Defender of student press rights named country’s top high school journalism teacher

An adviser who risked her job defending student press rights deserves to be commended. An adviser who has done so twice deserves to be named the year’s outstanding high school journalism teacher.

Terry Nelson of Muncie Central High School in Indiana was named the 2001 Dow Jones Newspaper Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year, rewarding 25 years spent defending rights of the student press.

In 1979, Nelson was fired from an advising job for refusing to tell school administrators the author of a letter to the editor. After the school board agreed to her conditions for student press rights, Nelson was reinstated. Nineteen years later, her job at Muncie was threatened because she denied a request to turn in the student newspaper for prior review.

“As I look back, some of the most negative situations I’ve had with student press rights and school administrators have actually been good because they’ve been defining moments for me,” Nelson said. “The most important thing is to always do what’s right. I’m going to do what’s best for the students, and if that means that I can’t be a teacher, then I guess I shouldn’t be a teacher.”

Nelson was selected from a field of 41 nominees. She is in her eighth year as adviser of the Munsonian and was named a First Team All USA Teacher by USA Today in 2000.

“A good journalism teacher realizes the importance and potential impact that journalists have on their world,” Nelson said. “If you treat your journalism students as part of a real staff with real news, it puts a different twist on things so that the students will perform to higher standards. It has a lot to do with expectations.”

As part of the award, a senior at Muncie Central High School will receive a $1,000 college scholarship to study news-editorial journalism. Nelson will be honored on Nov. 10 in Boston at the advisers’ luncheon during the convention of the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association.