How to Get an A in My Class

If I look frazzled and unkempt on Thursdays, it's because I wake up at 7am after working a nightside shift on Wednesday. Which means the earliest I get to bed is 12:30am. I know some of you can totally conduct the world's business, fit in a Zumba class and happy hour, teach your children algebra, and put the finishing touches on your PhD thesis on that amount of sleep.  I can not.

In my morning jumble, I feed Emmy, or pump if she's sleeping in, and then chug a Vietnamese home brewed coffee on my way up 280 to San Francisco. Notice I did not mention the word "shower."

My Thursdays continue at the University of San Francisco, my alma mater. Where I gave an earnest but forgettable commencement speech in May of 2000, right before UPI reporter Helen Thomas gave hers. After making it back to the Bay Area, I bamboozled one of my former professors into allowing me back into the school to teach a course with my esteemed classmate and dear friend, Toan Lam. Bamboozled may be the wrong word. Begged would be more appropriate. Because "Professor Nguyen" sounds kick ass, and I wanted to craft THE course I wish I was offered during college.

So here we are, teaching our second semester of students. These ones are pretty impressive, because they actually heard what a grueling course it was from the students in the first semester, and they still enrolled. I give them credit for that.

Here's where I stop being polite and start getting real. Now that I have 1.5 semesters' worth of teaching the "TV Reporting" class, some issues still plague me.

What happened to note taking?

Here we are, Toan and I, going over what it takes to be a TV news reporter. We only have so many hours in a semester and we cover A LOT. Terminology, creative story writing techniques, interviewing, shooting, editing, resume tape essentials, active standups,  how to handle different scenarios when you're in the field, how to land your first job, all the essentials of what you do if you do what we do. You would THINK it would be a good idea, if you're a budding JOURNALIST and all, to WRITE SHIT DOWN. Because it's totally a foreign language and I get that. It's a lot of information about a subject that's new, challenging, and unlike any of your other classes. So help me help you. Take notes. Review those notes. Then ask questions about what you don't get. You have my email, my cell phone, my Twitter. When I say, "Call or text or email with any questions," take me up on that offer. But make sure you don't ask me stuff until you've reviewed your notes to make sure the answer isn't already there.

Time management. Procrastination may totally fly in your other classes but not here. You can't shoot a news package complete with coherent interviews, good video, and seamless editing the night before it's due. Unless you are prodigy and you were a TV reporter in a former life. So far, we have not met you.

Questions: Ask them. You're going to be a professional questioner. Start practicing now. And don't stop until you understand.

Hustling: If you see the class superstar, the person who seems to GET IT, time after time, mosey over and introduce yourself and see if you can strike up a symbiotic relationship. That's how it goes in the real world too. Find the smart people, learn from them, become one. Don't just wallow in your own insecurity and anxiety and fear and shyness. And if they are jerks, find the smart, nice ones. They are out there. And most of them like chocolate.

Self sufficiency: You're a Big Girl or Big Boy now. We can't and won't coddle you with kindness because it's better you fall on your face and do awkward valley girl stand ups and flub your lines and say dumb things in our class, than in the Real World. Where people don't often give you a second chance. Where you get labeled the Lazy One, or the Clueless One, or the Village Idiot. We're also not going to hold your hand through every assignment and follow up to make sure you are tucked in and sleeping well at night. You want to be taken seriously? Take care of your business. Handle things that need to be handled and if you don't know, reach out for help.

Assignments: Do them. Correctly. When we write the details on the board, you write the details on your paper. Seems simple but somehow this gets jacked up every time. We're not going to waste paper printing out an assignment sheet everyday, plus it's a fluid class, some assignments come up based on your progress and where you are by the end of class.

Mistakes: Once or twice, we expect that. More than two mess ups in the same category, you get categorized. The Mistake Maker.

Presentation matters. Hello? This is a TV class. How you present yourself and your work consciously and subconsciously affects how we perceive you. Handing in a DVD? How about a label and a case? Who hands in their work with no name on it?

The Good Doctor says I'm too hard on my students. That they're not all going to become reporters and that they're "just students." But someday these students are going to be "just people" with jobs out there somewhere, and what I'm trying to embed in their minds goes beyond TV news reporting. It's more like life skills. I'm not out to wreck any GPAs, God knows I was super anal about my grades. But anyone who works hard and earns my respect will have a fierce advocate and genuine reference in me, whatever field they go into. 

BTW, extra credit to any student that reads this and emails me by next class.