A New School of Bloggers

A growing number of teachers all over the world are expressing their views but most do it anonymously
Jennifer Radcliffe

blog
After long days of grading papers and disciplining unruly children, a growing number of tech-savvy teachers are creating online journals to vent about the stresses of the profession.

Educators who have already embraced the technology – called blogs – find themselves walking a fine, virtual line of conduct. They strive to entertain and inform, but cannot violate their school districts’ ethics, policies or federal laws designed to protect students’ confidentiality.

Most teachers who blog have opted to do so underground – refusing to cite their names, workplaces or other identifying details – to avoid potential professional pitfalls.

“School administrators tend to be pretty vindictive and they don’t like people with different ideas from them. People who speak out are not regarded very highly,” said Mike in Texas, an elementary school science teacher from East Texas, who started an online diary two years ago as a way of defending public education.

Teachers, initially slow to try out the medium, are publishing blogs at rapidly increasing rates – partly because they see the online journals as a way to have their opinions heard, experts say.

“Teachers’ public voices have less and less currency in the education market with respect to deciding what benefits children,” said Michele Knobel, an education professor at Montclair State University inNew Jersey. “Blogs can become a forum for voicing frustration with the ongoing de-professionalisation of teaching and the sidelining of teacher wisdom and experience.”

The number of blogs about “teaching” or “teachers” tracked by Technorati.com has jumped 10 per cent in less than six months to nearly 950. LiveJournal, one of the most popular blogging sites, lists about 415 chat communities interested in teaching.

A delicate balance
Libby Nicole Ingrassia, a techie-turned-teacher, admits that most of her co-workers are far behind the blogging curve. The first-year KIPP Houston High School teacher has been blogging since 2000.

“Most teachers here might be aware of blogging, but only on the peripheral,” said Ingrassia, who keeps a blog called Notesgirl. Still, she said she expects to see a rise in both the number of teachers who keep personal blogs and the number who use blogs to communicate with students about assignments.

Though Ingrassia is open about her blog, most teachers aren’t willing to reveal their identities. They say they’re afraid of getting fired, upsetting their co-workers or violating federal laws that protect their students’ confidentiality.

In the cyber world, these teachers pour their thoughts out under screen names like “Bud the Teacher,” “Hip Teacher” and “Cool Cat Teacher.”

Some teacher-bloggers predict that their districts may soon draft rules outlining what employees can and can’t say online.

A right to blog
“While the district does not have the authority to prevent district employees from subscribing to these types of applications from their homes or from exercising their rights to free speech, employees are held accountable for adhering to the state code of ethics for educators,” wrote Lenny Schad, Katy school district’s deputy superintendent for information and technology services.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said districts can’t restrict teachers from commenting on public matters. They can, however, forbid teachers from revealing students’ identities or from using taxpayer resources for personal pursuits.

“They have an absolute right to blog,” Fallon said. “Just not on school time, not on school computers – even if it’s lunch, it’s still a school computer.”

While talking about unidentified students isn’t yet addressed in policy, most teachers said they have the good sense to avoid bad-mouthing the youngsters they teach.

“Mr. AB,” a young elementary school teacher in San Jose, California, admits to originally using his blog to vent about students. He said he’s now found a better subject-matter balance for his blog, called “The Trenches.”

‘Free therapy’
“Ms. H,” a 35-year-old high school teacher in the Fort Worth area who keeps a blog called Molding Young Minds, said she gets pretty personal about her experiences, telling readers about a former student who she’s taken under her wing.

She said she got hefty criticism on her blog when some readers thought she crossed a line by giving students rides home. The teacher said she usually appreciates the feedback from fellow teachers across the country.

“It’s free therapy,” she said. “It’s turned out to be really useful for venting and thinking through stuff.”

If you, as a teacher, are an avid blogger, please write to us about your experience.

Some blogs by educators:

  • Libby Nicole Ingrassia at www.notesgirl.com
  • John Pearson at learnmegood2.blogspot.com/
  • “Mike in Texas“ at educationintexas.blogspot.com/
  • “Ms. H“ at moldingyoungminds.blogspot.com/

© 2007 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.