How 10 minutes on Twitter reminds you that you’re awful and not trying hard enough

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.”

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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.

Never stop learning – Life after my master’s

At the risk of writing too in depth about how much I plan to write, I’m going to explain my plan to write more and the reasons for it.

The primary reason I started a blog early on in my career is that many educators that I encountered on the internet via social media maintained blogs. These were frequently deep wells of resources and insights into the teaching profession from which I gained much. A recurring theme on the purpose of these blogs was reflection, and I see now that this is a form of deliberate practice for educators. It keeps reflection purposeful and useful, going beyond sitting at your desk at the end of the school day wondering what just happened and what the hell you’re supposed to take from it (e.g. how I spent many afternoons in my first couple years).

But ever since I started getting into the Internet I’ve enjoyed putting my thoughts out “there”. I used the “notes” feature in Facebook frequently (which nobody else really used and I’m not even sure exists anymore), including a time that I posted a term paper I wrote in college to see what people thought.

I can’t explain why I enjoy the process of creating something and putting it out in the open. But I guess I do and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter. I like it so I’m going to do more of it.

I could end the post there I suppose. One of the purposes of this post was to pin down my reasons for changing my approach to my blog/site. Having done that, I’ll briefly explain the changes I plan to make.

Change

I’ve avoided consistently writing/posting/sharing/reflection for a number of reasons but time is the main one. In the last five years I’ve had a child, got a dog, taught a college class, taught every high school math class we offer, sat on school improvement teams, presented at conferences, and coached quiz bowl. Oh, I also earned my Master’s in education technology. Not that this is unlike many young teachers, but it didn’t leave much time to work on my blog.

Now that I’ve graduated there are a few things I hope to accomplish with my site.

First, I want to increase posting frequency. I want to continue my weekly recap post. I plan on making it a bit shorter but I think there’s value in that post for me and possibly for others (see last week’s here). In this post I sum up a few of the things I’ve been reading, learning, listening to, and thinking about over the previous week. It’s good for my learning and maybe provides a nice curation of interesting stuff for others.

Second, I want to post some sort of reflection/idea/thought once a week. Topics will likely frequently be about education but I’m allowing them to veer away from it as well (you’ll see why in the upcoming post “Not letting my career define me”). I’m calling these “Backpages”. If your curious as to why, you can read about that here. I also hope to explore some more creative mediums for these.

Third, I want to do more researched posts on topics in education. I’ve found that many of the things I believed, especially before getting my master’s, I didn’t know that much about. Too much of the information that contributed to my beliefs was from sound bites on Twitter or short blog posts. I learned a great deal from the in depth research I had to do for my master’s. The purpose of these larger posts is to help me more deeply explore topics, but also to provide a post to other people that goes deeper than the typical reflection blog.JPEG image-09FB6197890C-1

Ultimately I hope to more effectively contribute to the conversations around education. I want to be a resource for other teachers that are trying to navigate the noise that is social media.

Also, I love writing. On mornings that I know I’ll be writing I wake up before my alarm. So, I’ll also be writing more because I simply love to do it. I view this as a form of deliberate practice to improve my writing.

I’d love to hear feedback, positive or negative, from you as I begin posting with more frequency. That’s the only way that I’ll get better.