How I Saved My Teaching Career: Step 7: Write a Blog

ImageThis is the final post in a series on how to overcome burnout and love teaching again.   See the end of this post for previous entries.

In the summer of 2007, my burnout reached its peak.  I’d taken some steps to deal with it (and you can check out the links below to read about some of them) but I’d also spent the summer recovering from my most stressful teaching year yet, and I was dreading returning to the classroom.  I knew I needed to do something more.

In addition, I’d been working on a novel for eight years, and it was going nowhere.  I’d once again spent the summer trying to find a structure for it, and was becoming more and more frustrated.  I was no longer sure that I wanted to continue writing fiction.  It wasn’t making me any money, and no one but me really cared if I finished this manuscript.  Why was I doing it?

One day that August, I had coffee with my friend Vila H., who writes the delightful blog The Smoking Section.  She said, not for the first time, “I’m telling you, you need to start blogging.”

As it turned out, she was right.

My blog began as a place to publish some of the work I was doing for my M.Ed. courses (the first post was an early version of my teaching philosophy statement.)  As time went on, however, the blog evolved into an online diary, including ruminations on my classroom experiences and commentary on other education blogs.  It became the place I turned to immediately when things went wrong or when I was struggling to choose a course of action with a student.  It became a hub for my discussions with teachers all over the world.

It also fulfilled a need I didn’t know I had.  My writing life and teaching life had been strictly compartmentalized – I taught during the semester and wrote fiction during my holidays.  Now, my life felt more unified.  My teaching was material for my writing, and my writing made me a more effective teacher.

I’d recommend blogging to all teachers who want to make sense of their teaching experiences.  A blog can be public or private.  Even if you write only for yourself, or allow access only to close friends, it provides perspective, much like a diary does: writing about a problem makes it more manageable.  If you make your blog public, it can also provide help: if you put some effort into reading others’ blogs and responding to their posts, they will do the same for you.

If you do decide to write a public blog, there are a couple of potential issues to keep in mind.

1.  Protecting the privacy of your students and colleagues. 

I blog under a pseudonym, I never reveal the name of my school, and I change the names of any students or teachers I mention.  Some of my colleagues know that I’m the blog author, but our college is a large one and it’s unlikely they’d recognize any of the students I write about, even if they have those students in their classes.  I take special pains not to expose my blog to my students, because I don’t want them recognizing one another in its pages.  They’re not likely to be terribly interested in a blog about education, but if they Google my real name and my blog comes up, this could lead to problems.  I avoid leaving online clues connecting my real name to the blog.

2.  Dealing with negative responses. 

For the first couple of years, comments on my blog were usually constructive and respectful.  As my blog gained more exposure, however, a couple of posts attracted a lot of attention, and some of this attention was, let us say, impolite.

One post, written in a moment of hair-tearing essay-marking frustration, was entitled “10 Reasons I Hate Grading Your Assignment.”  It went moderately viral on StumbleUpon, and the vitriol began pouring in.  About a year later, I wrote a guest post for the education blog at Change.org.  This post, about how to control the use of cell phones in the classroom, made some people very, very angry, and their comments were pretty aggressive.

In both these cases, I came away from the discussions with new things to think about (for example, I no longer ban the use of cellphones in my classes, given some interesting arguments that were raised in response to the latter post.)  Nevertheless, both posts gave me a string of sleepless nights, and I now find myself hesitating to hit “Publish” whenever a post veers into provocative territory.

Password-protecting your blog, so that you choose your readers, is one solution.  The cost is that you lose out on connections you can make with educators all over the globe.  I wasn’t ready to give up those connections, so I accepted that writing for the online public requires a thick skin.  I also avoided arguing with rude commenters, while taking pains to identify anything valuable in their perspectives.  If things got really out of hand, I deleted comments or shut down the comments section altogether.

The advantages of keeping a blog about teaching far outweigh the costs.  When I feel overwhelmed by a teaching dilemma, I write about it.  This gives me some distance, and often leads to helpful feedback.  In my darkest classroom moments, I remind myself, “This is all material.”  And it’s not just material for writing.  Through the blog, I both document and create my own learning.  And when I need to be reminded of what I’ve learned, the blog is always there, like a good set of classroom notes.

If you’re interested in keeping a blog, you might want to visit a host site like WordPress.com or Blogger.com to check out how it all works.

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Do you keep a blog?  If so, how does it help you?  If not, would you consider doing so?

Thanks so much for following this series!  Please tell me what you’ve thought.  Has anything in these posts been helpful?  Would you take issue with any of my actions or conclusions?  I’d love to know your reactions.

 Previous posts in this series:

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The series “How I Saved My Teaching Career” was originally published on the TimesOnline’s education blog, School Gate, in 2009.  Thanks to School Gate’s editor, Sarah Ebner, for her permission to repost.

Image by Marja Flick-Buijs

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.

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!