Ten Years

2439090788_b175f92406_mGuess what today is? Ten years ago today, I wrote my first entry on this blog. I don’t know that I had a notion when I started this blog that I would keep it going this long. I didn’t think about it at all. I just did it.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a private school. I started reading education blogs. At that time, most of the education blogs were written by ed tech folks. Very few classroom teachers were blogging. I am really excited to see that is no longer the case at all. Teachers at all levels are now blogging about teaching, educational issues, their classroom, educational policy, and, yes, educational technology, and it is wonderful that they have that outlet so their voices are heard. Do you remember what it was like before we could hear from teachers like we can today? How many of us used to sit in our classrooms, feeling alone? I know I did, which is part of why I started blogging.

One of the things blogging has helped me do is be more reflective. I admit at first I started blogging so that I could connect with teachers like me. I was feeling pretty isolated, as I mentioned. Over time, it allowed me space to think about the craft of teaching, what I was reading, and what I was teaching in some seriously helpful ways. I can’t even tell you how many friends I have made through this blog. I don’t think I could honestly tally it up. It was such a wonderful feeling to meet up with these friends at conferences and know that I was no longer alone.

Once I started teaching at a school that was more in line with my educational philosophy, I admit that I didn’t write as much here, mainly because I was supported and encouraged at work. It makes such a big difference. But it meant that I didn’t really need to blog in order to connect to others who shared my thinking. One thing I have realized just recently, however, is that this blog is really about the conversation. Sharing ideas. Committing to reflect. I say it like that because getting lazy about reflection gets me into trouble. I need to have some time to think, and the best way I think is through writing.

When I was a relatively new teacher, I remember a teacher I worked with, a well-respected teacher whom everyone loved, spoke out when the superintendent visited our school. She let him know she disagreed with the fact that he was cutting PD and taking some of the management away from the schools. I still remember her saying, “In this county, we have a concept called site-based management.” I thought she was so brave. She wasn’t afraid she’d be fired on the spot, like I would have been if I had spoken. She didn’t care. It was worth speaking out because it was a problem, and he needed to hear about it. Even if he elected not to make changes, he would know he was not supported, and in that county at the school board was elected. I don’t remember that he actually stayed that long with us. In fact, I barely remember him at all. But I do remember my colleague standing up to him, and I have always wanted to be brave like her. She just recently retired after teaching the first grandchild of one of her students, which is quite an achievement.

Over the years, I have spoken out about some topics that concerned me, such as the way we teach writing, or the way we put students off books, or censorship, or standardized testing, or homework, or any one of a variety of educational issues over the last ten years. I have been pushing myself to write more. It’s important for me to sift through my ideas and feelings here. One of the things this blog has helped me do, actually, is to figure out how I feel about educational issues and speak out about them. I need to do more of that than I have done in the last few years.

Something I heard last week at a conference has resonated with me. I mentioned it before when I wrote about the conference, but now I’m seeing new applications. Rosetta Lee, one of the speakers at the conference, was speaking in the context of how we can be good allies. She said that when allies are silent, she can’t tell if they are silent because they agree with the comments or treatment that others received or if they disagree, but are afraid to say something. I have been thinking about that comment for a week now because it has so many applications. If we are silent about anything that is important to us, no one can tell what we are thinking. And sometimes that kind of thing is important to share. It might help someone. It might encourage someone. It might teach someone. But most importantly, it helps us because our voices are heard. Teachers need to continue to speak out about educational issues. I really do think it’s making a difference. Maybe not as quickly as we would like. But if we don’t speak out and share our ideas, how quickly would things change?

We have a voice. We have the opportunity. I know you’ve probably heard like I have that the blog is dead. I don’t believe that. It’s easier than ever to start. If you haven’t started a blog yet, I challenge you to do so. If you have one, but you haven’t written in a while, or you’ve abandoned it, or you feel like you don’t have a lot to say, so you just don’t post a lot, I challenge you to resurrect your blog. It’s not easy to start. At first, not many people are reading, and it can be frustrating to feel like you’re talking to an empty room. But people will start reading. In fact, leave a comment and link to your blog here, and we’ll support each other.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy acceptance speech, I do want to thank a few people for their support of this blog. I want to thank Robert Talbert, who left the first ever comment on my blog and has supported me ever since. I think that comment may have disappeared when I had to migrate my blog from Movable Type to WordPress, as I can’t find it now, but I remember it. I also want to thank Glenda Funk, for pushing me to write and for commenting often. I am not as good as she is about supporting my friends. I want to thank Grant Wiggins for supporting the efforts of the UbD Educators in trying to create a wiki. It hasn’t really turned out like I wanted (which was no surprise to Grant, when I told him), but he didn’t have to support it. I appreciated that he did. I want to thank all the teachers near and far, who have come along over the years and supported this blog. I am afraid there are too many to list, and I am deathly afraid I’d leave someone out and hurt someone’s feelings, but it would be wrong of me not to mention several folks by name: Clix, who made so much effort to help me get the wiki off the ground; Nancy, who has been a long-time reader, commenter, and now a friend; Mike LoMonico, who brought me into the Folger fold; Bud Hunt, who gave me some personal attention when I changed fields (back in English again, though, Bud!); Peter B-G, who is now a more local friend and has supported me by coming to my sessions at conferences; Buffy Hamilton, BEST LIBRARIAN EVER; Megan Hayes-Golding, who made friends with me at the first ever EduBloggerCon (I forget what they are calling it now, but it was nice not to feel alone in that room full of super techy folks when I was a new blogger). There are a lot of people who contributed to making me feel like I was worth listening to, and I appreciate you all very much.

Image: RenéS.

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NCTE Bound

letter N letter C letter T letter E

I’m starting to get excited about the annual NCTE convention this year. I will be presenting Writing Workshop with two colleagues who are sharing their experiences with student blogging and online discussion forums. Here are our session details:

NCTE SessionI’m also looking forward to visiting all the Folger folks and seeing Julius Caesar at the Folger theater with my friend, Glenda.

Are you going to NCTE?

NCTE image made with Spell with Flickr

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Nine Years of Blogging

nine birthday photo

I first posted to this blog nine years ago today. My first post, in case you are interested, was a review of Constance Weaver’s book Teaching Grammar in Context. It’s not the most comprehensive or reflective review. I actually re-read a few of my early posts and cringed a little. I like to think I became much more reflective over time, and this blog is a big reason why.

If I had not started this blog, I sometimes wonder if I’d still be teaching. I was in a frustrating position as a teacher for a very long period of my career. I learned a lot. One thing I learned is that there were people out there, people with whom I connected over this blog or their blog or later, Twitter, and they were going through some of the same difficulties, and they shared some of my opinions. It meant so much to have a source of validation. It can be so hard to teach on your own. It took me a long time to realize I was just not teaching in the right place. I’m so thankful that I am teaching in the right place now. However, I wonder—if I had not had this blog and the connections I made starting here, would I have been able to stick it out, or would I have made the assumption teaching wasn’t right for me rather than that I was just in the wrong place?

So I am grateful for my blog because it is the first step I took into being connected to other educators, and it helped me find my voice, and figure out what I believed. I have not always been the most prolific blogger, and I know I don’t post often, but it means a lot to me that this space is always here for me.

I’m also grateful to my blog for helping me reflect. Having an audience and space to talk about what I was reading, doing, and thinking really helped me grow as an educator. I felt myself becoming a better teacher as I began blogging. I taught for about six years before I started blogging, but it was after I started blogging that I became interested in integrating technology. I would never have thought, when I started teaching, that I would ever be “tech savvy.” I certainly didn’t think I’d ever have a real website or anything.

Finally, I’m grateful for you, those of you who have read and sometimes commented. It helped me to know you were out there, somewhere, and that we could talk about whatever was on our minds, read books together, and share ideas.

Photo by LifeSupercharger

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Do You Know What Today Is?

Birthday CakeIt is huffenglish.com’s 8th birthday! To make it even more special, I’m celebrating by writing this post in the Blogger’s Cafe at ISTE!

Of course, a cursory glance at my content for the last year or so reveals very little actual blogging.

Why is that? Well, I moved 1,000 miles away and started a new job. I now work at Worcester Academy, and this summer I begin my second year as their Technology Integration Specialist. I can’t think of a more wonderful place to work. They value my professional development enough to send me to the premier educational technology conference in the world, and I work with some truly amazing educators.

I have been really dissatisfied with the quiet on this blog. Even though I made some major changes in my professional and personal life over the last year, and I gave myself permission to let the blog go for a while, I have always maintained that people make time for things they consider important. People used to ask me how I had time to blog, tweet, etc. You know, all the social media. I said I made time to do it because it was important to me. And it is still important to me, but clearly not as important as some other things going on. I am announcing today that blogging has once again moved to my front burner, and if it’s not on the very front burner, at least it’s on the stove again. It’s been relegated to the recesses of the freezer as I tried to acclimate to my new home and job, but because blogging is important to me, I’ll be making time for it again.

Why is blogging important to me? It allows me to reflect on what I’m thinking and learning. Sure, I can do that offline in any one of a variety of note-taking apps I use or even with a pen and notebook, but the kind of thinking and reflection I do here on this blog transformed me as a teacher. Eight years ago, when I started this blog, I was an English teacher, and I had no idea technology integration specialists even existed, much less did I dream of ever being one. I assumed I would spend the rest of my career as an English teacher in Georgia. I am still teaching one English class, by the way, but who could have imagined I would be helping teachers integrate technology in Massachusetts? I didn’t even like technology when I started teaching, and I certainly didn’t think I was any good with it. Now I teach others how to use it in their lessons. Is that crazy?

You really never know what trajectory your career is going to take, and it is smart to make connections with really smart educators online and off, to participate in chats with other teachers when you can, and to tap all those great resources online and in your community. You just never know where your life will take you, and even if you plan it, opportunities will arise that you never foresaw, and doors will close where you expected them to be open.

I am the happiest I have ever been in my life right now, and a lot of that happiness has to do with my professional satisfaction. But only a few years ago, I felt like I was at a professional nadir, and my dissatisfaction at work made it hard to enjoy everything else. It is really true that if you find something you love to do, you really don’t ever work again.

Here is hoping you can find what makes you happy, too.

Happy birthday, huffenglish.com. To many more years of blogging! (And I mean real blogging.) Cheers!

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Tuning Out

Fingers in EarsSometimes you just need to take time off and check out.

I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter and tried to read most of the tweets. I can’t remember the last time I checked out one of my favorite blogs. I haven’t written a whole lot lately, either. And all of that is OK because I think sometimes we need to take breaks from all the information overload.

I like to be a part of the edublogosphere and keep up with my colleagues and friends on Twitter. But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of information can be daunting. So, I have been on an information sabbatical, and it has been wonderful. I have learned how to make soap, and it has become a satisfying, engaging, and interesting hobby for me. I have been reading a little. I watched the entire first season of Doctor Who and a few episodes of the second, so now I’m totally hooked. I have been busy with the start of school in my new position.

The move from Georgia to Massachusetts was mentally and physically exhausting, and I think I just needed some time to recharge my batteries. I didn’t unplug right away, but I would say it’s been about a month since I really kept up with all the social media I usually use. I am beginning to feel recharged. I think once I get my bearings at my new school and find myself settling into the routine of the school year, I will be able to engage in social media again. As for right now, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well, here I am. I am not the kind of person to announce a hiatus or quit altogether, but I recognized I needed to tune out the cacophony for just a little while.

It’s been a wonderful vacation, and I know in my heart I’ve missed some really important things, but stepping back can be important, too, and I think many of us hear the message that we need to be continually engaged in the conversation or people won’t read our blogs or will not follow us on Twitter. I decided not to worry about that a long time ago. If my blog is good, people will visit when I post. If they are looking for quantity, they probably won’t. If what I tweet is helpful and interesting, people will follow, and I don’t need to worry about losing folks who think I don’t tweet enough. This is great advice to anyone who wonders how to juggle it all. The fact is, I’m not sure anyone can. You have to set priorities based on your goals. Right now, my goal is to settle into my job and enjoy my new home. So far, so good. I will be in touch soon.

Image via Roxie’s World

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Seven Years of Blogging

It seems fitting somehow that my blog turns seven years old as I am currently attending my first ever ISTE conference. I am also starting a new job 1,000 miles away from the place where I have lived and worked for the entire time I have written this blog. I started this blog because I thought I had something to say about education, and I was impressed with what I was seeing in the edublogosphere (which was much smaller at that time). I didn’t try to analyze what I would focus on or what my audience would be. I just decided I would write about the things that interested me, and if they also interested others, so much the better. I still think that was a smart move because even when months go by without a post on this blog, I know that I am writing here still because I want to share something, not because of any expectation I set for myself. I have seen so many good bloggers quit over the years, and I think that they are partly crushed by unrealistic expectations:

  • They feel pressure to build a huge audience really quickly. I know how it feels to think no one is reading your posts. You don’t see comments. It feels like an echo chamber. But over the years, I have heard from lurkers who might never leave a comment but still get something out of what I post. There are a lot of bloggers with wider audiences, and there are all kinds of reasons for that, but I feel blessed to have a supportive readership.
  • They feel they need to focus on one thing. It’s true that niche blogs seem to do well—just a focus on math or technology or educational policy. But I think sometimes folks put themselves in the position of feeling like they can’t comment on other things because their audience expects them to write about one subject only. It’s your blog, and you should explore topics that interest you.
  • They set up a posting schedule and/or feel they must write every day. Write when the spirit moves you, I say. If you force yourself to write every day or to write according to a posting schedule, you are going to wind up treating your blog as work instead of your own reflective space. I am guilty of this, too. I have a posting schedule set up in my calendar. I was worried about how little I was posting, not realizing that part of my silence was due to some real unhappiness on the job. I determined that a posting schedule would solve my problems. I couldn’t follow it. I started feeling guilty, and I worried no one would stick with my blog. It didn’t turn out to be true, and putting that pressure on myself only made me want to blog less. Blogging when I want to about what I want to made me love my blog again.

This conference has been amazing so far, and I am sure that once I have had time to think, decompress, and reflect, I will have plenty of posts about it.

Image via Martin Thomas

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Malaise

???This blog is in the doldrums, and I’m not sure how to pull it out yet. I always hate those posts in which people say they’re going to take a break from blogging, and I don’t really want to take a break, but I do want everyone to be aware I know I’m not writing much and what I’m doing feels more forced. Comments are by and large still kind, but more often I notice the odd cranky comment. It feels like crankiness is just sort of in the air.

It’s also March, and that’s a tough time of year. It’s hard this time of year. I often feel uninspired and really tired this time of year, and I think that’s normal for teachers.

All of the anti-educator rhetoric in the air is depressing. There is so much anger and uncertainty in the air.

I will work on it.

Meanwhile, I did hear that the NCTE conference proposal put together by Paul Hankins, Glenda Funk, Ami Szerencse, and me on the hero’s journey was accepted. Unfortunately, I will not be able to present with the Folger folks because the sessions were scheduled for the same time, but I am very excited about this presentation, and I hope to see you there. And that right there is a good reason to get out this malaise.

Creative Commons License photo credit: charles chan *

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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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Happy Birthday, Blog

Birthday (Cup) CakesFive years ago today, June 25, 2005, I started this blog. I had seen a few other education blogs and websites, and I felt inspired to start my own. I found out quite recently that one of the people who inspired me to start my own site had to shut her site down because of an illness. The other site that inspired me to start mine is still around as a blog, but hasn’t been updated since January, and I don’t know if it’s down for the count or on an extended hiatus.

Last year, I shared some statistics about my blog. Over the course of a year, a few things have changed. This post will be my 650th post. This blog has received 2,471 comments. Feedburner reports that I have 885 RSS feed subscribers, though site statistics like that are kind of hard to pin down. Feedblitz says that 104 people subscribe to this blog via e-mail updates. I know my Statcounter isn’t 100% accurate because I haven’t had it for the duration of my site, but it says that huffenglish.com has received 842,044 page views.

I talked about some of my favorite posts last year. Over the course of this year, some new additions include the following:

  • A Hogwarts Education because it was really cool to be on the radio in Ireland, and I was really excited that Sean Moncrieff’s staff sent me an mp3 of my interview.
  • Teachers and Facebook, which generated a lot of really good discussion.
  • Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, which was a great opportunity to showcase my students’ work.
  • Shakespearean Insults, in which the virtues of an iPod Touch for concocting Bard-inspired barbs are extolled.
  • The Perils of Teaching the Books We Love, which describes my trepidation about teaching Wuthering Heights. P.S. It turned out OK. The students enjoyed my sharing that speech I wrote about how much the book means to me, and I converted one of my students! She told me that the book was her “new obsession.” She came by several times to talk about it with me. I also had a student from last year thank me for introducing that book to her; she said it remains a favorite.
  • GCTE Conference 2010, which has a run-down of what I learned at that conference. It was a wonderful conference, not the least because I was awarded the Georgia Secondary Teacher of the Year award.
  • The Journey, which describes my Hero with a Thousand Faces course.
  • I Just Tried It, which discusses how we change our perceptions of learning and doing over time.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gerry Snaps

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Transparency and Reassurance

Bill Genereux has an interesting post about what he calls “The True Digital Divide.”  He discusses in detail something I touched on in my presentation at GCTE.  If we truly want students to engage with the technology and use the Web 2.0 tools available to them, we have to be leaders.  We have to use the tools ourselves.  If we want students to blog, we should be blogging.  I think educators blogging could be a very positive form of transparency.  In an age when people make a lot of assumptions about what is or is not happening in classrooms, often I think the teachers’ voices are missing, and blogging can be a positive platform to share what we are thinking and learning and doing.  On the other hand, I think it has become for many teachers who blog a platform to complain.  No doubt teaching is hard work, and sometimes it feels good to vent.  I personally think blogging is a terrible platform for complaining.  First, I don’t think most of us like to read it.  Second, it’s just not wise; Regnef High School anyone?  I am very interesting in posts and conversations that make me think.  So yes, we need to be using the tools, for as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach notes, “Technology will never replace teachers. However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.”  And of course, Alfie Kohn reminds us that sticking techy labels on tired or misguided practices isn’t the answer either.  Still, I think we’re moving into a positive direction when parents and students (as well as other teachers) can gain insight into what teachers are thinking and doing.  I have actually noticed something interesting: students joke about Googling me and finding lots of links.  I admit it’s true that I am in a lot of places online.  But I encourage them to read it and tell me what they think.  And when they do, they share their observations.  It can be a good thing when students, parents, and colleagues get a glimpse into a teacher’s mind and like what they see.  Transparency can foster reassurance.

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