Do Not Go Gentle

It’s the morning after Christmas and I have a food hangover. Since my six-year-old son can’t seem to sleep past 7:00, I’m in the living room nursing an enormous glass of water and reading the paper, hoping that will take my mind off of the waves of nausea that I’ve been feeling since I woke up. I read a pretty interesting piece in the Post about Mao’s legacy in China and another about a few Holocaust survivors being reunited with the person who took care of them after the war before heading to Facebook and Twitter. I figure that Facebook will be more photos from my friends’ Christmas celebrations, which it is. Twitter, I figure, will have a few wisecracks from comedians I follow and maybe some news of the day. There is, but what’s also there are four or five article posts and retweets from a connected educator.

And it’s at that moment when I realize that I am done blogging about education.

Misadventures in High School English

While my current record doesn’t reflect it, I have been blogging since 2001 when, missing the column I used to write for the Loyola College Greyhound, I started a website called Inane Crap. That eventually ran its course and led to Pop Culture Affidavit where I keep to my old column regimen of one post per week (give or take). On the career side of things, I began a semi-anonymous blog called Stop Trying to Inspire Me where I wrote and often bitched about being a teacher. When I wanted to refocus and actually put my name on things, I started this blog and took the old one down (as has been a custom of mine and a custom that will stay — this blog will more than likely be taken down in a few months). The appeal to me was that I could talk shop in a way that I didn’t often see done in the edu-blogosphere. I had come across several science and math blogs but English ones–at least ones that were being updated on a regular basis–were few and far between. Here, I thought, was a place to share what I liked about teaching high school English as well as things I’ve had success with and works of literature that I love.

Of course, any English teacher will tell you that teaching this subject is not easy. Between standardized tests, AYP, AMOs, SMART goals, and the fact that reading and writing seem to be less appealing to the average teenager than invasive surgery, my “success rate” hovers somewhere near the Mendoza Line. Calls for shorter works and non-fiction in English curricula have led to me take a “throw it against a wall and see what sticks” approach that often leaves me frustrated, especially since I know that if I rewrote my entire course to be nothing but test prep, everything would be so easy and I’d produce the data that is needed. But I’m not in this for data and I’m not in this to be a dancing monkey. I left a career in marketing to become a teacher because at the time I was passionate about education and wanted to share my love of reading and writing in a way that was constructive and benefited the next generation.

Unfortunately, I have spent much of my nine-year career feeling like a fraud. I don’t have a masters degree and got my teaching license through a six-month career-switcher program and I honestly don’t feel that I’m doing my low-level students any good. Oh sure, I have great relationships with my advanced students and my yearbook staff but anyone tell you that doesn’t count because they would have had that relationship with anyone. I just happened to be there. So writing about how I love our annual Poetry Out Loud competition? I don’t include all of the students who whine about it or ask, “If I go on to the next round, do I have to do it?” Posting about how Night is still an important, relevant test ? I don’t include the anti-Semitic comments I hear. Posts about yearbook? I leave out the number of nasty parent emails and phone calls I get every May.

Like I said, I’m a fraud.

That’s What Really Gets Attention

Nobody reads my posts about teaching English anyway. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but the pieces that get the most traffic are when I am posting about education in general. It’s not an accident that the most viewed post (by more than 4,000 hits than the most popular English-based post) on this blog is “Why the Jeff Bliss Story Makes Me Want to Quit.”I jumped on something that was trendy and I said Lisa Nielsen was full of shit. In essence, I was following Newton’s First Law of Edublogging: the post about your subject area that you take the time to craft will go unnoticed by something you wrote in 20 minutes about a trending topic will get thousands of hits.

Frankly, I’m tired of that and I am tired of feeling guilty that I fallen into the trap of being an attention whore (which, yes, I realize I’m doing with this very post, so spare me the comments). I should just do my thing and not care about stats or blog awards and yet I get secretly bothered by the fact that I rarely have gotten serious recognition for anything beyond posts that were specifically designed to get attention. Do I think Lisa Nielsen is full of shit? Yes. Did I have to say as much in my post? Probably not? Did I knew that doing so would get traffic? You bet your ass.

Funny enough, when it comes to my other blog and three podcasts, which have little to nothing to do with teaching or education, I couldn’t care less about comments or stats (okay, the recent spate of spam comments has been annoying but that’s different). I am extremely grateful for the encouragement and feedback I have gotten but would probably still podcast about Robin or The ‘Nam or blog about randomness in pop culture if nobody ever commented at all. Which tells me that I am not having fun doing this. I blog about teaching because so many have said how being connected is important, yet I don’t seem to be getting very much out of it. Of course, there are friends I have made and people whose words I respect and will continue to read (and comment on) after this blog is digital dust but they are the exceptions.

Most of the time, being a connected educator is like being in the war room in Dr. Strangelove. The big wigs get all of the right attention and seem to say all of the right things but when you boil it down they are having the same conversation over and over and over and nothing is getting done.

“Find Your Center”

Which brings me to now, the day after Christmas, and why I am walking away. A number of years ago, my department chair came to me after I had a particularly shitty day and said, “Find your center.” Of all of the pieces of advice I have been given over the years, this was one of the best and I will come back to it any time things get rough or I get depressed or when I feel out of sorts. I sat there looking at my Twitter feed and its retweets of the same articles about the same topics and thought about how my last post was nearly two weeks ago and since getting off work on the evening of December 20 I hadn’t thought about work at all, choosing instead to celebrate Christmas with my family. When work crept back in this morning I thought about how much I want to get done and how I have really great relationships with other teachers in my department. I guess I’m supposed to call them a PLN or something but I don’t; I simply call them colleagues and friends. This makes me a bad connected educator and becoming an isolationist will not propel me to the top of my fiend; in fact, it will probably make me one of those teachers who connected educators “talk about.”

But when I step into my classroom on January 6, whether or not I choose to blog about teaching or #chat won’t make much of a difference. Yes, I am part of a teaching and learning community, but I have to choose the way that my involvement best works for me and not engage just because I feel like I have to. I have a long way to go before I will be done with education, and maybe doing what is best for myself is the wrong approach–after all, I’m supposed to put everyone else before me. But I cannot help anyone if I don’t have a clear head. My thanks to those who have offered me support during my short, non-influential time as a blogging teacher and best wishes to anyone who is still reading for a happy and healthy new year.


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