Phase Five

There's an element to middle school yearbooks some parents don't understand: It's created by 13 and-14-year-olds.

I am proud of the publication when it comes out. Months of work are seen to fruition. The students who worked on the book hold it in their hands and are amazed that they actually created a custom book.

But this custom book comes with a warning: Teenagers made it. Now, that notice isn't in the front of the book because it would belittle the work they produce, but it's still there -- in invisible ink.

It's something I wish I could make parents understand. That one name misspelling wasn't on purpose. If you're child was left out of the portrait section, I did not know this -- the thing I can't be, even when creating a book that features all the people in the school, is be omnipotent.

There are going to be errors. I guarantee it.

Phase Five is when all that hard work and pride gets flushed away when a parent taps out an email proclaiming what yutzes we are.

How dare we misspell a name!

How dare we leave a kid out!

How dare we misidentify a student!

Those are the things that are pointed out. Not, "This was fantastic, great work!" or "I can't believe you got eighth graders to create this!" or "You deserve a Pulitzer!"

One of my favorite emails was from a parent flabbergasted about her daughter's name misspelling. Since the yearbook was created during an actual class, she demanded perfection. Anything less would have been created by an after school club. So, when she discovered that her daughter's name was spelled correctly in one section of the book, but incorrectly in another section -- well!

Her disgust was laid out to me in a verbose email -- and copied to the principal, I might add.

"Since this is a class, I expect there to be no errors!"

Another email was from a parent whose child was left out of the portrait section. This mistake I felt bad about, but it was also out of my control. I work with a portrait company, and they give me a disk with all the pictures. The students and I do our best to check and make sure names are spelled correctly, that kids are labeled by the right grade, etc.

It is not easy.

My school has over 1,200 students.

Unkown to me, there were two seventh graders with the same name. Same first name, same last name. The company eliminated one of them because of that.

I did not realize there were students out there that shared the same name.

One of the students was left out. This is never my goal, and I did felt bad, but the email the mother sent featured the same melodrama used in those after-school specials from the 80's.

"When my son has kids, they won't know what he will have looked like in seventh grade!" she bemoaned.

I was speechless. Did she not have any of her own pictures? That email was also copied to the principal.

Overall, I am lucky. The emails I receive, if I even receive them, are piddly. They are about mistakes made because imperfect humans create the publication. Luckily, most years I don't receive an email.

It's just, well, my gut wraps itself into a knot the minute I see the subject line of an email from a parent titled "Yearbook."

It's sad that I let those moments define Phase Five of the yearbook, instead of allowing the process just end in the excitement and pride of Phase Four.