MODESTO — Last week I spent two mornings talking to schoolkids about being a reporter.
For an Enochs High technology class I talked about how the electronic newsroom is changing the industry, how we tweet and blog and Facebook, capture video on cell phones, send stories to the web around the clock and try to figure ways to make a long-ways printed page to fit on a sideways screen.
The next day I gave two talks to first- through sixth-graders at Hidahl Elementary in Ceres. That talk was about journalism as a career, focusing on how writing every day makes it easier, how spell check isn't perfect and how important math is in investigating anything.
The two elementary classes of roughly 25 youngsters chose newspaper reporter as a career they were interested in -- and I was up against a guy who builds race cars and Ceres firefighters, with an engine. The kids had questions. They listened. They laughed as classmates interviewed each other and called out helpful ideas. They connected.
My high school talk, however, was what high schoolers would call an epic fail -- teens stared glassy eyed, propping up chins and blinking. Dead silence greeted every attempt to engage them. After 15 minutes or so they turned and started chatting to each other -- signs of life at last. Not to say I'm a fabulous speaker, but wow.
The teacher later told me his class spends much of first period waking up. Researchers agree adolescents do better scholastically starting later. Which makes the way we've always done it sound like maybe we've always done it wrong. I'm not sure a later start would have saved a talk I suspect was just post-testing filler, but at least the eyes facing me could have focused.
Something to add to my next talk on journalism: The job keeps you humble.