Teacher as Blogger: Where’s the line? – Discussion Entry

I have been a writer in some fashion for most of my life. Journaling through childhood, participating in writing workshops in adolescence, and becoming an English teacher and joining PAWLP as an adult, I have always loved to write. It’s where I best express myself and sort out my ideas. However, now as a teacher, I find myself more careful than ever about my writing. At 29, I was raised at the beginning of the internet generation and went through college during the social media rise. Facebook debuted my freshman year of college; we were part of the first group to use it. So, it’s become a norm for me – sharing my life on the internet. But, as a teacher, I’m more aware than most of what I put online and how much of myself I share with the world wide web. I know the draw backs, the dangers, and I am careful to be respectful and conduct myself in a manner online (and in life) that I wouldn’t mind my students, parents, boss, superintendent, and my own family members reading. But as a teacher, in the last five years in particular, I’ve seen quite a few stories of other members of my profession getting slammed for their blogs and social media presence, even when it’s about teaching.

Here’s what I would like to do: I want to share my teaching ideas, research findings, classroom successes and missteps, and daily musings with the internet world. If anything, I think what’s amazing about social media is the chance for us to realize how similar our experiences are. Many of us walk this world feeling like we’re the only ones going through a given situation, and as teachers, I think we feel a lot of pressure to show a perfect face to the world. We don’t like to admit or show failures because we fear judgement (whether by colleagues or by state evaluations that may soon tie to our paychecks and our jobs). Mistakes are becoming a no-no. But I still firmly believe what my father taught me at a young age – mistakes are how we grow. Fail, fail, fail again. In failure is how we find success. So I want to share my failures and my successes, because I think we are smarter together than we are alone, and by blogging instead of just writing in a paper journal, I can get ideas and input from others in my situation. It opens up my job and my ideas to a conversation across the country or even the world, if I’m lucky, and as Schmidt and Kjellberg both noted, blogging is about building a network of ideas – whether for socializing or for research. At the end of the day, it’s both about building a community of ideas.

But I have hang-ups.

Where’s the line? How can I, as a teacher, have a social media and blogging presence about my profession and still maintain the line of appropriateness? And is the line the same for everyone or do some districts and administrators see it differently than others? Do I tell my principal that I have a blog and want to write about the happenings in my classroom (without student names, obviously), or do I write anonymously (still without student names)? Do I not write about my classroom at all and just stick with theory and educational readings to be safer? Or do I avoid opinions all together in case I cross a line I didn’t know existed or risk my opinion crossing an administrator’s opinion, without my knowledge?

The bottom line question is: as a teacher who wants to blog regularly, how do I find the line that might be invisible in what’s acceptable and what’s not as a teacher blogger? And what may be the hard and fast rules of being a teacher blogger, if I am permitted to even be one?

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10 thoughts on “Teacher as Blogger: Where’s the line? – Discussion Entry

  1. Rachel, I think this is such a great question, and one that is difficult to answer definitively. Every situation is slightly different. I teach a technology class for new teachers, and one thing I always tell them is to find that line, make sure it’s defensible, and then stick to it. I follow some great blogs that chronicle experiences in the classroom; they are usually written as recipes for other teachers to follow, or commentaries for parents and students. They sometimes talk about mishaps, but it’s usually in terms of “here’s what we learned when this happened.”
    Personally, I only use Facebook personally, and only use my blog and Twitter accounts personally. I have some professional friends that are on Facebook, but as an administrator I deliberately avoid being friends with my teachers. I don’t want to run into a situation where I have to discipline a teacher because they post something inappropriate (such as a comment about a student or being hung over at work).
    My suggestions for a line – never post anything on a professional space unless you’re okay with your students, students’ parents, and administrator reading it. I would hope that administrators would be fine with differing opinions, but it wouldn’t be wise to say, “my district adopted X but I prefer Y so I’m going to use Y instead.” Never EVER make a negative comment about a student, class, teacher or school, even if you don’t use a name.

  2. I agree – I have a professional Twitter account that I use for things in education and then a personal one that’s not my name. Like you, I use Facebook for personal things and am not friends with students or administrators in either personal place. And I too agree about the negative comment piece – I don’t find that productive anyway. But what I do wonder about is how honest I can be about difficulties in the classroom. If the hope I have is to start a conversation and get ideas from other people beyond my building, I wonder how possible that is or if, as a professional, it’s just not possible. Americans (I’m American anyway – are you?) seem to be very afraid of negative press, even if it’s meant to be part of a conversation toward progress, so I’m guessing that may mean some conversations just cannot be had online. Period. Your thoughts?

    • I think it’s reasonable to talk about challenges as problems to be solved. But sometimes it’s in the phrasing. I read blogs that say something like “I struggle with building the background knowledge my students need to make sense of the agricultural revolution” or “our students have had limited opportunities to develop problem solving strategies.” Those statements don’t blame the students, and imply kids will be successful with the right support. I think it’s possible to be honest without using deficit language, which is really what gets you in trouble with the press.
      And I’m Amerrican too 🙂

      • Yes! That’s very true. I think you’re right – it all sits in how we write it. If we write it as an exploration and building experience toward a better instructional classroom, then we will hopefully be better off and better understood than if we just “complained” – not that I think any of us would do that on a blog… but you know what I mean. Very true – it’s in the words we choose!

  3. My rule of thumb is criticize globally, praise locally. And I never use student names without permission from the student. The key is to get students blogging and make their thinking more transparent too!

    • That’s what I’m hoping to do this year – I made a blog for students to use, and I’m hoping our department can contribute student writing to it, have students post book reviews of their independent reading that we can tag with genre and topic and then the same with their creative writing. Fingers crossed I get the support for it 🙂

  4. Rachel, you might be interested in this entry that I posted a few years back, looking at blogging in the academy. The videos of the presentation itself may be most useful, as several of the panelist were more teacher-bloggers (as opposed to research-bloggers like myself).

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