I know what many of you expect me to address this week, the recent headline-grabbing story about a teacher at Hoover accused of sexually assaulting a student. After all, I work there and that teacher was a colleague of mine.
However, I'd like to dial down the sensationalism of it to show how something negative can produce something positive.
I've been in charge of the school newspaper, the Tornado Times, for 22 years, a responsibility I don't take lightly. My philosophy in teaching journalism has been to provide students with the right amount of knowledge and technology so that they can do their jobs effectively as real journalists.
"Empowering students" is a clichéd phrase that often appears in school slogans, but is an actuality in my classroom.
When real-life issues intersect with classroom instruction, that is when the teachable moment occurs, when learning comes alive — not from a book, but from an experience. Any educator worth his mettle is on the lookout for real stories to make the book-learning relevant to the student.
I've been employed at Hoover long enough for six student cycles or 29% of the school's existence, so I've seen my share of the school's highs and lows. And so has the student journalist.
When surviving alumni from the school's early years drove in from out of town to celebrate the school's 75th anniversary, we memorialized their stories.
When a young man's life was cut short across the street from the school due to a fight, we shared the grief from his friends and family.
When Anita Siraki was in the race of her life to become the fastest girl in the country, we flew a reporter to Florida to cover it (she ended up coming in second).
When an arsonist caused $3 million in damage, forcing students to be bused off campus to attend classes, we stood alongside journalism brethren from the Glendale News-Press and the Los Angeles Times speaking to the fire chief and capturing the damage.
In every one of these situations, it has been the students, not me, who crave to take the photos and to get the quotes. They have the drive to own the story; after all, it is a story on their campus.
It is thrilling to see a 16-year-old finally wake up from his academic slumber, rise to the occasion, and get excited about school because he was able to take photos of a crime scene behind yellow tape or speak to city officials on equal footing just as a real reporter, desiring to relay all he has done to his fellow classmates. And that is good journalism.
Long after I retire, I hope the journalism program continues to thrive so that when a story breaks, even an unpleasant one, the Hoover student journalist is there, prepared to inform the student body and inspire the rest of us.
For no matter how terrible some of the stories my student journalists have had to cover have been, each time it has been a life lesson more valuable than I could ever devise in a classroom assignment.
If we don't have a winning football team, we have to report it. And if we have a teacher accused of wrongdoing, we also have to report it. For that is good journalism.
BRIAN CROSBY is a English and Journalism teacher at Hoover High. He is the author of Smart Kids, Dumb Schools and The $100,000 Teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.