Blogging Teachers: Some Advice

Through the Lens

The investigation into the blogging of Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe has generated a great deal of discussion about whether teachers should blog or what they should blog about, while Munroe contends she’s done nothing wrong and hopes the attention her blog has received will encourage debate about the more difficult aspects of teaching. I have read some of the cached comments Munroe made on her blog. My own advice would have have been not to express such sentiments in a public forum, such as a blog.

Teaching can be frustrating, and I think it does help to vent sometimes, but it’s important to remember that even if we feel our blogs are small and unlikely to attract notice, as Munroe did, or even if we believe we are anonymous, we are putting information out there into the ether, and I think Munroe would certainly agree that once it’s out there, it’s hard to erase it, especially as caches and archives make it difficult to ensure no copies exist somewhere.

One of the more frightening responses I can imagine administrators might have to this story is to ban their teachers from blogging lest they lose their jobs. I think teachers need a voice to talk about education and to share their ideas. If you are considering blogging or are already blogging and are now hesitant to move forward after hearing about this story, I would advise the following:

  • Don’t count on remaining anonymous if you choose a pseudonym. In fact, I have long contended that teachers should blog under their real names.
  • Don’t blog negatively about your students. However frustrated you may feel, think about how you would feel to read a teacher’s disparaging remarks about you online, even if no names were used.
  • Don’t blog negatively about colleagues or administrators. I think that’s just asking to get fired.
  • Pay attention to language, tone, subject matter—fair or not, teachers are held to a higher standard regarding public persona.
  • Don’t give up. Building a readership takes time. You can encourage others to check out your blog by commenting on theirs and linking to their blogs in posts and/or blogrolls.
  • Try to update consistently, but don’t stress out if you can’t. I know I’ve lost readership as my posts have become less regular, but I had to cut back for a variety of reasons.
  • Figure out what you want to do with your blog—reflect? share? interact with others? Blogs usually do better with some sort of aim or niche, but you need not feel confined to discussing only that subject.
  • Keep the conversation respectful. Making a lot of noise and attacking other bloggers might get you attention. The wrong kind, in my opinion. People won’t listen to you if you’re rude and nasty.
  • Trust your common sense. If you wouldn’t say it at work in front on colleagues, students, administrators, or parents, you should probably not say it online.

Should Natalie Munroe lose her job over her blog? Well, indications are that her school had no blogging policy that she violated. I’m pretty sure they will now, and it’s likely to be a draconian one that prevents teacher voices from being heard, which is unfortunate. I don’t know the context of the comments she made, but on the surface, it’s an issue of professionalism. That said, I’ve had my own comments taken out of context and exaggerated, and I really wish I’d never made them in the first place, but I own up to having made some of the mistakes I’m advising you to steer clear of. Not all of them, sure. And that’s perhaps why I’ve managed to stay out of trouble at work.

What advice would you give? What did I miss? If you’ve been following the Munroe story, what do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: davidz

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Andrew Young on the Youth of Today

We hear so much about how today’s youth are an instant gratification society, and we should be worried, very worried, about the future. It’s refreshing to hear Andrew Young offer a different perspective in this interview with Valerie Jackson on Between the Lines about his book with Kabir Sehgal, Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead. You will have to listen until the end of the podcast, but it’s worth it—it’s Andrew Young, after all.

Andrew Young on Between the Lines

As a teacher, I find his perspective refreshing. I teach these young people after all, and they’re not perfect, but I am often amazed by them, too.

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Teach Episode 1 Review

Watch the first episode of Teach below.

Tony Danza and I made the same mistake. The first day I took over a class as student teacher, I did all the talking. I was hoarse at the end of the day. My mentor teacher never said anything directly to me. She quietly put a cough drop in my hand. The message couldn’t have been clearer. It made me wonder how common that mistake is. Did you do it, too?

One of the things I like about this show so far is the respect Danza shows toward teachers and teaching. It is a hard job. I like his principal. I like the fact that she feels strongly about her students’ education and leveled with Danza from the get-go. One of the things you don’t see in a series like this, however, is that as hard as teaching just one class is, or having one prep is, having five or more is that much more difficult. I have five different preps right now, five different classes. I have always had at least two preps when I have taught high school (I had one prep when I taught middle school). I do like that this program shows how difficult teaching is. I will keep watching, I think. It seems to be one of the more interesting, honest programs about teaching that I’ve seen.

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Some Questions

sensitive noise / obvious 2I work in a private school and don’t have any plans to change that—certainly not anytime soon. I feel like I am on the sidelines in this great education debate. I see the comments on Twitter and read the blogs. But I have some questions.

If teachers’ unions are horrible organizations who protect bad teachers from being fired, why don’t all the students without teachers’ unions, including my own, outperform states with unions? One would think that if the unions are the problem, then states without them would have the best teachers in place, and therefore would have the highest test scores.

Why are we doing this to kids?

Why does everyone think charter schools are the answer? One where I interviewed some years ago wanted to pay me about $7,000 a year less than I was making at the time. Surely they’re not going to attract the best teachers if they will not pay the teachers a wage commensurate with what they could make elsewhere… right?

If testing kids is the answer for teacher accountability, why is it that my school’s students have managed to be as successful in college and work as students with this testing background when we only administer the PSAT and AP tests? (We encourage SAT and/or ACT.) I mean, shouldn’t it follow that my colleagues and I aren’t really being held accountable enough and that our students might somehow be slipping through the cracks?

What am I missing?

Creative Commons License photo credit: milos milosevic

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My Life as a Reader

Thriller readerI have been a terrible blogger lately. I’m sorry—grad school, work, and home responsibilities don’t leave me much time, it’s true, but if I am honest, blogging feels a lot like work lately. Unless I’m blogging about my reading, that is.

Melanie Holtsman has come to my rescue. Dedicated to becoming a more frequent blogger, she has provided a list of topics for participants to use on their own blogs. It’s the 11th, so I’m one day off from the first topic, but I’m writing about it anyway.

What is your life as a reader like? Do you read for work, pleasure, instructions or emails? What is your favorite author and/or genre? What is your favorite reading spot? What did you like to read when you were the age of your students?

You want to know what my reading life is really like? Check out my book blog. I have an RSS feed in the right-hand sidebar if you want to see a teaser of the last five posts. I have enjoyed the heck out of writing about my reading, especially over the last few months. I try to read a little bit every single day. The grouchiest I’ve ever been was during a long period of time when the professional development courses, work responsibilities, and other intrusions prevented me from reading anything for pleasure for a couple of months. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I remembered I hadn’t been able to read. Reading feeds my soul. I certainly read for professional growth, but I have to read fiction and nonfiction regularly. My favorite writing comfort food is Jane Austen. I know if I read her books, everything will be all right in the end. However, it’s hard for me to say I have a favorite writer. I love so many books and so many authors. I love the written word. I like many different genres, but I don’t read much mystery, horror, or romance. I love historical fiction. My favorite place to read is in my bed, curled up under the blanket. When I was in high school, I liked to read YA fiction, mostly. Favorites included Judy Blume and Lois Duncan. I also liked to read poetry quite a lot more then than I do now. Shelley was my favorite. I have had a bit of a crush on Shelley for about 21 years now. I read books required for school when I could finish them on time—which wasn’t often the case. I try to remember that when I assign reading in my own classes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: notfrancois

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Risha Mullins and Censorship

Banned Books Week 2010 PosterDrop everything and go read this post at Risha Mullins’s blog.

It is amazing to me that with the evidence in their hands that what Mullins was doing was working, the principal and superintendent—and even department members—railroaded Mullins into quitting. She is a brave person, and I admire her grace under fire. If I were a school administrator, her willingness to stand up for her kids and their learning would make we want to hire her.

I have never been in her shoes, and I pray I never will be. Donalyn Miller said last week on Twitter that she noticed it seems to be parents who don’t read who challenge books, and I think it’s very true. The parents at my school are very literate and supportive of their children reading. I am grateful every day for the place where I teach, the students I teach, and the parents that support my students’ learning.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ALA – The American Library Association

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Tony Danza Teaches English

Tony Danza and class in Teach

I’ve written about Tony Danza’s latest project Teach before. The series will begin airing on A&E in October. Playing around with students’ education is not appropriate for a reality show, in my opinion; however, it should be said that Danza seems to “get it” and is not completely without teaching qualifications—his IMDb bio indicates he has a bachelor’s in History Education.

I am finding myself too busy to blog, but you can find me on Twitter most days. Sorry! It will settle down soon. I do potentially graduate from Virginia Tech with my master’s this December. After that, I might actually have time. Yeah, probably not. I’m working on my portfolio right now and feeling a little lost. Sometimes having too much freedom can be as crippling as not having enough.

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#EngChat

TwitterI wanted to let everyone know that I will be hosting a discussion about integrating technology into the English curriculum on #engchat this Monday, August 30, from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EDT. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #engchat, it’s a regular forum on Twitter for English teachers to talk about various issues related to the teaching of English. For example, one past discussion centered around vocabulary instruction. Jim Burke has hosted a discussion on how we create community in the English classroom.

Honestly, I had to try Twitter myself before I could be convinced of its usefulness because it appears to be a giant, narcissistic time-suck from the outside; however, if you follow smart people talking about interesting things, it’s a great way to learn. If you haven’t tried Twitter before, following the discussion on #engchat might be a good introduction. Also, if you are interested in how we go about integrating technology in the English curriculum, I invite you to join us. English teachers sometimes get a bad rap as the dinosaurs who miss ditto machines and chalkboards. A commenter on a blog I used to contribute to once noted that English teachers are usually the most resistant to technology (actually, the problem was that my buddy Joe Scotese and I didn’t agree with what he said about it). Is that true? Is it fair? Why do people feel that way about us? English teachers are doing exciting things! I am so tired of hearing we teach like we just stepped out a time machine from the 1850’s.

In other news, I am more frustrated than I can express over the lack of time I seem to have to blog. Reflection here has become essential to my growth and well-being as an English teacher, and with school starting up, I’m exhausted every day. Between school and home duties yesterday, my day was 14 hours long. You know you’re tired when you can stop after the first chapter of The Hunger Games not because you’re not dying to see what happens next, but because even though you’re dying to see what happens, you’re too exhausted to read.

It’s about balance, and if I ever figure out how to do it, I will let you know my secret. Or else I will not let you know my secret unless you pay me. I’d make a mint.

Creative Commons License photo credit:  Mark Pannell

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I Just Tried It

Wednesday is supposed to be my day for sharing ideas, lessons or tools according to my new schedule, but I’m going to put that off because something happened today that made me think, or rather made me put together some thoughts I’d already been playing with.

All three of my children are artists. My eldest daughter, Sarah, is a gifted artist. The other two are learning from her and following in her footsteps. Maggie, my middle daughter, watches and reads art tutorials online and in print. Her sister taught her some techniques. Maggie’s art teacher remarked at the end of last year that she is awfully young to have developed such a unique style. Dylan has only recently begun serious experimenting with art, but he is also showing a true gift for creating. I don’t think of myself as an artist because I could never quite make my drawings look like what I wanted them to look like. My kids don’t have that problem. They also draw and draw and draw. They experiment. We learned the other day that Maggie knows how to make screencasts. She can’t really even explain how she does it. To hear her tell it, she just turns on HyperCam and does it. She said she learned about HyperCam from watching other videos and seeing the words “unregistered HyperCam” on them. She wondered what HyperCam was, and in her words, “I decided I better go figure it out.” And so she just did it.

I remarked to my husband that kids are like that. They don’t worry about learning how to do something first. They just do it. I compared it to teachers I’ve talked to who are afraid to blog, to put themselves out there in that way. The way a kid would approach it is to just do it and not worry so much about it.

Today we drove down to visit my parents in Macon. My sister is also visiting. She is going to be moving to Okinawa shortly, and it might be a long time before I see her again. Her five-year-old daughter has a Nintendo DS. She was playing a game, and she showed my sister a new trick she had learned. My sister said, “How did you learn how to do that? I don’t even know how to do that.” My niece replied, “I didn’t learn it; I just tried it.”

It reminded me of my kids and their art. They don’t see what they create as learning. They see it as doing. Partly because of school, and partly because of self-consciousness, I think we lose that perspective as we grow. Maybe it’s around middle school when we start worrying so much about what our peers think about us and consequently become afraid to put ourselves out there. Maybe it’s because over time learning seems to become less and less about doing and more and more about listening.

What do we need to do in our classrooms so that our students feel more like their not so much learning, but just trying and doing? I know, I know. Trying and doing is learning. And yet my five-year-old niece, who hasn’t even started kindergarten, already makes a distinction between them.

I don’t know. Just throwing some of my thinking out there.

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Rudeness

I think many people don’t understand the nature of blogs. I sometimes see typos on blogs, and I don’t make judgments about intellect. I make the occasional typo. It happens. However, I have received one comment and one e-mail lately that alerted me to a larger issue than whether or not Dana can spell (I can, by the way): it’s rudeness. Here is the text of an e-mail I received today:

This article was passed along to the faculty from the powers that be in our middle school. While I disagree with your homework policy and I hope that you have followed up on your thoughts to revamp your policy, this is not the purpose of my writing. My concern is that in this day and age of technology and spell-checking, that you would post an article that had words that weren’t spelled correctly. These words include “respondant” and ‘commenters”. If we have such high standards for our students, then shouldn’t we set the example?

Here is my response:

Thank you for your concern. Typos sometimes happen, and people make mistakes. When people point out my errors, I correct them, and I am grateful for the assistance. I certainly don’t lay down the hammer for a couple of spelling errors or typos in my students’ writing, even if I do point them out.

I have checked the blog post, and I did indeed make a spelling mistake with “respondents.” “Commenters,” on the other hand, is spelled correctly, though spell check marks it as incorrect, likely because it is a word that has arisen in this new age of blogs and spell check doesn’t know what to do with it. “Commenter,” the singular, yields no red flags from spell check.

I truthfully think the manner in which you pointed out my error (while I appreciate it) was rude, which I find much more problematic in this day and age than the fact that I spelled something incorrectly. Of course, tone can also be difficult to convey online, and I could be mistaken.

I am grateful if people point out an error I made. My husband catches most of mine. Here is an example of a way to handle identifying an error in someone’s spelling without resorting to the rudeness of “in this day and age” (read: you’re a moron for making this mistake):

I noticed a spelling error in your article entitled “Accepting Late Work” and I thought you might like to know about it. The word “respondents” is spelled “respondants” in your article.

I wonder why that’s so hard “in this day and age”?

Oh, wait.

Internet Argument

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