Tag Archives: blogs

Some Thoughts on Teacher Bloggers

First, a Story

A teacher I have come to know over the past year is also a blogger. Let’s call her Allison. Allison is a teacher, a mom to two little boys, a wife, a blossoming tech nerd, and a lover of good wine. Allison maintained a blog that shall remain nameless. Her blog featured humorous but also thoughtful stories about her life as a teacher and a mom. She blogged about things like lessons she found entertaining and hysterical that her students thought were weird (that was one of my favorite posts). Or the ridiculousness of some of the right-to-work policies being touted in our state capitals. Or the realities of being a wife and mother — childbirth, wrangling toddlers, and fostering a positive relationship with her husband. She commiserated and communicated with other parents and teachers in her blog. She cussed a little, too.

I loved her blog. Not just as a researcher who is very interested in teachers and the ways in which they tell their stories using digital media. No, I loved her blog as a person. As someone who used to teach, and misses it. As someone who will someday have kids. As someone who loves some good wry humor now and then.

Note the past tense.

I’m not using the past tense because I no longer love Allison’s blog. I’m using the past tense because recently, Allison had to remove all of her blog content and move to a new online space. Start over. Clean slate. But not in a good way, and not for a good reason.

Allison maintains anonymity in her blogging life. Why? Well, her content is kind of snarky and sarcastic (which is part of why I love it). Also, she doesn’t always talk about teaching — she maintains a different network in her life as a blogger, which she wishes to keep separate from her work as a teacher.

Why else? Probably because, when it comes to being a teacher, there are weird stigmas attached to having a life outside of the school. Teachers are humans? What!? Probably also because it’s getting easier and easier for administrators to find reasons to fire teachers. Probably because, for many reasons, teachers are wary of letting their personal lives come too far into the school zone. Afraid of the vulnerability this poses, afraid of attacks on their livelihoods, on their families, on their healthy frames of mind. Teachers, after all, are already getting attacked on the professional front… why risk allowing that into one’s personal life?

What Happened? One of Allison’s students found her blog and was talking to other students about it. A colleague of Allison’s alerted her, and she removed all of the content from online (didn’t download it and move it — actually removed all content). Allison, alarmed by the fact that her once-anonymous blog was “outed” and that her students were aware of it, and concerned about what this would mean for her professionally, went into immediate blogger hiding. She created a new (also anonymous) blogspace, on which she has posted once. She’s starting over.

This pisses me off, folks. Not the starting over part, the needing to part.

I find this very frustrating, for a number of reasons. I’ll address each one separately below, but here they are in brief:

  1. Teachers are held to a standard of moral conduct that is not in keeping with the moral expectations in the rest of our society, and that is based primarily in Christian doctrine. And that’s just messed up.
  2. Teachers have almost no outlet for ever voicing the experiences they have in the classroom OR the experiences they have at home that might influence their approaches to their work.
  3. Those outlets teachers will create for themselves, because of item (1), often need to be masked by pseudonyms, and many teacher bloggers never tell their administrators or even colleagues about their blogs.

Here’s a bit more discussion on 1-3…

(1) Moral Standards

Do I think teachers are held to a higher moral standard than others in our society? Yes. Do I think this is okay? Yes. I need that to be totally clear.

What’s not okay? For teachers like this one, who got fired after writing horrible things about students on her blog, to maintain webspaces where they call out current or past students for being holy terrors. That’s unprofessional and ridiculous, and school districts shouldn’t stand for it. Teachers like these, in my opinion, shouldn’t be teachers anyway — we need to seek out the best in our students and help those parts of them grow! Not denigrate teenagers for being teenagers.

However, for teachers like Allison (or another friend of mine, who we’ll call Sylvia), to feel the need to censor themselves or to make their blogs anonymous because they’re worried the content might reflect poorly on their characters or might result in professional repercussions… that’s ridiculous. Sylvia has since de-anonymized her blog, which deals primarily with educational policy concerns and the life of the overworked English teacher. Allison’s blog was much less ed-y, yet her desire to keep it anonymous is much more pronounced.

Should teachers be strippers? Probably not. Should they deal drugs? Um, no. But dropping the occasional f-bomb in a blog post directed towards an adult mommy-blogger audience? I can see why Allison is worried about this reflecting poorly on her if an administrator caught wind or if all of her students found the post. I would have probably done the same thing she did if it were my blog. But does that mean she shouldn’t be able to engage this other — very rewarding (and even paying) part of her life? Can she not have this other job because her current one holds her to a moral standard that almost no other profession needs to answer to?

Surely, being the leader of children means teachers need to consider their role in shaping those young minds. But though many people have no problem letting our kids watch HBO, they might have a caniption if a teacher gets spotted at a bar by a student (what was the student doing at the bar, one might ask?) or if she curses up a storm with her friends outside of school. In other words, the moral standard teachers get held to is markedly Puritanical (I think) and is entirely unfair. Teachers are people who should be able to live their lives outside of school as productive adult citizens who, like most adults, might happen to swear and drink now and then.

(2) Teacher Venues for Voicing Experiences

Everyone and their great uncle thinks they know about being a good teacher. Well, that’s probably an overstatement — but certainly many people believe they know a lot about teaching, because, well, they grew up around teachers! We’ve all had teachers — good teachers, bad teachers, teachers we remember for that one amazing lesson, teachers we can picture but not name, teachers we keep in contact with for years after we leave their classrooms. It’s easy to have an opinion about what constitutes good teaching, or what makes a teacher effective, simply based on our experiences as people who once went to school, or as people who have kids who go to school, or as people in a society that has schools.

But really, you don’t know teaching until you’ve lived it. Becoming a teacher turned my understanding of the profession upside-down. Does it have its perks? Yes. My mom, who taught middle school math for 20 years before becoming an administrator, will tell you that teaching allowed her to raise us in the way that she wanted to — it allowed her to stay home in the summer with us, and to spend her evenings with us.

But teaching is not for the faint of heart. As a matter of fact, it can be downright heartbreaking sometimes. At other times, it can be the most heartwarming job on the planet. Basically, if you’ve got a weak heart — don’t start teaching. Unless you want to develop palpitations, that is.

The victories of teachers can be truly stunning, the defeats crushing. I remember a student I had when I taught 8th grade — she got pregnant halfway through the year. She was a sharp kid. Her poetry was beautiful and she loved to read. Sometimes she would come in my room and we would talk about the latest young adult novel she discovered. Sometimes she would write a poem “just cuz” and bring it to me for feedback so she could revise it. Not to turn it in, mind you. Just to make it better. One day, her mom emailed me to thank me. Her daughter had told her that she felt like she was just “that pregnant girl” to some of her other teachers (one teacher had said something terrible about her pregnancy to her friends, which I won’t repeat).

When she stood up at an assembly to speak out against race-based bullying at her high school, I was so proud of her I was shaking.

When she dropped out of school at the end of her sophomore year, I was heartbroken.

Teachers need places to tell these stories. The good ones. The sad ones. The ones that help us think about our society more critically, because schools serve as microcosms full of micropeople where the goods and ills of the world we live in play out daily. Blogs are a great way to do this and to reach a wide audience.

(3) They Who Shall Remain Unnamed

Would I openly — unanonymously — blog and teach? Well, I do. But would I do it if I were still a high school teacher? I don’t know, honestly. It would depend on a number of things, including:

  • The content of my blog
  • The supportiveness of my administration
  • The supportiveness of my colleagues
  • The setting in which I taught (rural? urban? suburban?)
  • The community in which I taught (conservative? liberal? diverse?)
  • Whether or not I had tenure, assuming that’s an option.

…and probably a number of other things, as well. Sylvia’s decision to “out” her blogger identity and to blog unanonymously was supported by her colleagues, though (at the time I spoke with her) she hadn’t directly told the principal about her blog. She also lives in a community that is fairly supportive of teachers and education in general, and that would be likely to agree with whatever “controversial” content she or her co-writers, who are colleagues of hers, might post.

I don’t know how much I would be willing to “rock the boat,” so to speak. I’ve never been in a position to make that choice — I became a blogger after I left the classroom. Allison’s decision to stay anonymous makes perfect sense to me. Sylvia’s decision not to also makes sense.

My concern has nothing to do with individual teachers’ decisions to be anonymous or not, but with the system that requires teachers to silence ideas they have that might prove “risky.” What counts as “risky?” Having an opinion about our governor’s education policies could prove risky in some communities. Teaching a lesson on the history of the word nigger could get you fired in other communities. Experimenting with new classroom formats, such as the “flipped” classroom, could prove risky as well. Which would make blogging about these things risky. Which would make attaching one’s name to her blog super risky.

You might be thinking, Liz, who cares if teachers blog anonymously? Why do you care that they need to use pseudonyms? I care because teachers should be recognized for the brave, risky, innovative things they do. Because the fact that teachers feel the (completely understandable) need to de-identify themselves worries me. It sends a message. And that message is “we can’t speak, for fear of reprimand.” For fear of firing, of being misinterpreted, of being discounted or disrespected. And that’s just depressing. Teachers should be able to show off, to showcase themselves, to have digital presences that aren’t masked or hidden.

I have been thinking through a number of these issues a lot in the past few years. I’ve written a few papers on blogging and teaching, on the role of anonymity, and on teacher identity. I’m happy to share readings or other things I’ve written with anyone who wants to know more, or who wants to engage in a conversation about this topic. It’s a loaded one, and one that I struggle to discuss, because I want to remain critical (of myself, of our world) while still making my ideas clear. So please, let me know your thoughts, reactions, criticisms, ideas.

And when a teacher wants to tell you a story, listen.

 

Digital Gradding: A Self-Assessment

Not grading. I hate digital grading.

No, I’m talking about digital gradding — being a digital graduate student. One thing getting a PhD in English will do is make you make up verbs. Ashley Wiersma posted in GradHacker about what it means to be a digital graduate student and what graduate students — like me — need to do in order to maintain a digital presence and/or grow their proverbial feet to make a bigger print in the digital snow.

(Snow because, here in Michigan, we’ve gotten plenty of the white fluffy stuff this past week. So Ashley and I are making our prints in the digital and literal snow, to be sure.)

Being a digital grad, Wiersma argues, requires a few moves: engaging with social media, maintaining a bibliographic filing system, exploring digital research skills and workflows, and learning a programming language (Andrea Zellner agreed with this one in her post, which had some great advice for people who want, need, and/or feel the need to learn code).

So as far as that list goes, here’s where I stand:

Social Media: Working on it. I’m a hopelessly bad tweeter. I’m never really sure what to say, so many of my tweets are just retweets and/or tweets of blog posts — mine and others’. At conferences, it’s a different story, and I stay glued to the Twitter feeds when I can to see what’s resonating in other sessions or what the backchannel conversation is revolving around. This is something that I imagine will continue to improve as I get used to my new smartphone. I don’t have an Academia.edu account yet… that’s next on the to-do list. But I have recently updated and upgraded this site and am working to be better about blogging and sharing resources regularly. I give myself a B in the social networking arena.

Bibliographic Filing System: Zotero is my drug of choice on this one, and I use it like a soul addicted, that’s for sure. But despite my relative savvy use of it, I really need to organize my library and add more tags, so I’m giving myself an A- on this one.

Digital Research Skills and Workflows: What’s that? I think I’ve developed these on my own without realizing that’s what I was doing. That said, check out this awesome resource that Ashley posted (I’ve seen this before, and have now bookmarked it for future reference): DiRT gives you the prompt “I need a digital research tool to…” and then you pick from a list of most of the possible things you could need to do digitally as a grad student. Sweet! They have resources for scholars across disciplines and methodological traditions, including archival, qualitative, and quantitative researchers. I think I have many of these things “down,” at least as far as my diss research is concerned, but could learn from looking at the resources Ashley posted (and again, I need to get organized), so I get a B- here.

Learn a Programming Language. Once upon a time I knew html. Once upon a time in undergrad, that is. I still know enough to manipulate the code for a basic webpage or blog post, and I could probably create a basic website or online syllabus for a course, but when it comes right down to it, I need to play more, learn more, and do more with programming language and code. We’ve come so far since I learned how to do this. Moving this site into its own domain was a start — I’m learning more about online hosting than I did under my previous domain, but I struggle to find the time. Excuses, excuses. I give myself a D- in this category.

The lesson? Being a digital grad student is tough, and requires a lot of conscious maintenance of one’s online identity. I feel forever behind. The work of being digitally aware and of keeping up with the resources, writing, and thinking that updates every few seconds is non-stop. Ashley reassures us, saying:

I know this sounds simplistic and probably feels overwhelming, but the great thing about it is that you can learn and use these technologies as it fits into your schedule from the comfort of your own home (or office, library, cafe, lab… you get the idea). But please know that you’re not alone; there is a great support network out there waiting to help you.  They’re just a tweet away! If you get stuck, ask a knowledgeable friend, colleague, tech or information specialist, set up a group to learn whatever it is you’re interested in, and attend any workshops offered on these tools.

She’s right — we do have the ability to make these elements of our graduate lives “fit in” where we can, adjusting them to meet our daily schedules and the competing demands of family, friends, and our mental and physical health. So I will press on, and try to raise that D- up into a more respectable B (dare I say B+?) in 2013.

 

Web Hosting Info Needed

Readers, I’m officially asking for you to help me out.

I need to register a domain name. Once upon a time, I had done this, but when my hosting service moved into new management/ownership, I got confused, didn’t have time to maintain my site, and quit updating it. I don’t even remember what company it was — just that I didn’t care much for their interface and that my subscription expired two years ago.

Now that I’ve cultivated some semblance of an online identity, I need to get this blog and other sites into hosted space so that I have more control over various things, including the URL and code.

So… thoughts? What hosting services have you used? Why do you like them? What can I do that’s both economical and secure?

I am a Networked Individual

I’m reading two books right now, swapping between them for an occasional change of pace:

Product DetailsPersonal Connections in the Digital Age (DMS - Digital Media and Society)

Networked: The New Social Operating System, by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, and Personal Connections in the Digital Age, by Nancy Baym.

They’re great. I’m only a couple chapters into them, but so far they’re offering interesting analyses of how personal connections operate in a hyperdigitized world. Best of all — neither of them are condemning digital media, nor are they lauding digital media. Instead, they’re providing nuanced descriptions of what it means to be a “networked individual” (Rainie and Wellman’s term) in the 21st century.

What I think I love most about reading these books at the same time is how similar their arguments are, despite the fact that their authors come from different disciplinary backgrounds. Barry Wellman is a social network researcher whose work I am coming to know well as I learn more about social network analysis. Nancy Baym comes from communication studies and the humanities, and spends her first chapter analyzing popular media artifacts in order to argue that there are multiple ways of perceiving how technology impacts us (or how we impact it, or both, etc. etc.). But they’re both arguing that today’s digital media aren’t making us better or worse people, but networked individuals. Rainie and Wellman give a description of networked individualism. Among other things, networked individualism is characterized by a world in which:

  • Many meet their social, emotional, and economic needs by tapping into sparsely knit networks of diverse associates rather than relying on tight connections to a relatively small number of core associates
  • Networked individuals have new powers to create media and project their voices to more extended audiences that become part of their social worlds
  • The lines between information, communication, and action have blurred
  • Networked individuals use the internet, mobile phones, and social networks to get information at their fingertips and act on it, empowering their claims to expertise (whether valid or not)
  • Networked individuals can fashion their own complex identities depending on their passions, beliefs, lifestyles, professional associations, work interests, hobbies, or any number of other personal characteristics
  • The organization of work is more spatially distributed
  • Home and work have become more intertwined than at any time since hordes of farmers went out into their fields

…and so on. Many of these descriptions of the networked world in which we live resonate with what I have found in my work with teachers and with what I have found in my personal life.

For example, I recently got a smartphone. For someone so interested in the role of digital technologies in teachers’ lives, it was long overdue. The smartphone has done nothing to me (what Baym would call technological determinism), and has not caused me to take on the characteristics of the technology to which I am (or am not) tethered. But it has made more obvious to me the degree to which I am a networked individual — my home, work, friend, and family networks intertwine in multiple spaces online. As Wellman and Rainie describe, my lines between information, communication, and action are quite blurry when I see an article, tweet it, talk about it on facebook, or blog about it here. I have many “sparsely knit networks of diverse associates” that cross the country and the globe, from India to Korea, from Colorado to Georgia, from my larger networked ties in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, which expand and contract with the movements of individuals from far in my past to very much present, to my familial network, which touches the Pacific and the Atlantic.

These books are giving me things to think about: both my own networked individualism and the networked worlds of my future research participants, not to mention that NCTE proposal on networks I’m piecing together with a friend right now. More on this later, I can assure you. For now, I’m taking my networked self to tutoring.

More on Stories

Gotta keep this one short, but I wanted to post an update on my resolve to reintegrate the creative into my work with high school kids… see previous post.

A few of my tutoring students, in particular my 10th graders (and a couple ninth graders, and one eighth grader) have been grappling with texts that contain ambiguity. In particular, we’ve been reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Additionally, my eighth grader and I just started The Life of Pi (I had to justify the hours I poured into it over break, after all) and my tenth graders read it in school. I brought Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” to the table this week. Each of these texts contains some form of ambiguity, but each in a different way. In Handmaid’s, we’re left wondering about the fate of our main character and the role of her lover, Nick, in that fate. In Pi, we’re left to grapple with the role of the “real” in storytelling, and we’re left wondering (sort of) which is the “real” story of Pi’s survival. In “Recitatif,” Morrison messes with the mind of her reader by leaving the two main characters’ races ambiguous, forcing the reader to examine his or her own racial prejudices in the process.

My students have blogged about their love, or hatred, of ambiguity. See Christy’s thoughts on her blog. This post too.

We have discussed the role of ambiguity in our sessions.

And now, they will do their own creative writing and incorporate an ambiguous element that allows them to communicate a theme of their choice.

Never done this before. We’ll see how it goes. Will keep you all posted.