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Scholastic Teacher Magazine: From The Very First Tagline 125 Years Ago: “Devoted To The American Schoolteacher” – To That Same Mission That Still Holds True Today – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Tara Welty, Editor In Chief, Scholastic Teacher Magazine…

November 21, 2016

“My focus is really the print magazine first and then I think about the ways that I will get the content from the print magazine out into the world in other ways. So, we start with the print magazine and we start with the timing of when that’s going to arrive in mailboxes, and what content will be the most useful at that time. And then we sort of repackage it for the web and then we use the web content to push it out to the social media platforms.” Tara Welty

tefa16coverIn the case of Scholastic Teacher magazine, a milestone anniversary might be somewhat of an understatement. This year marks the 125th year that the publication, devoted to American teachers and their students and classrooms, has been in publishing existence. And what a wonderful anniversary issue the magazine has put together to earmark this auspicious occasion.

Scholastic Teacher is America’s longest-running magazine for teachers, and since its first print issue in 1891 to its impressive presence today online and in print with 525,000 monthly readers, the magazine has remained an innovative source of ideas and inspiration for teachers. The anniversary issue of Scholastic Teacher gives readers an opportunity to witness the history of education and the evolution of the teacher in America as seen through its pages. This special issue explores facts found in the magazine’s archives, and according to Editor in Chief, Tara Welty, gathering and researching those facts was no small feat for her and her team. But it was a labor of love and an experience that they will never forget.

I spoke with Tara recently and we talked about how proud she was of all of the hard work and creativity her team had put into this anniversary issue. And about the teachers across the country who they did this for; servicing and supporting those teachers, according to Tara, is the most important job the magazine has and does with its very existence.

So, welcome to the celebration of an informational and inspirational magazine for teachers that has been around for 125 years. Here’s to the next 125 – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tara Welty, editor in chief, Scholastic Teacher magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

tara-new-photo

On the fact that in this digital age Scholastic Teacher is still going strong in print after 125 years: It’s quite a remarkable thing and we certainly look around at the industry and see what a challenging time it is for magazines. I think that what we’ve really tried to do is to make sure that if we’re going to be in print we have a reason to be. So, let’s make it very visual and very fun to read and let’s make it something that you really can’t accomplish digitally. Hopefully, when you hold this issue in your hands it feels like it couldn’t exist in any other format to have this rich experience.

On whether she discovered a common thread that connects the issues from yesteryear to those of today as she researched for the 125th anniversary issue: Absolutely. The magazine was founded in 1891 by a man named Frederick A. Owen and he was a former school administrator in South Dansville, New York and he really noticed that across the country not all teachers had the opportunity to go to teaching colleges, which were called “normal” schools at the time. And what the magazine really became was an area where teachers would share their best ideas with one another. One might be the only teacher in their community and it might be a very rural community with no other teacher to really confer with. And so teachers would send letters to the magazine with their best ideas, things that really worked for them, and I think that’s the heart of what Scholastic Teacher is today. It’s teachers sharing their best ideas with one another.

On any major stumbling blocks that she and her team had to overcome during the making of the 125th anniversary issue: The process was very time-consuming and it was extremely dusty. (Laughs) You’re buying old magazines on eBay; you’re getting a lot of dust. Digging into that research, going through 125 years of issues of frequencies that have been at different points; it was a lot of research. It was really all-hands-on-deck for our team.

On the most pleasant moment throughout the process: Just uncovering little gems of information. I’ll read you one that was published in the magazine: “You are a lady before you are a teacher. In your pocket should be a pure Irish-linen, handstitched handkerchief.” That’s from 1903. And one of us would find one of these little gems in the magazine and in order to keep it organized we had kept a Google doc that we were putting in bits and pieces that we were all contributing to, broken down by decade. Once somebody found one they’d just go running around to different offices to share what they had found.

On whether it makes a difference that her audience is teachers when it comes to the thinking behind the creativity of the magazine: When I became the editor four years ago, the most important thing to me was that we celebrate and support teachers. It feels as though teachers are under attack a lot of the time from every which way and this magazine is for them and about them and to help them with their teaching practices. So, one of the things that I really focused on was making sure that, one: the articles are very scanable, because teachers do not have a ton of time to try and figure out what the main point of an article is, so I wanted them to get a key takeaway and decide if they wanted to read it right away by putting in subheads and making the images very clear. Then I wanted to make sure that every article came away with a practical application. How can the teachers use this article in their classrooms?

On whether she feels the need for a publication like Scholastic Teacher is needed more today than ever before with the bombardment of information out there: A teacher always needs a creative idea for how to come at a topic that they teach on all of the time and they’re looking for a new twist on it, something that’s going to really engage their students, especially right now with the technology boom happening. Classrooms and teachers want to use that technology in a way that’s thoughtful and not just tech for the sake of tech.

On as an editor how she decides what content goes into print and what goes online or another platform: Scholastic as a company publishes a lot of things that are online only, but my focus is really the print magazine first and then I think about the ways that I will get the content from the print magazine out into the world in other ways. So, we start with the print magazine and we start with the timing of when that’s going to arrive in mailboxes, and what content will be the most useful at that time. And then we sort of repackage it for the web and then we use the web content to push it out to the social media platforms.

On how she felt when she first saw the 125th anniversary issue: Up until just recently, I only had the unbound copy. And when the mail delivered the box of magazines, my entire staff began jumping up and down and shouting, “It’s here; it’s here.” (Laughs) Everybody grabbed a copy to see which facts they had pulled out and who had written what and it was great. I’m just so proud of this issue. It really took a lot of collaboration and teamwork from not just our internal team here, but from our freelancers and contributors. I just couldn’t be more proud of the way it turned out.

On the secret to longevity with a magazine like Scholastic Teacher: That’s a great question. I think it comes back to just always servicing your reader and always thinking about whether or not you’re providing something that your reader really needs and is useful to them. For us, Scholastic has a real focus company-wide on education and on celebrating teachers and on getting students to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning. We just always circle back to that mission and we try to make sure that every article that we publish is supporting the mission of our company and supporting the teachers that we service.

On the future of print in a digital age and the impact it will have on next generations: That’s a great question and it’s something that I think anybody who is working in print media right now is really grappling with. We don’t know what the future is going to bring in terms of where our readers are going to go and if they will still want print in five years. But what I do know for certain is that great content is always needed and the way that we deliver it is not necessarily the most important thing. I happen to love holding a magazine in my hands and I have far too many magazines stacked up on my dresser at home, but if people decide that they don’t need print anymore, I still think that they’re going to need information; our readers, teachers, will need information about how to support the kids that are right in front of them.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up one evening unexpectedly at her home: The first thing that I do when I get home is walk the dog. I have a fabulous rescue dog named Phoebe and she brings a lot of joy to the house. Then I usually cook dinner; I love to cook. And sitting down with my husband and enjoying dinner with him. After dinner, I’m looking at that stack of magazines that I was telling you about, and thinking about how I should tackle some of those before they really get out of control.

On what keeps her up at night: Usually all of the deadlines and all of the things that I have to do. Also, just thinking about what’s going on in teachers’ minds and how can I help alleviate some of their stress, because teachers really do feel under the gun all of the time. And as stressful and challenging as my job can get, theirs is ten times more stressful than that. So, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to help them to make their jobs a bit easier in my own small way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tara Welty, editor in chief, Scholastic Teacher magazine.

Scholastic Teacher through the years...

Scholastic Teacher through the years…

Samir Husni: Congratulations on 125 years strong in print.

Tara Welty: Thank you very much. It’s a pretty exciting time for us. We started planning this issue about a year ago, so it’s been very thrilling to have it out in the world now.

Samir Husni: I have seen a lot of anniversary issues, but what you’ve done through that historical perspective from “back then” in 1891 is amazing. I was so fascinated reading all of the information. For example, where teachers started the day with prayer and all of the other trivia items that you included in the anniversary issue; as you were developing this edition, and you said that you had been planning this for almost a year, did you ever stop and think: wow, in this digital age, we’re still doing print? And doing it for 125 years, which is amazing.

Tara Welty: It hits me constantly. It’s quite a remarkable thing and we certainly look around at the industry and see what a challenging time it is for magazines. I think that what we’ve really tried to do is to make sure that if we’re going to be in print we have a reason to be. So, let’s make it very visual and very fun to read and let’s make it something that you really can’t accomplish digitally. Hopefully, when you hold this issue in your hands it feels like it couldn’t exist in any other format to have this rich experience.

We have a full archive in our library at Scholastic of our magazines; some are on microfilm and some are in print. But then we really wanted to dig into the issues and some of the older issues are quite delicate so we started buying the old issues on eBay and we were delighted to find that they really are out there and available. So, we got in hundreds and hundreds of magazines from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. They’re just sort of lining our offices here. (Laughs) Once we started digging into those old magazines and uncovering these fun facts, we just knew that our readers would love learning them to. And that’s when we really started to focus on all of the history and some of the really outlandish things that we published in the magazine and they’re really fun to read. I think anybody who is a teacher or interested in education would love to see how their profession has evolved.

Samir Husni: As you were digging into these old issues and researching; did you find a common thread that weaved through and connected the soul of Scholastic Teacher from those historic issues to the ones of today?

Tara Welty: Absolutely. The magazine was founded in 1891 by a man named Frederick A. Owen and he was a former school administrator in South Dansville, New York and he really noticed that across the country not all teachers had the opportunity to go to teaching colleges, which were called “normal” schools at the time. And so he wanted to establish the magazine to spread teaching “norms.” As I said, there were teachers across America who may not have had the opportunity to attend a teaching college.

And what the magazine really became was an area where teachers would share their best ideas with one another. One might be the only teacher in their community and it might be a very rural community with no other teacher to really confer with. And so teachers would send letters to the magazine with their best ideas, things that really worked for them, and I think that’s the heart of what Scholastic Teacher is today. It’s teachers sharing their best ideas with one another.

The very first tagline in the very first issue from 1891 was, “Devoted to the interests of the American schoolteacher.” And that is really so true today. And it’s been true throughout the history of our 125 years. I really think of the magazine as being a conduit for teachers to share their ideas with one another and there are a lot of other ways that teachers do that today, but seeing it in print in a collection with other teachers is really the heart of our magazine.

Samir Husni: Was there any major stumbling blocks that you and your team had to overcome during the making of this 125th anniversary issue?

Tara Welty: The process was very time-consuming and it was extremely dusty. (Laughs) You’re buying old magazines on eBay; you’re getting a lot of dust. Digging into that research, going through 125 years of issues of frequencies that have been at different points; it was a lot of research. It was really all-hands-on-deck for our team.

What we tried to do was go decade by decade and identify trends that were happening in education at that time. So, we were comparing certain things that we knew had happened in the history of education, like the progressive movement in education in the 1920s, education reform in the 2000s, and then we were sort of going back to our pages of the magazine to see how we had covered it and what kind of advice we had given. So, it was a really in depth research project. The stumbling blocks were just the enormity of it, but our team worked so seamlessly together I could not be more proud of the work that they did.

Samir Husni: And what was the most pleasant moment throughout this process?

Tara Welty: Just uncovering little gems of information. I’ll read you one that was published in the magazine: “You are a lady before you are a teacher. In your pocket should be a pure Irish-linen, handstitched handkerchief.” That’s from 1903. And one of us would find one of these little gems in the magazine and in order to keep it organized we had kept a Google doc that we were putting in bits and pieces that we were all contributing to, broken down by decade. Once somebody found one they’d just go running around to different offices to share what they had found. It was really fun.

Samir Husni: As someone who is in charge of editing a magazine aimed at teachers; what goes through your mind? Do you feel that you’re dealing with a group of colleagues, or people who are watching everything you write to see where they can criticize you? Does it make a difference that your audience is teachers when it comes to the thinking behind the creativity of the magazine?

Tara Welty: When I became the editor four years ago, the most important thing to me was that we celebrate and support teachers. It feels as though teachers are under attack a lot of the time from every which way and this magazine is for them and about them and to help them with their teaching practices. So, one of the things that I really focused on was making sure that, one: the articles are very scan able, because teachers do not have a ton of time to try and figure out what the main point of an article is, so I wanted them to get a key takeaway and decide if they wanted to read it right away by putting in subheads and making the images very clear. Then I wanted to make sure that every article came away with a practical application. How can the teachers use this article in their classrooms?

And I wanted it to be filled with great ideas that didn’t come from our offices in New York City, because we’re not in the classroom everyday; I wanted the advice and the ideas to come from real teachers. We do a lot of really reaching out to teachers, getting their advice, seeking their counsel and asking them what’s really working in their classrooms right now and would they share that with our readers?

And I also wanted to make sure that there was no jargon; it’s just a very straightforward and practical magazine. The feedback that we get in every issue is that the magazine is something that the teacher can take away and use in his or her classroom. I feel like the purpose of the magazine is not to wade into some of the controversial aspects of teaching, because there are other places where they can get that information. It’s kind of coming at teachers all of the time. The magazine should really be a place where they can get great ideas for their classrooms. And I think that we do that very well.

Samir Husni: Do you feel there is a greater need today for Scholastic Teacher and other publications like it than ever before with the bombardment of information out there?

Tara Welty: A teacher always needs a creative idea for how to come at a topic that they teach on all of the time and they’re looking for a new twist on it, something that’s going to really engage their students, especially right now with the technology boom happening. Classrooms and teachers want to use that technology in a way that’s thoughtful and not just tech for the sake of tech.

And there are a lot of different places teachers can go for great ideas, so when the magazine comes in their mailboxes and they pull it out and it’s just the lesson that they need for that time; that’s a very valuable thing.

And we also know that teachers are engaging with our content not just through the print magazine, but through our social media and our online. And so we want to make content that’s accessible, no matter which platform they’re consuming from. If they’re finding it on Pinterest or our Facebook page or on our website; the print magazine or from a colleague who has it from one of those platforms and they’re telling them about it because they used it in their classroom and found it amazing. Great ideas and creative ideas are always needed, but we have to think about the different ways that teachers are finding them.

Samir Husni: And as you’re thinking about that as an editor; how do you make the decision about what content should be in print and what should go online? Do you anguish when you’re making those decisions or it just comes easily and naturally to you now?

Tara Welty: Scholastic as a company publishes a lot of things that are online only, but my focus is really the print magazine first and then I think about the ways that I will get the content from the print magazine out into the world in other ways. So, we start with the print magazine and we start with the timing of when that’s going to arrive in mailboxes, and what content will be the most useful at that time. And then we sort of repackage it for the web and then we use the web content to push it out to the social media platforms.

Our Facebook pages are particularly lively places; it’s where we have a lot of teachers engaging with our content and I think that’s been such a wonderful addition to our publishing, because it allows us to have a conversation with our readers right away and get feedback on our articles.

Samir Husni: When you received that first copy of the 125th anniversary issue of the magazine; can you describe the feeling you had when you saw it?

Tara Welty: Up until just recently, I only had the unbound copy. And when the mail delivered the box of magazines, my entire staff began jumping up and down and shouting, “It’s here; it’s here.” (Laughs) Everybody grabbed a copy to see which facts they had pulled out and who had written what and it was great. I’m just so proud of this issue. It really took a lot of collaboration and teamwork from not just our internal team here, but from our freelancers and contributors. I just couldn’t be more proud of the way it turned out.

Samir Husni: Over the last year there have been a lot of milestone anniversaries celebrated in the magazine industry; something that is unheard of these days in radio, television and certainly when it comes to the ever-changing web. How many other mediums can boast of a 125-year-old product? What do you think is the secret to longevity with magazines like Scholastic Teacher?

Tara Welty: That’s a great question. I think it comes back to just always servicing your reader and always thinking about whether or not you’re providing something that your reader really needs and is useful to them. For us, Scholastic has a real focus company-wide on education and on celebrating teachers and on getting students to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning. We just always circle back to that mission and we try to make sure that every article that we publish is supporting the mission of our company and supporting the teachers that we service. And I think that’s the secret to longevity; just making sure that your publication is really working to support the people that it services.

Samir Husni: For the teachers, how do you balance ink on paper with pixels on a screen; what tips are you getting about the future of print in a digital age and how it will impact future generations?

Tara Welty: That’s a great question and it’s something that I think anybody who is working in print media right now is really grappling with. We don’t know what the future is going to bring in terms of where our readers are going to go and if they will still want print in five years.

But what I do know for certain is that great content is always needed and the way that we deliver it is not necessarily the most important thing. I happen to love holding a magazine in my hands and I have far too many magazines stacked up on my dresser at home, but if people decide that they don’t need print anymore, I still think that they’re going to need information; our readers, teachers, will need information about how to support the kids that are right in front of them. And those kids are always changing and their needs are always changing. And hopefully, we will always be there to help them with the challenges that they face in the classroom.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home one evening unexpectedly what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching television; having a glass of wine; cooking; or something else?

Tara Welty: The first thing that I do when I get home is walk the dog. I have a fabulous rescue dog named Phoebe and she brings a lot of joy to the house. Then I usually cook dinner; I love to cook. And sitting down with my husband and enjoying dinner with him. After dinner, I’m looking at that stack of magazines that I was telling you about, and thinking about how I should tackle some of those before they really get out of control.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Tara Welty: Usually all of the deadlines and all of the things that I have to do. Also, just thinking about what’s going on in teachers’ minds and how can I help alleviate some of their stress, because teachers really do feel under the gun all of the time. And as stressful and challenging as my job can get, theirs is ten times more stressful than that. So, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to help them to make their jobs a bit easier in my own small way.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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