For four years, I tweeted and blogged under a pseudonym. This is my story, as well as some things I learned along the way. I hope people find it enlightening.
Part 1. The Rationale and How Most Teachers Use Twitter
Like it or loathe it, we as teachers are limited in how we can engage with social media. Our Twitter timelines, Facebook status updates are something we need to use with caution and pause, lest people in the community discover something on one of those profiles that would be hard to explain. I’m not talking here about personal relationship related activity necessarily – I’m speaking about views. Whether it be particular political views, views on morality, sometimes having a view on various issues can put us at odds with community expectations we didn’t knew existed until after we have triggered some kind of response.
The problem that lay with teachers therefore is that we don’t really engage with social media with the depth or sophistication of many in the community. The way teachers seem to work with social media can be summarised thus:
- Discussing learning and teaching related issues
- Some reference to our personal life, but little outside the “I’m enjoying shopping / coffee / I’m on the train” variety
- Some views on teaching and politics, but usually nothing overly controversial.
- Getting together during an evening and chatting about issues gathered around a particular hashtag, such as #ozeduchat or suchlike.
As a result of this, my timeline of teacher tweeps is often pretty quiet – almost dead – especially when there’s breaking news or some kind of Twitter storm in the morning or afternoon. Even during most evenings, there isn’t a lot of activity.
There’s a number of reasons for this, I suspect
- Teachers are usually with their own families or marking or some such during my afternoon commute – and are never on during my morning commute. (There aren’t many out there who catch a train to school like I do, it seems.)
- Most teachers don’t tweet very much at all. They will engage with the hashtag chats, but that’s about it
- There are many in schools who look down on regular, frequent tweeters – “how do you have the time to do that” is a common insult, inferring that teachers are doing something unimportant while the accuser is busy doing IMPORTANT things (like watching The Bachelor or MasterChef, which would be their next topic of conversation). This kind of attitude would stop some teachers from engaging.
- Daily routines didn’t include frequent social interaction with others, and many are reluctant to change their habits
The almost inevitable result has been that many of the ideas expressed on such hashtags have not changed all that much for the last 4 years. It’s also been interesting to talk to teachers off line about perceptions of those who tweet frequently. It’s a fairly divisive issue. You won’t see teachers online live tweeting their reactions to things, for example, like #TheBachelorAU, #Masterchef or a current political news story. They are probably anticipating the inevitable “gee you tweet a lot” implied insult for work colleagues.
One of the problems therefore is that while we as teachers can engage with other teachers on Twitter, we don’t get a picture of the wider world. We, on the whole, don’t pick up on new ideas, ways of communicating, the latest ideas. Our students, however, are doing that. They are engaging on social media in ways that are frequently changing and evolving. They are making mistakes, learning, growing, picking up communication habits that we as teachers aren’t, because we are choosing set times to engage on a limited level. We should be able to go out into the world and do all of those things, to pick up exactly what things our students know that we don’t. It’s easy to pick up, for example, the confusion of most teachers whenever memes, trending topics and Buzzfeed are mentioned. (Then comes the inevitable “Ah, what the kids like. Who has time to work out what they like?)
I didn’t start the pseudonym in order to do these things – I’m not all that wise. I did it because I was angry at the lies being told on Twitter about the Building the Education Revolution (BER) and the Digital Education Revolution (DER) policies of the Rudd Government. I wanted to correct the statements being frequently made on the #auspol hashtag. I quickly realised that my teacher account was not the thing to be using for that purpose. So, like a lot of others on #auspol, I chose a pseudonym. And got stuck in. It was after that I started to learn about how Twitter was working outside teacher circles. But that’s for the next post…
Part 2 – How to Build a Following List and Get Noticed