There’s a trap that’s easy to fall into as a “connected educator” as demonstrated by the experience I describe below.
Early on in my teaching career I realized that the internet contained a tremendous number of resources. I also realized that the helpfulness of many of them was debatable. For instance, when I Googled “interesting ways to teach slope intercept form” and the first hit was Purplemath and the second hit was Khan Academy I realized flaws in my approach. Thankfully I discovered great educators on social media, at the same time discovering that many of them blogged and shared their resources, thoughts, and ideas.
Real teachers that created actual activities, tried them, and then gave advice along with their reflections.
The first few years this was awesome. I frequently read other teachers’ blogs, tried their activities, and interacted on Twitter with them. I started making my own activities, shared them, and grew as a teacher.
But sometime in the last year my mindset towards Twitter shifted. This happened especially late at night, when I was working on some mundane grad school assignment, and my average number of hours of sleep was approaching the highest number my daughter could count to at the time (which was 4).
I’d scroll my Twitter feed and just get angry. I’d see people that shared a resource, I’d read it and think, “man why didn’t I think of that” and then that person would put up something amazing the next day. I’d see people having daily in-depth conversations about complex ideas in education. I’d see people in Twitter chats dropping 140 character manifestos or 38 tech tools you need to use right now.
It was a constant bombardment of the good stuff other people were doing that I didn’t have time to do. Here’s a taste of what I’d regularly find in my feed.
- Educators attending conferences
- A teacher tweeting about a webinar they just attended
- Worse, a teacher that put on a webinar
- A better _________ activity over ___________ than what I’d created
- A tweet reminding me of the problems with direct instruction, typically after a day in which I’d lectured every hour
- A tweet about the latest education fad (why hadn’t I heard of that before?)
- An image of students doing something awesome
And so on.
After seeing variations of the above, I’d typically see a tweet that went something like this:
“I teach in a project-based, standards-based, gamified, flipped, modeling, choice-oriented, maker driven, discovery driven, UDL, MTSS, CCSS, SAMR, TPACK, MDE, NCAA, SMH, LOL, classroom in which I give students 20% of class time to work on something they’re passionate about.”
The more time I spent on social media the angrier I became. Didn’t all these people have full time jobs, families, classes, staff meetings, non-staff meetings, difficult students, and a stack of papers to grade thicker than than my college calculus textbook?
What I came to realize was that yes, some of them did have all of these things. Some of them didn’t. But I remembered a fundamental truth about social media which is that people generally share the most positive aspects of their lives, personal or professional. My Twitter feed was the aggregation of everybody’s best stuff.
Just like I designed it to be.
My real problem was that I was jealous of educators that were doing better things than me. Jealous that other teachers came to realizations before I did. Jealous that I wasn’t contributing.
I was looking at every educator and mentally placing them “ahead” of me or “behind” me.
And that is foolish.
Education is not a competition. It’s like many things in life that we tend to turn competitive that shouldn’t be. The focus for educators should be growth. To move forward from where you are today and improve a bit tomorrow.
I’ll share a few things that helped me when I was in this situation or whenever I feel myself wondering into that mindset.
Remember that it really is about growth
This is probably most important. People are sharing their best stuff because we all get better when we share and collaborate. Although it sometimes seems like people are subconsciously trying one-up you, that’s likely not the case. They’re sharing things they’re proud of, as they should.
Get off social media for a while
Yeah. Just stay away. I found I wasn’t getting anything from being on it, except frustrated. So I stayed away for a while, checking in as infrequently as possible. If something in your life consistently brings you down, try to stay away from it.
Vent to somebody
Man, it felt good to complain out loud. I’m sure there’s some sort of psychological research backing this up but from experience I know that being able to verbalize my frustrations cooled me off. My wife can also attest to this.
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of feeling like you’re not doing enough. You’re not reading enough. You’re not writing enough. You haven’t interacted enough. You’re not innovative enough. You’re not creative enough. And on and on and on…
Enough is what you decide it is. If that bar is set too high then it’s okay to lower it. We’re all just trying to get a little better each day.