The final post in my summer-long guest series on School Gate, the TimesOnline education blog, appeared this morning.
In this post, I explain how keeping a blog made me a better, and more sane, teacher.
Thank you all so much for reading and commenting on these posts, and emailing me your thoughts! I loved blogging for School Gate, and owe the lovely Sarah Ebner huge thanks for inviting me.
Please keep visiting School Gate; it’s a thought-provoking, entertaining, and intelligent blog about education in the UK and everywhere.
3 thoughts on “how I saved my teaching career: final post: keeping a blog”
I do have a few blogs, including some which are course-specific, others which are related to an academic topic, etc. I mostly blog through my main blog, which redirects from Enkerli.com (my last name). My first name is Alexandre.
The reason I point this out is that my approach to social media in general (and blogging specifically) is “radical transparency.” I do expose myself, fully. In fact, there’s a blog I have under another “persona,” that of the “informal ethnographer.” But, even then, I associate my full name with everything I do.
So, what about privacy? Well, for one thing, online privacy tends to be an illusion. It may be possible to fully protect one’s identity online, but it sounds quite difficult. In fact, those who seem the most secretive are also the ones we end up being the most curious about. Reading about a Cegep prof, my first reflex was to wonder if I knew her. My guess is that we at least have contacts in common (IIRC, I’ve met Vila H. at Yulblog, a couple of years ago). And it remains as a nagging feeling/question. “Who’s this?”
When you expose yourself as fully as possible, it’s rather easy to hide things in broad daylight. People simply don’t look. When they do, they’re missing the context which is the key to understanding what’s going on. This is pretty much the overall technique that used by the donsojeliw (hunter-bards) with whom I’ve been working, in Southern Mali.
Now, it may all sound boastful, self-absorbed, etc. And it’s difficult not to use first-person pronouns while writing some blogposts. But that’s interesting in and of itself.
Talking about teaching without mentioning names is quite easy. Talking about specific students or specific teachers using pseydonyms would feel exceedingly strange, for me. Now, there are times when I might mention that I had a student who did a project on something (happened tonight, actually) and I refrain from using the student’s name just in case she/he’d prefer not being named. But that seems rather different.
Not saying that others using pseudonyms are doing anything wrong. It just feels strange, that’s all.
What’s stranger, actually, is that it seems quite common about blogs by teachers. Not among EduBloggers, maybe. But among teachers who talk about their work lives.
Some parts of the blogosphere sound like “lounges.” Other parts feel like agoras. Yet other parts look like stages. We all have different approaches to the online world.
And we all can get a lot from our online activities.
In my case, blogging has been useful in many respects. I’ve been invited to talk about diverse things on a number of occasions, often making contacts which seem mutually beneficial. I’ve been able to make some ideas clearer or at least more manageable. On a few occasions, it served as practice for things I wanted to say in academic contexts. At other times, blogging was a way to simply archive thoughts in public. And there’s a lot to be said about how relieving writing can be.
Blogging is much more than a release. But even when it is merely acting as a pressure valve, it’s well worth it.
This is all very interesting, Alexandre, and gives food for thought.
I don’t think it’s strange, though, that anonymity/pseudonymity is common among teacher bloggers and edubloggers. If we are writing directly about students and about what goes on in our classrooms, we are not only ethically but legally responsible for making sure that students can’t be identified. My blog, although I do consider it an “edublog,” is mostly a personal narrative, and so specific students and my experience with them will inevitably come up. I do not have the right to expose them.
My own “privacy” is immaterial – many people know that I am the author of this blog, and if I ever run into you at YULblog I’ll be happy to introduce myself, both by my real name and my blogonym!
The advantage of not connecting my real name with the blog is that people who would recognize the students I blog about – that is, the students themselves and their classmates – will not idly Google my name and then come across posts that, despite changed names, might reveal things that they should not know or that make them feel uncomfortable. As long as I am anonymous, the stories in this blog are essentially fiction.
As my blog gains more exposure, I am less and less comfortable writing about specific students, so maybe someday the pseudonym will be unnecessary. But I doubt it. The stories about specific students make very good tales, and also expose a lot about me, the school system, and society. So I expect that every so often, I’m going to want/need to blog about my interactions with someone specific, and I can’t take the risk that they will feel compromised, so I need to do everything I can to shield their identities.
Thanks for your comment! It’s a topic with a lot of angles to it…
Agreed in the multiple angles. Probably because I’m an anthropologist, I notice the Humanities and Social Sciences angles. Though these angles converge, they can be distinguished at this point.
The social angle is straightforward enough: what does pseudonymity/anonymity imply in terms of online identities? Lots to talk about, there. In fact, there seems to be a broader discussion of “digital identity,” these days. For instance, I was sent a link to this blogpost (in French) about the issues behind “anonymity” and other aspects of «identité numérique».
Then there’s a literary dimension. Blogs are multi-generic and some genre conventions are being established, allowing for some flexibility. In this case, even the “basic” notions surrounding fiction seem important, as they have become so critical in literary circles. While there might be a clear tendency to value “non-fiction” as well as factual accuracy in fiction, there’s also an increased need to fictionalize for legal or ethical reasons. In some cases, writing fiction is a way to avoid some of the “chilling effects” affecting creative work, these days. Even pseudonymity could be related to this move. Even when the names are the only part which deviate from reality (at least consciously), it transforms the work into something akin to fiction or to “creative non-fiction” (the definition of which seems not to be so clear, in my case; I should read up on the genre).
It’s a bit like the disclaimer at the end of movies made in the US. Even if the plot is “based on a true story,” they sometimes include the disclaimer about “any resemblance to persons living or dead” being “purely coincidental.” (Cracks me up every time.)
So, there might be a move to write characters “loosely based” on actual people. When the basis isn’t so loose. Or to write “composite characters,” which almost sounds like a posteriori justification.
I’ve been feeling the need to make some things partly fictional, even when they appear to be about myself. For instance, I created in my head a character of a naïve professor who is “loosely based” on me. It didn’t seem clear that it wasn’t really me. And the resemblance is clearly not coincidental. But I felt the need to imagine this character when I started talking about disillusions.
So, what surprises me with teachers using pseudonyms isn’t so much that y’all would feel the need to try to protect people’s identities. It’s the fact that blogging often ends up being about persons.
What I was saying about “EduBloggers” wasn’t meant to disparage anyone. But I have this category in my head for blogs which are about more abstract ideas in the field of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Though these people occasionally share their experiences with using specific methods, they often do so in the dry way that we associate with research controlled by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). A sign of the times? Possibly. We live in fear of legal consequences, especially in North America. But there’s also the distinction between those blogs and the negotiation of personal identity, online. Going back to the social dimensions, these bloggers’ identities appear relatively straightforward while Tenured Radical’s identity is murkier.
Nothing wrong with any of this. I just react based on my personal and professional background.