Ten Wonderful Things, Part Eight: Blogging

The eighth of ten things I loved about this past term.

#8: Blogging

Some days, I teach because I blog.

When I began this blog in 2007, I was seriously considering giving up teaching.  It was just too hard.  Then Vila H. convinced me that I needed to start blogging about something.  Teaching is the only thing I know much about, so it seemed a natural fit.

It’s a bit odd that I didn’t realize, at the time, the potential blogging had for saving my sanity.  I kept compulsive handwritten journals from the age of nine until the age of twenty-five or so.  I stopped because all that writing gave me a repetitive stress injury in my writing arm, shoulder and neck that continues to plague me (it makes marking papers even more of a nightmare.) During that time, though, writing stuff down was my main method of dealing with the world.

Keeping a journal on the computer never felt the same to me, and although I took a couple of stabs at it, it never stuck.  This makes sense to me now.  The computer feels like a tool for communication; a notebook feels like a private box for private thoughts.

Although, for most of my writing career, I thought of myself as a fiction writer, my greatest writing joy came through writing letters.  And later, emails.  Long, rambling, cathartic emails.  At around the same time I was questioning my choice of a teaching career, I was also questioning my choice of genre as a writer.  Did I really care about fiction that much?  I didn’t even read a lot of novels any more.  (This is changing, but slowly.)

So I started blogging, and it made teaching so much better.

First off, when you’re a writer of any sort, everything becomes material.  No matter how impossible/irritating/terrifying the situation I’m dealing with, it’s something to write about.  I’m grateful for problems because they make good posts.   My struggles with Khawar and  the very bad day that turned unexpectedly good were not, on the whole, pleasant experiences, but writing about them was extremely enjoyable.

Secondly, blogging – unlike, say, working on a novel manuscript – comes with an audience.  Not only am I writing, but people are reading what I write, in some cases immediately after it’s written.  Ask anyone who’s been working on a book for a long time how valuable this is.

And not only do people read, they make comments!  Sometimes these comments come in the form of colleagues stopping me in the hall or friends messaging me on Facebook.  This is great.  But often, people leave comments right on the writing!  People read what I write, and then they want to talk about it.  They have things to say about my difficult experiences – sometimes very encouraging things, and almost always helpful things.  (Sometimes not. But hey, if people get mad, at least you’ve got their attention.)

This combination of writing and interaction is the sweet spot for me.  If I had to give it up, I’m not sure I’d have the mojo to keep teaching any more.  There’s no question: I take my bad teaching days to heart.  The blog turns them into something I can use, and share, and then they’re not so bad.  In fact, they’re precious.


Things that are also wonderful:

#7: Looking Problems in the Eye

#6: Rereading

#5: Exceptions

#4: Harry Potter

#3: Early Mornings

#2: Incorrect First Impressions

#1: My IB Students

Image by Martin Boose


Top 10 Posts of 2009

Have you gotten behind on your blog reading?  Do you wish you’d had time to read EVERY SINGLE POST here at Classroom as Microcosm this past year?  Or are you a new reader who doesn’t know how to get caught up on all this teacherly goodness?

Never fear – I’ve put together a handy list to help you get up to speed.  I checked out my stats meter for 2009 and compiled the posts that received the most hits in the last twelve months.  I don’t know for sure that these are the best posts I’ve published this year – maybe you can tell me! – but they’re the ones that made people take notice, for better or for worse.

1. Top 10 Student Excuses for Missing Class:

This post’s popularity is due in large part to Sarah Ebner at School Gate, who came across it and generously promoted it more than once to her TimeOnline readers.  It remains one of my favourite posts, because it reminds me each time I read it that my students are complex and interesting people, and that not all excuses are sneaky fictional attempts to avoid consequences!

2. 10 Reasons I Hate Grading Your Assignment:

A rising stat meter usually makes a blogger very happy: people are reading my post!  Hurrah!  In the case of this post, however, the rising meter eventually triggered a full-blown panic attack.  A lot of people were made very angry by this rant, in which I wax furious on green printer ink, 1-and-1/2 spacing, sloppy proofreading and unauthorized email submissions.  I also received some very nice comments and emails congratulating me on my uncompromising standards, but this post marks the first time, ever, in my life, that I wished people were paying a little less attention to me.

A follow-up post, in which I examine the effects of the negative feedback on my state of mind, was also high on the list of top posts.

3. Sulk and the 17-year-old Girl:

The saga of Mary, Melanie, and especially Marta begins here, and the anxiety of dealing with these difficult but interesting girls was more than offset by the pleasure I got from writing about them.  Later posts on the trio that also received lots of hits are part two of “Sulk…“, my wrap-up of several of the winter semester’s top stories, and a one-act screenplay of my final meeting with the three girls.

4. Who Says You Have To Go To College?:

The question of whether college is the best path for everyone has been on the table a lot in the past year, and this probably accounts for the popularity of this post.

5. Holden Caulfield Has Left the Building:

Have teenagers really had it with Holden Caulfield?  My classroom experience says yes and no.

6. Yannick’s debts:

I was surprised to see this post near the top, as it’s relatively recent, but the story of Yannick’s troubles and my refusal to baby him seems to have resonated with a lot of readers.

7. There Are Worse Things Than Dropping Out of School:

Another post that asks whether school is really for everyone.

8. If You Use This Phrase in Your Essay, You Will Fail:

Top 10 lists seem to always be a hit.  In this one, I enumerate some word choices that I’d be happy never to read again.

9. What I Did On My Summer “Vacation”:

This one came out in August, just as everyone was ready to start thinking about teaching again; maybe that’s why it received a lot of visits.  It’s a response to the 2009 Professional Development Meme; I had previously listed my professional development goals for the summer, and in this post I examine whether I met them.

10.  One Minute of Solitude:

After reading this post about how I implemented my friend Lorri’s “one minute of silence” exercise in my classroom, a lot of readers wrote to say that they were going to try it, too.  I didn’t maintain this exercise throughout the semester, but I may do it again sometime and stick with it to observe the results.

And, because I do love a good, justified rant, a bonus post…

11. Now You’ve Made Me Mad:

This one is worth it for the “angry kitty” photo alone.

Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and making my blogging so rewarding!

Image by Owais Khan

The 2009 Edublog Awards: my nominations

After receiving kind mentions/nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards from both Sarah Ebner of School Gate and Victoria Westcott of Classroom Canada, I’m delighted to find I have a couple of free hours tonight to do my community duty and point out some nominees of my own.

Best individual blog: Joanne Jacobs never fails to inform me and get me thinking.  And I’m always amazed by her prolificacy!

Best individual tweeter: It’s been ages since I spent much time on Twitter, but whenever I do tune back in, I can count on Larry Ferlazzo to point me toward a couple of things I want to see/read/do.

Best resource sharing blog: Larry Ferlazzo again.  Thanks Larry!

Best teacher blog: This is a tough one, but I’d have to say So You Want To Teach? is the one I go to when I really need a boost or some concrete advice.

Best elearning/corporate education blog: I’m not sure what the “corporate education blog” means – a corporate blog or a blog about corporate education?  I’m going to assume that it’s the former, and that would make it a toss-up between Classroom Canada and School Gate – don’t make me pick just one!  Ok, if I have to, I’ll go with Classroom Canada, because Victoria has already nominated School Gate…

Please check out the Edublog Awards link above and post your own nominations.  The nomination period ends tomorrow, Dec. 8, and then the voting begins.  And good luck to all the nominees!

how I saved my teaching career: final post: keeping a blog

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.

Blogger’s Block

Lately, I’ve had blogger’s block.

I could say that I’ve been busy. (It’s true. The school year just started. There’s stuff to do.) But that’s not really what it’s about.

I’ve been blocked. I recognize it, because I’ve experienced it so very often in the more classic “writer’s block” form. You think about writing stuff, but you are seized by inertia or resistance, both of which are really fear in disguise.

In fiction writing, the fear is usually (for me, anyway) the fear of wasting my time and effort. “I’ve spent years on this manuscript, it’s still a mess, and it will never be fixed. It’s been fundamentally flawed since the beginning, and it’s not salvageable. Nobody will want to read this book. I should throw it out and start again.”

In blogging, I’ve discovered, the fear is about something a little less subjective.

More and more people are reading this blog. That’s great. I love knowing that the little notes and essays I write are going out to the world, and that people are getting something out of them. I love it when someone I know tells me that they’ve been reading the blog and it’s been meaningful to them. I love it when I get a comment or an email, even a negative one, when it’s thoughtful, thought-provoking and respectful.

I’ve discovered, though, that there are people out there who have a lot of time on their hands, and a lot of rage that they want to express. These are the sort of people who go trolling for blog posts they don’t like and then write comments like “Kill yourself.” These are people who get an almost sexual gratification out of provoking and maintaining the equivalent of a screaming match, and become infuriated if you don’t rise to their bait (or sink to their level.)

And many of these people have a real problem, in particular, with teachers. They are angry at teachers. Maybe with one teacher in particular, but that teacher has come to represent all teachers, everywhere. And an anonymous teacher who isn’t grading them and doesn’t even know their real names is a convenient target for all that anger.

Now, I know there’s no need for me to take any of this personally. But there’s also no need for me to take it personally when some guy smashes into me in the grocery store and curses at me. There’s no need for me to take it personally when a student doesn’t show up to class for three weeks and then throws a tantrum when I don’t accommodate him or give him special treatment. These incidents are not personal, but they make me want to never leave my house.

I am, fundamentally, an introvert. Even the nice people I love sometimes exhaust me; mean, angry people who have no sense that other people are real, sentient beings make me want to crawl into a hole.

And so every time my blog stat counter begins spiking upward, I feel a little jolt of panic. A lot of people are reading my blog, and some of them are going to be mean and angry.

Any writer needs a thick skin, and in the online world this is especially true. I’m always amazed and appalled when I read the comments sections of major online newspaper articles. It used to be that the angry crackpots who spent all day, every day, writing “Letters to the Editor” were relatively rare. Now it seems that the world is lousy with them.

So I know that if I want to keep a blog, especially one that attracts more than a few readers, I need to accept that some people will give less than helpful feedback. I need to find a way to get past that and keep on writing, if writing is what I want to do.

So I will, as long as people keep wanting to read what I write (and maybe even beyond that.)

But maybe there are bloggers out there who have special internal tactics for dealing with the flack. Or maybe not just bloggers – maybe you have a job where you need to deal regularly with people who are aggressive, impolite and self-important. Maybe you’re a serious person who doesn’t get a charge out of screaming matches, but you still manage to deal with the nastiness of the world in a graceful way that doesn’t get you down.

If so, maybe you’d like to share your secrets with me.

how I saved my teaching career part 7: meditate!

The penultimate post in my series “How I Saved My Teaching Career” appeared on School Gate this morning.  In this post, I describe how learning to meditate made me a better teacher.

changing the world one comment at a time

buildSome of my Twitter contacts (particularly Shelley S. Terrell, or @ShellTerrell, who keeps the great blog Teacher Reboot Camp) have been encouraging me to sign up for the “One Comment a Day” project.

This project was developed by Andrew Marcinek, who posts about it here. The premise: once a day, leave a constructive comment on an education blog and tweet about your comment, using the hashtag #ocp to signal that your comment is a part of the project.

When I first read Marcinek’s post, I thought, Well, that’s a great idea, but I already leave many comments on blogs, and tweet (and blog) about some of them; why should I sign on to systematize something I’m already doing?

My attention was called back to the project by a tweeter today, and my perspective has changed a little.

In particular, in rereading Marcinek’s post, I was struck by the emphasis on positivity. For example:

I read the post, processed the information and responded constructively. Simple. Painless. Helpful.

…pick one blog a day…and leave a positive, insightful comment for the blogger.

Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

Last week I had a trying guest blogging experience with a load of commenters who, despite their intelligence, expertise, and genuinely interesting perspectives, were not constructive or positive in their comments.

It got me thinking about the methods of argument, criticism and interaction that I value and that I try to foster in my classroom. (A subsequent post tried to elucidate my views on those topics; coincidental, because that post had already been planned, but timely.)

So when I went back to Marcinek’s post today, it struck me that the One Comment Project is an invaluable exercise for teachers. After all, isn’t this what we try to do for our students – to give them feedback that opens them up to learning? Point out what they did right, and suggest ways that they could do even righter? Ask sincere questions about what we don’t understand or agree with, and listen, with attention and curiosity, to their answers?

So I’m going to participate in the One Comment Project, and I encourage other teacher bloggers out there to do the same. Think of it as warming up for the new school year.

My first comment will be on the One Comment Project post, and it will be to tell Andrew Marcinek what a great service he is asking us to do for one another.

Image by Carsten Schlipf

Dear Auntie Siobhan #7: Helicopter Parent. Help!

My final guest post at Change.org’s education blog went up this morning. Today: what do I do when my (college) student’s parent won’t leave me alone?

Big thanks to Clay Burell for inviting me to guest blog this week while he’s moving to Singapore and writing a (no doubt fabulous) book.

“Dear Auntie Siobhan” will be a continued, if irregular, feature here at Classroom at Microcosm, so if you have questions you’d like to see discussed, send them to me at siobhancurious@gmail.com.

And thanks so much for all your support, feedback and general participation!

Ask Auntie Siobhan #6: My Students are Passionate, but It Can Get Out of Hand

This morning at Change.org, Auntie Siobhan gives her thoughts on the question, “How can I encourage passionate engagement in my classroom without encouraging aggression?”

It’s been quite a ride! My stint at Change.org ends tomorrow, but if you have questions for Auntie Siobhan, feel free to send them along, and she will respond here in the coming weeks.

Ask Auntie Siobhan #4: My Students Won’t Put Their Phones Away

Today at Change.org, Auntie Siobhan addresses the question: What do I do about the scourge of cell phones in my classroom?

Please come visit and leave your own advice. And if you have a question you’d like Auntie Siobhan to answer, write to me at siobhancurious@gmail.com.