The push back against teacher bloggers has begun

Let me share with you a bit of my personal story to explain why I am going into teaching. It’s a long and meandering tale, but bear with me. Many moons ago, 29 years to be precise, I applied to study history at university. My sister before me had, heeding parental advice, studied economics and thoroughly hated the experience. Her advice to me was, choose a subject you enjoy above all else and don’t worry about what career you will have afterwards. My parents and uncles were predictably dismayed by my choice. “What are you going to do with a history degree, become a teacher?” they asked in disapproving tones. I hate to say it but teaching was not seen as a prestigious enough profession.

I stuck to my guns and read history, for which I have no regrets at all. I loved it. Best subject ever. But I did not go into teaching. The next quarter of a century (yes, I’m a bit ancient) was spent doing various different jobs, much of that time on a self-employed basis. I loved the freedom of doing things my way and not having to answer to any boss but myself. There were ups and downs, successes and failures, and lots of changes in direction. My siblings used to tease me that I started a new business every 3 or 4 years.

By far my most important project, however, was that of motherhood. I came to it relatively late and it changed me, clichéd as this might sound. I can’t say I was an unduly selfish or flighty individual before, but the responsibility of caring for and shaping a new life, was huge. I noticed something else too. A new world of empathy opened up before me, not just for my own child but for all children. Watching news of children being bombed in Gaza or washed up on the Mediterranean gained extra poignancy because these children could be my child. Nothing quite grounds you and connects you with the world than having a child – at least, that was my experience. As an aside, I do wonder if there was a grain of truth in Andrea Leadsom’s assertion that being a mother gave her an edge over Theresa May. I’m no supporter of Leadsom’s politics, however, given where we are today, I find myself asking the question. Would our PM have done things differently, understood and empathised with her electorate more fully, if she had experienced motherhood? It’s a tantalising and slightly taboo thing to ask, and I don’t claim to have the answer.

In my new reality of being a fully engaged mother, it’s natural that I would take an interest in my son’s education. Our house is literally round the corner from an Ofsted “Outstanding” primary school and, having read the glowing report, this is where I decided to enrol my precious offspring. Our subsequent experience at the school is much of the reason why I’ve come to have little faith in Ofsted judgements, though I welcome the change in direction that seems to be occurring under Amanda Spielman. How could a school be considered outstanding when the following things were happening:

  • Bullying
  • Constant disruptive behaviour in class
  • The responsibility for teaching a class distributed across several teachers (my son has one teacher on Mondays and Tuesdays, another teacher on Wednesdays, and yet another on Thursdays and Fridays).
  • Following up from the above point, there’s a very high turnover of teachers, to the extent that none of the teachers in each of the 4 forms in Reception and Year 1 when my son was going through those years, are still there now.
  • Ability grouping which is based, less on a child’s raw talent and more on how much that child has been hot-housed at home. Even worse, after the initial streaming occurred in Year 1, the differences in attainment between each ability grouping have widened, not the opposite. In effect, some children have had a ceiling put on how much they can achieve.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Something was terribly wrong for an outstanding school to short-change its pupils to this extent. As a well educated, empowered mother, I fought for my son’s best interests. I tutored him at home, I spoke to the school teachers and leaders, I did everything to make sure, not just that he got moved to the top set, but that whatever shortcomings at school were made up for at home. At the same time, and here is where my newly extended empathy came into play, I couldn’t stop thinking about those other children, not as privileged as mine. Those kids whose mothers couldn’t even speak English well enough to ensure their child did as well as mine. I saw them in the playground, vulnerable and hopeful, wanting the best for their child but not having the wherewithal to game the system like I could. I tell you, nothing has made me more ashamed of being middle class than standing in that playground and seeing the way those social differences increased the disadvantages of some children.

The spark had been lit, the fire was stoked. I wanted to know more about what was happening in our education system. I read articles in the papers and books, and then the Internet opened up a whole new world for me. I started by reading one teacher’s blog, then another, and then another. Ideas were being shared, bounced around the community and refined or refuted by others. It felt alive, vibrant and full of hope. I don’t know at what point I began to think about teaching as a career for myself, but I do know that I would not have seriously contemplated it were it not for the multitude of teacher voices that convinced me that change could happen.

Lately, I have sensed a change in our Edu-Twitter community. Some teachers, disillusioned with the bullying behaviour of a strident minority, have decided to or are considering leaving Twitter. There has been a definite push back against that unique and independent teacher voice being expressed. Get back into your box, don’t presume to know what’s what, don’t listen to teachers that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Opinions and honest experience are disparaged because there isn’t evidence-based research. The very thing that is inspiring people like me, people who have so much to contribute to education, is being cut down by what I can only assume are vested interests or just people who feel threatened by change.

Well I will not be silenced. I think I have valid things to say and insights to share. You may not agree with my ideas. No problem, it’s a free world supposedly we live in. Plurality of opinion is good, as long as people are respected and not abused. You may get me to change my mind about things if you engage me on the arguments and not make things personal. I want to carry on reading about what other teachers are doing in their classrooms or whatever philosophical thoughts they may have. Please don’t silence them either. Someone suggested yesterday that teacher bloggers are intimidating other teachers by presenting their best face and not showing their weak sides. I would dispute this. Many of my favourite bloggers are painfully honest about their experiences, warts and all. But that’s beside the point. Teachers should feel free to write about what they want to write about, and not feel that they have to present a balanced picture (we are not the BBC!)

One more thing. ITTs and PGCE tutors don’t need to fear that teacher bloggers are stepping on their toes in any way. On the contrary, the online edu-sphere presents an opportunity for everyone to join in the conversation and benefit from the knowledge/experience of other practitioners. That cross-fertilisation of ideas can only be a good thing. And I have seen great instances where academia and teachers have come together in this way. Just yesterday for instance, Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the university of Virginia, referenced well-known teacher bloggers in an article he wrote. So let’s get this straight folks, there is nothing to be gained by muzzling teachers.

N.B. The above paragraph was updated after I noticed some tutors on Twitter had misunderstood my meaning. I hope the above clarifies and puts any misunderstandings to rest.

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  1. Brian

    Good for you HistoryLover, I hope you are able to make the sort of impact that you see as possible. I wish you every sucess and reading the post did suggest that you certainly have both the enthusiasm and commitment to make a difference.

    Unlike yourself, I am on thr brink of leaving the profession as I rapidly approach retirement (which is more likely to turn out to be semi-retirement). The following are my view of my reflections of 20 years in teaching (note I do not refer to teaching as a profession). No 2 teachers I have ever come across agree on everything, as is my experience with spouses.

    1 All students are different as are all teachers

    2 Subject expertise does not necessarily bring teaching competency although a lack of subject knowledge has the oppostite effect

    3 The UK Education system is funded from taxes and there will never be enough public funding to educate the whole population to A/A* at A level at public expense (see HE for similar)

    4 Different teachers achieve their teaching aims in different ways based upon students, their own personality and cognitive traits, content and teaching environment

    5There will always be those who will claim the system is against the, this is mainly those who are unable to be flexible and alter their teaching approach to circumstances and these people tend to have less teaching opportunities

    6 Teaching is a complex issue and there is a stack of research out there in various fields which most will read, many will try to use and a few will call you unprofessional when you don’t apply their favoured research or textbook

    7 There are one or two twitter evangelists who believe they have the answers and that their approach is the best and only way. These people have unwavering confidence in their skill and knowledge even when. Some change their favourites every week, others never.

    8 Information Technology (including VR) is already having an impact on the teaching/learning process both in and out of school. This will be the main factor influencing the way the job develops over the next 20 years.

    9 OFSTED reflections are of little use to anyone other than Government when trying to justify policy and expenditure. I have recently seen a school graded outstanding whose teachers boast that children “vomit in the toilets” as a result of not wantig to fall behind.

    10 It is easy to think that twitter represents the majority of teacher views but nothing could be further from the truth. Those with real influence and expertise tend to use those in the real world with individual students.Some introverted tweeters use twitter to gain a voice, some simply want to tell people the truth, some wish to discuss issues and learn and some just log on for some entertainment and a bit of a laugh. If you wish to make a difference, do so in your own way, with individual children, in ways that you find work for yourself and them.

    11 The trends to be seen across the UK among middle and working class people reflect the changing nature of geo-politics and power across the globe

    Best of luck History lover, the only other things I would say are ensure you continue to enjoy your subject and go forth and educate. You are a brave person and I get the feeling you will be a fine educator.

    1. historylover

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and good luck with the retirement!

  2. Debra Kidd

    Best of luck with your new career. We’re of a similar age and I know that your life experiences will be of great benefit to you when you teach. Part way through my 23 years in the classroom, I spent five as an ITT tutor. Many of my students, like you, were ‘mature’ and had been drawn in as parents of young children. They became brilliant teachers – it was the highlight of my working week to go in and watch them teaching and many of us are still in touch. And remember, twitter is not as divided as some like to think. We’re united in wanting the best for children, and in the words of Jo Cox, have more in common than that which divides us.

    1. historylover

      Thank you for your kind comment. We may not agree on all things but I’m sure we do have more in common than that which divides us, chief amongst them our desire to see our students thrive. I am not, nor have ever been, the type of person to get into tribal wars on Twitter or anywhere else. I have formed views on certain issues, which I like to write about on my blog. I am open to debate on these views, as long as it is done respectfully. I have been dismayed, however, with the tone and content of some tweets I have received lately, especially following your retweet of my blog. Accusations of peddling untruths, whipping up hatred and building up a following based on aggression and lies are so far from the truth, as anyone who reads my blogs can see.

      There have also been a lot of belittling comments relating to the last paragraph of my blog, which willfully misunderstand the message I am trying to convey. Mainly, that there is no need for university or ITT tutors to feel that teacher bloggers are stepping on their toes in any way, and on the contrary that they can benefit from this teacher voice and join the conversation.

      1. Debra Kidd

        I’d take it with a pinch of salt to be honest. I imagine that ITT tutors (and I was one for a while) were a little bemused that someone thought they didn’t see lessons. I doubt they were trying to belittle you any more than you were trying to belittle them. I’m not sure what the other comment is – I didn’t realise I had retweeted your blog – I’ll have a look and see. Deep breaths. There will always be debate to be had and it’s really easy to feel that some comments are attacks – I sometimes have to go away for a walk after I publish a blog. But on the whole, it’s a lively, informative and exciting place to be on edu twitter and will be a great source of information for you. Anyway, all the best.

  3. Margaret Bernard

    I think the issue is how to debate online as the written words unaccompanied by non verbal cues of respect and consideration are not apparent. People take what’s written down as very definite whereas debate in person can have a more wondering tone. Having said that there are some bloggers who I imagine might be as pedantic in person as they come across in writing. I suppose it’s like anything written anywhere if you are happy to put it our there then you have to be willing to take take the feedback both the critical and the constructive.

    1. historylover

      Thank you for your comment. I think I have demonstrated already that I am willing to take feedback.

  4. My PhD is focused on blogs written by the Edu-community, and I know from all the blogs I’ve come across during the course of my data-gathering that there’s a whole swathe of them out there that are a priceless source of inspiration, support and information to all teachers.
    I think this whole bullying thing that’s happening on Twitter a) isn’t quite as bad as some make out, and b) a phase that will pass. The profession is undoubtedly in crisis, and the continuing pay freeze which was voted for today will just make things worse. People always become combative when they feel threatened, and teachers are no exception. Certain individuals do tend to stir up bad feeling, but, in the end, Edu-Twitter is no different from any school playground in that regard.
    Keep blogging, and keep on Twitter. My research has made it crystal clear (not that I needed it – I was a teacher before I left to do a PhD and I found social media incredibly supportive) that they both have so much to offer the community.
    Finally, as a communication medium, 140 characters are a bit rubbish. Even a blog has its limitations. Keep up the good work!

    1. historylover

      Thanks for commenting Sarah, sounds like an interesting PhD you’re doing.

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