students. I feel awkward and like I'm pretending to be teacher. Or I'm doing a one time presentation. I worry that I'm not connecting. I see them staring at me, and I'm not sure anyone's home. It's just the first couple of days - so I know we're still warming up to each other. I can't make the "Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?" joke. They're too young to get it.
Yes, the kids are smart and talented. And yes they are very "artsy" and full of "expression."
But the other day, I was standing up as my coordinator spoke to a class, and one of the students, a gentlemen, leaned over and whispered, "Ms. Hicks, would you like my chair?" I was stunned. Touched. Encouraged. Soon I noticed, some answered often me with "yes m'am."
Then today it happened. That "love" I've heard teachers talk about, the "why" they call them "my kids." It hit me. I was doing a class on interviewing. And the students had to interview each other.
I ended up having to participate because of the odd numbers after they paired.
The tough swagger kids answered my questions with a sweet shyness. They revealed things that broke my heart - but at the same time, won me over to wanting to be one of the good things in their lives.
They all have hopes and dreams. When you ask them what they're most proud of - they say - "making it this far." That says something.
Over and over in interviews, students shared one same feeling: you can't trust people, they let you down. I took that as a challenge.
So, yeah, I don't have the teacher skills. I'm not doing very well with "being firm" and discipline. (How weird is that???) I'm awkward and bumping along. But now I have the one thing every teacher needs. The connection.
So goodbye TV news. It's a bittersweet break-up.
But now, my future is helping shape futures.
I'm nervous. I'm freaked. I'm ready.
Time for a change. A life change. A lifestyle change.
Time to BE the change.