Over my 19 years of teaching Journalism I have had many a student enter many a contest. Is it for plaques, certificates, or bragging honors? No. I have them do it to learn and improve.
Contests that provide meaningful written critiques and feedback have helped my students become better at their craft, and elevated our program to a level we once thought impossible.
At times those contests have reinforced what I am trying to teach my students, and ultimately shown them that, “Hey, maybe MT knows what she’s talking about!”
There have been other moments they have taught me a lesson or two. I know last school year it taught me that I was not holding my students accountable for obtaining proper shot sequences in their stories. Over the past several years those contests have taught me I have to work to get our program a legitimate website so we can keep up-to-date with the demands placed upon journalists today (filming, writing, uploading, blogging, designing, and more).
I personally know teachers who do not have their students compete. Some have told me they see it as “too much extra work” or feel their students are not “good enough” and it could possibly damage egos if they lose.
I have to honestly say to any educator who feels that way, it is worth the time and effort. Perhaps you are wrong and your kids are “good enough” or maybe you are correct in thinking they aren’t. The written feedback will help give them the knowledge to get better. In some cases, it’s that written feedback that has made my students say, “What!? I’ll show them!” and they work even harder to prove a judge wrong. Any source of motivation is worth the time.
The key is to find contests (locally, regionally, or nationally) that indeed are transparent and offer written feedback.
Nothing is really gained in a contest that doesn’t provide such information. We’ve entered contests of that nature over the years, and I am always questioning the results.
My staff has lived those moments of shock. “We didn’t win?” Sadly, they don’t know why. There is no feedback provided to help them learn and grow. On the flip side, we’ve ranked high in such contests and I’ve sat with them bewildered. “It wasn’t THAT good, was it?” The lack of feedback leaves us wondering what we did right in the production.
For all of those reasons and more, I often seek out contests with written critiques and feedback from judges and I am shying away more and more from ones that do not.
Competition is a great way for our programs to improve and grow in this ever-changing world of Journalism. I encourage you to seek out competitions that can be the catalyst for growth within your program. It is certainly worth the time.