What happened to the teacher bloggers?

What Happened to All the Teacher Bloggers? asks Anthony Rebora on Ed Week’s Teaching Now.  He thinks fewer teachers are blogging regularly, except for ed-tech bloggers.

Are would-be teacher bloggers (a la Epiphany in Baltimore) just too frustrated or burnt out to write? Do they fear professional repercussions? Or has recreational blogging lost some of its cache with the rise of Facebook and Twitter?

Teacher bloggers often start strong, have their say and then decide to devote their energies to teaching rather than blogging. Are fewer newbies starting blogs? That could be.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, a Catholic school teacher was fired after she criticized a student’s anti-Obama speech for its tone and viewpoint on her blog, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Elizabeth Collins, an English teacher, writer, artist and “activist,” admitted her “annoyance” at the girl’s politics and posted her own model speech, which defended Obama’s policies. She encouraged students to move “beyond knee-jerk joining of their parents’ political party, and not become one-issue voters, to open their minds and consider the ramifications of their votes.”

The student’s parents, James J. White IV and Megan White, read the post and asked: “If this had been an overly liberal paper, would our daughter have been the subject of your blog?” When the Whites pressed their complaints, Collins used her blog to complain about provincial, intolerant, ultra-conservative parents. Eventually Academy of Notre Dame de Naumur fired Collins.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association says on its website that teachers should not blog about their “job duties, colleagues, supervisors, or students,” notes the Inquirer.

Mandy L. Fleisher, a PSEA staffer who gives workshops about blogging, said, “We recommend that people be safe rather than sorry.”

Others don’t go that far, but Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and a blogger, said he liked guidelines set down by a fellow education blogger, which include: “If you wouldn’t say it in a faculty meeting or yell it down the hallway during a passing period, perhaps you need to rethink posting it.”

Collins’ unprofessional conduct is the issue, writes Christine Flowers, a former English teacher, in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Collins had every right to have a blog, although it might have been better to keep a private journal instead of presuming that anyone cared about the minutiae of her job. What she didn’t have a right to do is drag into public view something that was a private matter between teacher and student. If she felt the student’s work was mediocre, she should have given her a C. And if she disagreed with its viewpoint, she should’ve sucked it up. It’s not for a teacher to shill for a specific political or social philosophy.

Teachers have to separate professional duties from personal prejudice, Flowers writes.

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Comments

  1. Um, you yourself have been posting the stories of teachers being fired for what they put online. Heaven forbid a student come across a photo of us drinking a glass of wine. Teachers have been fired for asking curriculum questions on the English Companion ning for heaven’s sake. It’s stupid.

  2. I have started a new blog, but have done it under a pseudonym. Although most things posted I would be happy to put my name to, I do not want to be in the position of having to hold something back in case the powers that be may be offended.
    http://chunkofwhim.blogspot.com/

  3. This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    I used to blog pretty prolifically. I wouldn’t blog about education, because I wasn’t yet tenured. I looked forward to tenure so that I could rant with immunity.

    Two years ago, however, things changed. My wife went to the hospital to have something removed, then the hospital made us take it home. It’s been chasing me around the house and calling me “Daddy” ever since. The result has been that I just didn’t have the time anymore to devote to doing blogging right.

    As far as education goes, I’ve got plenty on my mind. By the time I get home, however, take care of my family and all of the attendant responsibilities, then get some time to myself, I’m too tired to decide what to talk about. That’s why I love education blogs like this one. It takes a lot less effort to respond to prompting than it does to decide on your own what to talk about.

    Another thing is that, among educators, the technically proficient seem to still be among the minority. Even though everyone in my building was assigned a laptop computer and expected to use them five years ago, most of them don’t understand the basics of computing and wouldn’t even think about setting up their own blog. The general population of people who might blog, therefore, is pretty small to begin with.

    The worst part is that the general population as a whole is beginning to wake up and ask “What the fsck is going on in schools?”, and those best suited to answer that question, those who have been privately complaining for decades, are, for whatever reason, not speaking up.

    Sooner or later, there will be a reckoning. The consequences of the frauds perpetrated upon our schools will be too great to ignore anymore. It won’t be pleasant. It will, however, be interesting.

  4. Well, most working teachers don’t have that much free time. And, to be honest, the cases of teachers fired for online commentary/adult activities/whatever are scaring many of those who would like to blog.
    BTW, when I say adult activities, I mean drinking. None of that other frisky stuff.
    As a Yankee transplant to the South, I was amused by teachers worried about what parents and school boards would think if they were known to have a glass of wine. I always said, I’m a grown woman, and, if I want to have a drink, I will.
    Of course, I’m a science teacher, and, even in a time of fewer teacher jobs, there are science (and math) jobs, still. If the school let me go for such nonsense, I could easily find another job.
    Of course, teachers who blog shouldn’t get petty and settle scores in public. Our posts should focus on the major issues of our profession.
    On the other hand, I can certainly understand why a teacher would want to vent online. It does seem unfair to block any letting off steam in any venue. Do people not understand the lovely release that venting provides?

  5. I host a blog, and am now tying some of my work at the school to emgage in more blogging. My biggest issue is readership and consistency in a following. I pull no punches that I blog twice per week, but that is the time I can devote to it right now. I really do feel that it is important that we teachers get our ideas out there though (in a positive light) so teachers don’t get typecast as media or political portrayals may do at times.

  6. Obi-Wandreas writes:

    Sooner or later, there will be a reckoning. The consequences of the frauds perpetrated upon our schools will be too great to ignore anymore.

    As old Hem would say, it’s pretty to think so.

  7. Probably a resulting of coming to terms with the fact that putting your complaining into a new medium hasn’t changed a thing; you’re still ignored. Might as well limit your grousing to the teacher’s lounge and your significant other. Less time is wasted.

  8. palisadesk says:

    If teachers blog (or respond on blogs) in many districts they must do so in secure anonymity. Some interesting teacher blogs that seem to be successful in this include “P*ssed Off Teacher” and “Miss Brave Teaches NYC.” My district is one where a teacher can be summarily fired for publicly criticizing any district policy or curricula (of course posting pictures of oneself in compromising situations, or talking about students without concealing their identities, is just stupid).

    However, being “anonymous” limits the validity and impact of what one might have to say, so it does make one question how valuable the sharing of insights and analyses can be under such circumstances.

  9. I suppose I could be fired for my criticism of my district but I figure I’m too close to retirement to make it worth their efforts.

    Here’s online criticism I have for my school district:

    http://www.busd.info

  10. To respond to palisadesk,
    Were I to use my real name, I would have no more credibility that I do now but I’d have a lot more liability. I don’t want my students or administration to feel personally attacked or threatened or in any way singled out. Being anonymous allows for deniability on both sides.

    My opinions must stand on their own without the false gravitas of a name or degree.

    To respond to the article,
    Teachers blogs are dropping because of many of the reasons listed (liability chiefly). If you can’t be specific, then what?

    Also they are changing to Facebook, LJ and others and withdrawing behind privacy lines and other barriers. Material is still being posted but for smaller audiences and only for trusted readers.

    The focus for many teachers on these different social media is the same as for others on social media – personal, social and not public educational policy-based. Once you get teachers on social media, you can’t expect them to be any different from everyone else – and who among your friends really wants to hear your opinion on education when they’ve heard it many times? They want to see pictures of your new child.

    I also think that many have given up trying to change things or commenting on the state of education. They find themselves absorbing new ideas and lesson plan tactics, reading theorists like Meyer and Macleod, and reading GothamSchools. If there is something special or if someone is trying to lead a revolution (Macleod, e.g.) they’re still around and blogging. Otehrwise, teachers are shutting up, not making noticeable waves, keeping heads down, sticking to safe topics and trying to stay out of the rubber room and the unemploymant line.

    All this techno “share everything” “all open, all the time” sounds great in college. “In theory, theory and practice are the same.”

  11. I wonder why, for the most part, physicians don’t blog? Because many of their posts would break doc-patient confidentiality? Because it would be indiscreet? Because as true professionals they have little time for the tivial?

  12. Ex-PhysicsTeacher says:

    Physicians blogged before there were blogs. Before everyone became aware of the Internet it was the cyberworld of scientists, engineers, and, yes, some doctors. USENET back in the early 90s was a very informative place if you looked at sci.med or others. When everyone got in on the act the Net got polluted with porno and advertising. I’m guessing that any physician postings out there are limited to very closed spheres.

  13. It’s been a while since any post on education has peaked my interest. And any visitor to The Daily Grind will notice that I haven’t had much to say.
    But this post had me wondering, why haven’t I been posting.

    Much of the reason stems from what I realized was a growing trend of negativity in my tone. Whereas I began blogging to explore my experiences and explore the world of education, I had moved to complaining about the little things which were getting in the way of becoming better.
    I hope to get back to it. I hope to find that right tone that will be both honest and thought provoking.

  14. As someone who was formally reprimanded at Stanford for blogging–despite never identifying my students, never saying anything even remotely negative about students, and telling nothing but charming (no, really) little anecdotes about my students with no performance revelations–I tell all teachers to never blog. It could cost them their job. It might not, but there’s no way to know.

    So you have a world in which I wrote nothing bad, put it under password, and was still hounded to reveal the blog, and California Teacher Guy was threatened with his job, while the Not All Sausages chick is writing astonishingly nasty things about kids and parents and get a book deal.

    Ironically, a teacher could write an op-ed piece talking about students with impunity.

    Until there’s protection and a clear definition of what can and can’t be said, parents and principals hold complete sway over what’s allowed in any blog. Don’t do it.

    I live most of my life online, but I haven’t written a word about my public school teaching experiences since November of 2008.

  15. Ex-PhysicsTeacher says:

    >Um, you yourself have been posting the stories of teachers being >fired for what they put online. Heaven forbid a student come >across a photo of us drinking a glass of wine. Teachers have been >fired for asking curriculum questions on the English Companion >ning for heaven’s sake. It’s stupid.

    This is very much related to the fact that there’s a huge glut of teachers. While I was a teacher I felt as replaceable as a roll of toilet paper and that all my AP really needed was any old excuse to do it. One of my postings criticizing her wardrobe would likely have done the trick.

    Teachers themselves still continue to promote the idea that there’s a shortage of teacher in spite of no evidence to support this. They don’t seem to realize that they’re helping to manufacture their own replacements.

  16. I think teachers who blog about specific kids in a way that either the teacher and the kid can be ID’ed are too stupid to teach. Ms. Collins should have saved the snark for her FB page, set to private.

    And here’s Cathy Seipp’s daughter, Maia, on the teacher who blogged about her:
    http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/26129/I_Was_Cyberstalked_by_My_Teacher.html

  17. Maia’s stories, like her mother’s, always have elements that make them profoundly unbelievable–and at the same time, make it clear that she participated in the nuttiness. I’m sorry for Maia’s loss, of course, and to the extent her story is true and this whacko teacher wrote about her late mother, that’s just awful.

    But either she’s lying, the school was very much at fault, and/or the teacher’s completely insane. How is that in any way relevant to the issue of teacher blogging? He wasn’t even a teacher when he started the blog.

  18. Of course I help manufacture my own replacements. We call them student teachers. I take one on every other year or so.

    Although I agree that there is a teacher glut (and always has been in my particular area), I’m not sure the going after teachers who blog, etc. is entirely due to that. Some of it is fear/power consolidation, some of it is the teacher-as-nun idea, some of it is just the teachers themselves being young and making mistakes. When I blog about students, I do a lot of fictionalizing of identifiable details.

  19. I exchanged e-mail with Maia’s mother, Cathy Seipp, when she was trying to figure out what to do about the teacher. I think the man was crazy. He certainly attacked Maia and Cathy online. I think he posted an attack when she died.

  20. That’s really sad.

    Cathy’s daughter was being harassed by a teacher and she doesn’t take action directly, but tells her daughter to go to the principal. Cathy was a loving but hands off parent, so okay, that makes sense. But Maia, before she goes to the principal, blogs about it? Knowing the teacher reads her blog? And then she is an outcast? Her fellow students all side with the teacher? Really? He has a bunch of “friendly students” that all side with him, giving that he’s a creepy 50-year-old reading her blog aloud in class?

    I’m not saying none of this could be true. But doesn’t it strike you as incredibly weird? Which is why I always had trouble with Cathy’s tales of parenting and Maia’s situations. They raised more questions than they informed. I always had trouble with the idea that someone could publicize their story and then be upset if people didn’t instantly sympathize. Worse, any questions are clearly a sign that people are meeeeean. Don’t want the pushback? Write your story in an email to sympathetic friends.

    Rant over.

    Of course, what the guy did is hideous, no matter how odd I find Maia’s actions.

    But I return to the first point– I don’t see what this has to do with teacher blogging.

  21. I thought unions and the “status quo” made it impossible to fire teachers.

  22. Why don’t teachers blog?

    We’re too tired, our desks are piled up, and there’s too much other stuff to do. And that’s if you’re single. If you’re married with kids, forget it.

  23. I posted the link because hello! Trolldolls WAS Maia’s teacher and he blogged about her when he was teaching. It’s relevant. Ms. Collins is the milder version, but it’s the same issue.

    And Maia wasn’t lying, Cathy was hardly a hands-off parent, and yes, the teacher was insane. Ms. Collins is making the most of her 15 minutes–maybe she’ll get a book deal.

  24. I have over 5500 posts on my blog. Granted, it’s not *all* about teaching, but a goodly percentage of it is.

  25. John, no, it’s easy to fire teacher.

    It’s just not easy to fire them for incompetence.

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