Madison was greeted with a slow, steady clapping as she entered Mr. Portnoy’s room. She smiled. “Oh, stop.”
“That was quite a story. Everyone is talking about it,” he said.
“Mixed blessing,” she replied.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “I heard about the cafeteria today.”
Madison shook her head. “Anyway, do you have a minute to talk?”
He motioned to the chairs across from his desk. “Have a seat. What can I do you for?”
Tears formed in Madison’s eyes, but she tried to stifle those emotions. “I don’t think I can do this,” she said.
“What, exactly?” he asked, leaning forward with a more serious, more compassionate expression on his face.
“My class load is crazy this term. I love writing for the paper. I need to write for the paper. It’s what I want to do for a living when I get out of here. But I don’t know how to make time for it, with my job, and these AP classes, and everything.” Tears were now trickling down Madison’s cheeks. She was embarrassed about crying in front of her teacher, but she had no idea how to make it stop.
Mr. Portnoy stood and walked around his desk. He squeezed into a chair next to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “I get it,” he said. “You know that you’re my star reporter. But I understand that the Bee isn’t core curriculum. I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the staff are underclassmen. It’s really hard to participate with the pressure of advanced classes.”
Madison grabbed a tissue from the box on Mr. Portnoy’s desk. She dabbed her eyes and slumped back into the chair next to his. “What do I do?” she asked.
Her teacher stroked his goatee with his right hand and looked at the ceiling. “Special projects, maybe?”
“What do you mean?”
He looked back to Madison. She could tell his gears were turning. After a long pause, he started speaking again. “Okay. So here’s what I’m thinking. I know you want to go to school for journalism. So staying engaged on the paper is important. But I get that you don’t have the time to fully participate. So what I’m thinking is we make you a ‘reporter at large.’” He formed air quotes as he said the title. “We free you up from pitching in on layout and copy editing and stuff. You work on longer, deeper stories. Investigative stuff, like the one you just finished. No deadlines. Just pick at them when you can. Maybe you’ll do five stories over the course of the year.”
Madison was engrossed in his words and it took her a moment to realize he was done talking. “Yes! I think that could work. It’s the deadlines that are killing me. If I have a paper due in history and a story deadline on the same day, there just isn’t enough time to get it all done. But if I can manage my own time and let the stories work at their own pace… yeah, I think that would work.”
The two sat in silence a moment, as they each thought through the idea.
“But,” Madison continued, “what about the rest of the staff?”
“What about them?” he asked.
“I mean, aren’t they going to think it’s not fair? Everyone is supposed to pitch in. Write those stupid stories about the next drama club production or whatever. Help get the Bee to press each week.”
Her teacher shrugged. “They’ll get over it. I think most of the staff understand that you’re working on a different level than they are. Particularly the underclassmen. Maybe seeing you do this will inspire one of them to try to follow in your footsteps. In fact…” he paused. “Yeah, I could just say that it’s a new thing we’re doing. Picking one ‘Reporter at Large’ each year. You’re the first one, and next year the other students could hope it’ll be them. Turn it into a motivational thing.”
“You think?” she asked.
“Look, Madison. You’re a great student, and you’ve become a fine young woman. I’d be crazy to just let you go from the Bee without a fight. Your articles are the ones that people talk about. I’m going to nominate this week’s story for an award.”
“It was very good. I know you feel strongly about the environment, but you managed to keep that in check and deliver a clear, fact-based news story. Keeping your own opinion out of it, without losing your own voice at the same time—that’s not something I see at this level. Your writing is very professional.”
Madison felt her cheeks flush. She wished she could keep her emotions more in check. “Thank you,” was all she managed to say.
Mr. Portnoy stood and went back to the chair behind his desk. “Just telling it like it is. You’re a good reporter, and I’m sure that if you keep at it, you’ll be a great reporter.”
Madison helped herself to another tissue. She blew her nose and wiped her eyes. “I feel ridiculous,” she mumbled.
Her teacher simply smiled and changed the subject. “So what’s next?”
“Physics,” she replied. “No new story ideas until I figure out Ohm’s law.”
“Fair enough. I would be of no help on that whatsoever,” he said. He turned his attention to the papers on his desk, and Madison took that cue to mean she had been dismissed.