Scholastic Teacher Celebrates 125 Years in Print
A Q&A with editor-in-chief Tara Welty on lessons from the past and visions for the future.
Tara Welty would like to clarify that she has not been editor of Scholastic Teacher for its entire 125-year history — only the last four.
Since taking the editorial helm in 2012, however, she has more than left her mark on America's longest-running publication for educators, which reaches over 500,000 teachers, administrators, and parents with each bimonthly issue.
Welty's revitalization culminated in a 2015 rebrand — from Instructor to Scholastic Teacher, meant to better reflect the way modern teachers view themselves. That updated vision for the magazine has resulted in increased readership and engagement as well as numerous industry honors, including a place in the 2016 Folio: Top Women in Media.
Folio: sat down with Welty to discuss the process behind Scholastic Teacher's special-edition 125th anniversary double issue, and how to keep a century-plus-old print magazine relevant in an increasingly digitized world.
Folio: How long was this anniversary issue in the works?
Tara Welty: This issue was a year in the making. Last year, we had changed the name of the magazine, so we had already begun digging into the archives to explore the journey and history of the magazine. As we got deeper and deeper, we realized how much special, amazing content there was. So we wanted to find a really visual, exciting way to share all of this history of the education system in America.
Folio: What kind of a process was that?
Welty: There was a lot of dust. We bought tons and tons of old issues of the magazine on eBay. People find them in their attics. Sometimes they even send them to us here, which always delights us. We ordered magazines from every decade, plus we have a library with a lot of microfilm.
It was a huge team effort. There are just three of us on the in-house editorial team, plus our fabulous creative director and a designer, and our two librarians who are the heroes and superstars of this project. But it was a labor of love, and there was a payoff in the finished issue, which we are really proud of.
Folio: What was something really memorable that you found?
Welty: There are so many good ones. One was these really weird writing prompts from the 1930s. “Autobiography of an Olive” is one of them.
There was also some really bad fashion advice. “You are a lady before you are a teacher, and in your pocket should be a pure Irish linen hand stitched handkerchief.” That’s from 1903.
We also have fierce debates in the magazine about whether or not teachers should be allowed to get married, and this craft from the 1970s that had kids working on sheets of asbestos. So we didn’t always give good advice.
Welty: We wanted to show a true picture of what the magazine has been. I think we can all laugh at ourselves. One thing we included was this very passionate article about how the metric system was going to take over. That was real; everyone really thought the metric system was coming, and it just never did.
Folio: What about the cover? How did you come up with the concept there?
Welty: We went through at least 15 different covers. When you’re doing a big anniversary issue, you have role models to look to in what other magazines have done. We were on Cover Junkie and Pinterest and started to see repeating themes, like collages of covers, or the big number. We kept trying out all of these different ideas and nothing was quite getting to the real history of teachers throughout 125 years. Our creative director had this idea to create a collage of education throughout the years, and we really felt it showed all of the interesting stuff we’ve featured in the magazine throughout time. It’s a sense of how teaching both changes and stays the same.
Folio: What are some things you observed while digging through all of this history?
Welty: The thing that has struck me the most is that, when the magazine was founded in 1891, it was founded by a school administrator who noticed that teachers in rural areas might not have had the opportunity to go to teacher’s college—they might be untrained—so he created the magazine (then called Normal Instructor) to kind of serve as a teacher’s college in and of itself so that everyone was working on a level playing field.
What it became, very quickly, was a magazine where teachers shared their best ideas with one another through letters published in the magazine. Today, we are still that. We are all about teachers sharing their best ideas with one another. The mission of the magazine has remained the same over 125 years, and I find that so remarkable.
Folio: So far, what’s the response been like from your readers?
Welty: We’ve been pushing it out on social media and getting a lot of response through that, so we can see that it’s resonating with people. We also use Digimarc on our magazine, so you can scan it with your phone and it’ll take you to various extra content that’s online. We have a contest in the front of the magazine where you can win 125 books, and we’re seeing a ton of scans come in. So we can see already that people are flipping through the magazine and interacting with the content.
Folio: Did looking into all of this history provide any insight into keeping the magazine a vital read for teachers in the future?
Welty: That’s my number one question that I ask myself all the time. There are a lot of different avenues now that teachers can go to for ideas. We’re not the only game in town.
In the print format especially, what we provide is something which you can page through to find a great idea right away. We really time the content of the magazine to be about what you’re teaching right now, so that this thing arrives in your mailbox and you’ve got an idea that you can use tomorrow.
I think about how I can make it deserve to be in print, first of all. There has to be a reason we’re in print, so the layouts have to be beautiful and make sense. The editorial has to be really scannable so you can get to the important points right away. And I insist that every article in the magazine have a very practical application as to how you can use it in your classroom. I once got a letter from a teacher that said the magazine was “like getting a birthday present in the mail every month.” That’s what I really strive to do.
Teachers have it hard. Expectations are so high; they’re so under the gun all of the time. I just want them to know that Scholastic and Scholastic Teacher, in particular, celebrates and supports them and really wants to help them to do their job to the best of their ability.