On Saturday, I spent the day in DC learning how to be a better blogger. It was an intense day of brainstorming and I want to talk about the two things that are troubling me:
- The skills I developed probably need to be funneled down to our students ASAP.
- The rather homogeneous assortment of teachers participating in this event–mainly white and many coming from Teach For America–may eventually shape educational discourse in ways that are problematic.
Bellwether Education invited a handful of educators from around the country to sit with known journalists and improve our chops in the world of blogging. Presentations from Ezra Klein, Carl Cannon, Megan Carpentier, and others helped connect the daily concerns and activities of successful journalists with the scheduling challenges of educators.* (That the event occurred the same day that Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s VP pick meant that the majority of the coaches and speakers were simultaneously helping us and on deadline for their various publications.) It was an altogether enlightening and somewhat frightening prospect for me to look into the mysterious void of the Internet and be told strategies for improving my search engine optimization and building up a strong brand. At the same time, I think the same discomfort that I faced in understanding these types of dispositions is something that educators like myself are going to have to get over and face more directly within our teaching practice.
Blogging and Branding as Required Curriculum?
These skills, new for me despite now blogging here and elsewhere for upwards of six years now, are reminiscent of the kinds of shifts in learning for our high school students as well. Very literally, this daylong intensive seminar was about improving writing and meeting the expectations of a self-selected readership. These are certainly things I want students today to be learning. Is it a matter of time until branding and building up a reliable and respectable number of twitter followers and advertising recent updates on Pinterest with fancy pictures become required components for classrooms? Will there be a standardized exam on the ethics of link-baiting?
Online Teacher Voice and Representation
I am also troubled by issues of representation within the world of teacher blogging. The Bellwether event was one that attendees had to apply to participate in. So while the participants were not necessarily representative of all of the applicants or even of educational bloggers today, it was a largely homogeneous group:
- Aside from a handful of us, the educational bloggers here were predominantly white.
- Several of us were no longer teachers (myself included): some ran education-related NPOs or worked for alternative credentialing programs or charter schools.
- Many of the participants (half? Maybe more?) came from Teach For America and were still relatively new to the teaching profession.
As I looked around the room as one speaker talked about making the shift from a readership of hundreds to a readership in the thousands, I felt slightly uncomfortable. Here we are, a group of educators learning how to help shape discourse about education, and so many of the voices and experiences of teachers I’ve had the pleasure to work with are unrepresented in this space. Granted, Bellwether expressed the intention of continuing these seminars in the future and I’m glad for that. But for now, a disproportionate number of Teach For America teachers are equipped to blog the vagaries and successes of classroom teaching in 2012.
I should be clear that my concerns here are not about being anti-TFA (other writers can go much deeper into that tricky debate). I’m more concerned about representation: if we are mainly preparing to hear from younger teachers being prepared through an alternative model such as TFA, we are also shaping public discourse by eschewing the majority of public teaching voices.
I don’t know how each participant found out about the Bellwether event and decided or was encouraged to apply. I was forwarded an email through the Teaching Ambassador Fellows network. However, it seemed clear that this event–funded by the Gates Foundation–was put on the radar for numerous TFA and Teach Plus folks. While I’m excited about the contributions these bloggers will be making as a result of the seminar, I think it is imperative that individuals from more traditional teaching positions and career paths join the fray.** As I hear about these events in the future, I fully intend to share here. In the meantime, if you are looking to gain a stronger blogging background as a teacher (or even delve in as a current n00b) feel free to send me a note and I’ll pass it directly to Bellwether.
*In somewhat unrelated news, based on an off-the-cuff remark from guest speaker Ezra Klein, I’ve created a new Tumblr: War and Peace and Cats (which will be updated somewhat regularly solely with pictures of Cats and paragraph-by-paragraph additions of the entirety of the Tolstoy text).
** I think part of my concern also comes from the transitional period I am in. As I am no longer the urban high school teacher I was when I first began this blog, I am thinking through how this space may change and still meet the interests of readers expecting reports of in-school mayhem here at The American Crawl.