Give Twitter a Chance

fear of twitterI have to admit, when I first heard of Twitter I thought it was just a place for people to gossip. When I first logged in, I felt like I got a dose of TMI facebook status messages on steroids. There was too much information that I DIDN’T want to read and hard to sift through all the mess to find things I DID want to read. Then I switched my Twitter account to “private” hoping that meant it would be easier to filter out what I didn’t want to read. Eventually, I stopped using Twitter, and stuck with my Facebook account where I could block nonsense and friend people who really mattered to me. What I didn’t understand was that Twitter and Facebook are two very different entities.

I love Facebook. It has brought me closer to friends and family members that I never had much of a chance to get to know growing up. Being deaf, I always felt as if I was missing out on much of the world–my whole life was a big “nevermind” when people couldn’t find the patience to communicate with me. Facebook has allowed me to share my world with those closest to me and for me to catch a glimpse of worlds I missed out on.

I have been begging a fellow tech-savvy colleague of mine to join me on Twitter. She doesn’t “get” the hullabaloo. What’s the big deal about Twitter? In looking for a good way to explain it to her, I developed this analogy: Facebook is like attending a reunion, Twitter is like attending a conference. Facebook is you, inside, letting as much or as little of the world into your neck of the woods. Twitter is you getting out of the house and joining the party. You don’t go to a party just to shut yourself in a room with a few select people trading Pinterest recipes and talking about the crappy instagram pictures you all took of your kids. Hence, making a private Twitter account is worthless. If you want privacy or intimacy, stick with Facebook.

Now that I’ve been on Twitter a bit more, I understand that I can choose which parties to attend (hashtags), zoom in on people who are making waves (@mentions) and strike up conversations “near” those people in a way that grabs their attention (RTs or multi-@mentions). You just have to find the right people to follow and the right hashtags to use. I’m developing a digital footprint that puts me on the map. I’m starting to make a contribution to my profession. Most importantly, I’m developing a network of professionals that continually feed my growth as an educator. This past fall I was ready to turn in my letter of resignation and don the blue Walmart apron. I was sinking fast and becoming burnt out. I also felt very frustrated and alone. Through Twitter, I have found myself and a new love for teaching.

On Twitter I found @ajoycetb and @naomishema who have invited me and my students to become global friends.  I found @guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl who make the world of teaching English through #coflip model seem highly attainable. I found @johntspencer and his blog always willing to openly and candidly discuss the more difficult aspects of the teaching profession. I found @techsavvyed who has simplified my use of technology by demonstrating true integration.   Cheryl, Andrew, Ben, and John have also ignited my inner writer (hence this blog) by being so open in their reflection of their teaching practices; they have reminded me why personal and professional reflection is important. There are so many wonderful teachers sharing on Twitter. There are also plenty of administrators giving us their side of the coin. I’m coming out of my shell and I no longer feel alone.

I recommend to all Twitter newbies that you start off by attending a “chat”. Some of my favorite chats are #engchat, #rechat, #flipclass and #txed. You can go to a site like tweetchat.com, type in your hash tag and simply follow along with the conversation. If you feel up to it, join in. Hash tag chats are a great way to find people to follow. If you want more people to follow you, then you’ve got to offer them something. Share links, swap quotes, retweet content.

I think teachers who are not yet connected are really missing out. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from my Twitter PLN (professional learning network). People post so much valuable information and share plenty of innovative ideas. Finding my way around Twitter has lead to the best professional development I have ever experienced. It has allowed me to embrace the failures and share my experiences with the world. So, give Twitter a chance; you might just find that coming to the party is a lot more fun than swapping Pinterest recipes!

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Broadening your Perspective

mainTwitter has made it possible for me to communicate with a wide variety of people from all over the globe in a fairly accessible environment.  On Twitter, you get to design yourself the way you’d like to be seen.  It’s great fun and often very liberating; however, it has a way of making reality look a little gloomy.

One thing I have been very open about on Twitter is the fact that I am Deaf.  I use American Sign Language as my primary means of communication, although I consider English to be my first language.  I’m proud of my accomplishments and I rarely consider myself disabled.  It’s only when the veil is lifted off my Twitter world and I attempt a bit of real-world collaboration that I am “disabled,” and it’s not because of my deafness, but rather because those around me find it difficult to shift perspective.

I attended #TCEA13 conference last week and enjoyed most of it very much!  However, a few workshops left me feeling angry and frustrated.  I hate being patronized.  I hate walking into a room flanked by interpreters and garnering eyes.  I hate people coming up to me asking me if I know Braille.  I hate sitting at a table alone because no one wanted to work with the “deaf girl.”  I ended up ditching a workshop smack in the middle of group work (which wasn’t a group unless you counted my interpreters) so that I could find a seat amidst a crowd rather than sit up front where it was clear I was the “deaf girl.”  I came to the conference hoping to be considered an equal, not a zoo exhibit.  Unfortunately, being made into a spectacle was my same experience in high school.  Haven’t we grown up since then?

Seriously, it’s time to grow up.  The world is full of people who aren’t your shape, size, color, or flavor.  This is an opportunity for you to reconfigure your understanding of the world.

As I rant, I think about my students and their experiences in other schools.  Many of them transferred to my school after attending a mainstream program.  They come to my school to feel like an equal and not so “special.”  In my class, students aren’t flanked by interpreters.  They can sit wherever they want.  They participate in groups and may decide they don’t want to work with some other students, but it’s not because those students are deaf.  Students participate in all aspects of school: sports, clubs, after school activities, without having to constantly overcome the hurdle of being the “deaf kid” and having to explain to hearing people what language access means.  They get to be student council president, athlete of the month,  cheerleading captain and/or valedictorian.  However, our school is considered the most restrictive option for deaf students and is often a last resort.

As much as we Deaf try to shirk the label “disabled” it is what the world around us sees.  Mainstream schools need to have a major paradigm shift, and that shift needs to start with its teachers.  Teachers need to start taking a more “universal design” approach to their lessons.  They need to consider how accessible their content is to all types of students.  If you approach learning as providing a set of pathways for students to choose, adding a deaf student or any other “disabled” student to your class should not dramatically change the way you teach.   All students are capable of learning, and they are capable of thriving if the environment is right.  We need to focus on accessibility and design, not on the disability itself. It’s not, “oh, my student is deaf and can’t hear.  How can I give him/her access to sound?” It should be, “hmmm my student requires access to a visual language.  How can I incorporate this into my lessons so that all students expand their visual literacy?”  It’s not “I have a student in a wheelchair, how can I set up space for him to work?” It should be, is my classroom designed for all students to move about freely and access what they need?”

If we as teachers set up a classroom without barriers and in which all students are equals, then perhaps students will begin to see each other as equals as well.

Hi, my name is Jo…

Here I am with more struggles and admissions of guilt :).  I read a really interesting post here.  The author gives a very candid look at teacher development/improvement and reflects on why many of us don’t really improve our teaching, but instead do what I would call “Extreme Makeover The Hell Out of” our practices.  We try new things, add new technology, beef up our professional development attendance, get a Twitter account, blog, join a Facebook or Twitter group for the good-humored abuse of hashtags all in the name of collaboration.  BUT while we are busy dressing the bulldog in haute couture, how often do we stop to recognize that it is still a bulldog in haute couture?!  That’s my year so far–a big fat ugly bulldog dressed in dazzling silver sequins and patent-leather cherry red Jimmy Choos (there is just something about red patent-leather that grabs my attention).

The author encourages teachers to take a good, hard look at their practices and do more honest reflection about the what, why and how of teaching.  He says that improvement requires HARD work.  Not the #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawriteanincrediblylonghashtag kind of hard, but the kind of HARD that makes you feel like that awkward first year teacher who combs through every crossed t and dotted i in a lesson plan, wets her pants at the sight of an administrator or master teacher entering her classroom, goes home and cries into her pillow with a bucket of fried chicken and declares that she is absolutely the worst teacher in the world, and yet goes in 2 hours before school starts to set up her classroom, create handcrafted materials, and double check those crossed t’s and dotted i’s and braces herself for another day of struggles.

Lately, I’ve been remembering my first 3-5 years of teaching and I agree with Mr. Pershan.  I can honestly say that I was a better teacher during those first 5 years than I am currently (working on year 7).

I recently sat with a colleague and expressed to her my dismay at being unable to pinpoint WHY I’m struggling to the point of drowning this year.  I was given an extra prep this year to help with planning for a heavy load (I’m teaching English at every grade level 9-12th with a wide variety of ability levels 2nd grade-post secondary), I passed off my position as ELA chair to someone more experienced, and I’m at school for nearly 10-12 hours a day most days and yet I still can’t “Get things done.”  I’m not creating phenomenal lesson plans, I’ve hardly touched my iPads this year, I’m barely getting my gradebook up to date, and I frequently have days where I just sit in my car and cry.

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I’d like to introduce myself.  Hi, my name is Jo, I got a husband and kid and I work in a “Button factory” one day, my Boss comes to me and says, “Jo, are ya busy?”  “I say no!” “Then push the button with your right hand”…hi, my name is Jo….

Remember that song?  It goes on for as many body parts as Joe-Schmo can manage to use to push all these endless and sometimes pointless buttons.  That’s my year.  Pushing buttons is not hard.  Pushing hundreds of buttons with body parts that rarely see the light of day is #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawritealonghashtag hard BUT it is not going to make me a better teacher.  It will not make Joe a better employee.  In fact, it makes him a schmuck.

We as teachers need to learn to take the “simple things” and learn to do them WELL.  Learn to do them so well that people start to realize that these “simple things” really aren’t that simple; that they take quite a bit of skill and expertise.  It’s not about how MUCH you do, but how WELL you do it.  Think about the teachers that you looked up to when you were an intern.  My observing teacher was fantastic at connecting with students.  I don’t remember ever lauding over her lesson plans, or her use of technology in the classroom.  I do remember being awestruck to see her strip off her shoes and race her students barefoot to the cafeteria, hellbent on beating them. It’s a skill that I still have not managed to master (BOTH connecting with students and stripping off my shoes to run barefoot to the cafeteria)  but may be the one simple thing that I need to perfect in order to improve my teaching.  By establishing a personal connection with each student, she was able to get these kids to idolize her and cooperate even on their toughest days.  You could see that she personally cared about each and every one of her students and that each student KNEW that she cared.  They trusted her and loved her.

Now, that does not mean I need to attend a plethora of professional development workshops on the “back to basic” skills of teaching, nor do I need to find a twitter group to vent all my frustrations to in a fury of hashtag bombs.  What I need, want, and miss most of all is a mentor to share resources, provide feedback, and help me evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  I need a mentor I trust and look up to within my profession–not an administrator giving feedback for evaluation purposes.  But first, I need to take the damn Jimmy Choos off the dog and admit that it’s SO not working!

So, I may be Jo Schmuck this year, but I’m going to at least admit it and attempt to work harder on perfecting simplicity.