Facebook, Insta, and Twitter,
Addictions that make my heart flitter.
You reveal aspirations that cause me to long,
And reminders of all the things I do wrong.
Just stop scrolling? Heck, no, I’m not a quitter.
Thank you for indulging my terrible poetry writing, lol! But, I always talk to my students about the importance of a catchy opening, and this is my attempt.
Today I want to take a minute to talk about social media and education. I could go on and on and ON about this, but I won’t because it’s been done by many folks who are more educated on this subject than me, and who are way better writers!
I just wanted to take a minute, though, to talk about something that I’m noticing more often now that so many teachers are active on these platforms.
The meme above, or some version of it, has been shared about social media a ton over the last few weeks. And it makes sense. It’s decent advice for back to school time.
This summer, I attended a workshop. While there, the presenter brought up this idea, that it is never a good idea to form an opinion about a student based on someone else’s experience with that kid. Several teachers were nodding in agreement, and a conversation ensued about how some teachers make it a point to never look at a students’ file before school starts. And the conviction in these teachers! Many talking about what a disservice it is for kids when teachers do this. Some of these teachers were all but quoting this meme (or a similar version), mentioning that they’ve seen conversations about this on social media and they “so agree.” As they spoke, you could see other teachers in the room nodding in agreement, mouthing “yes” and “I totally agree.”
And so, as I am often known to do, I spoke.
I asked, “So, you really think it’s a good idea to not read a student’s file before the first day of school?”
To the nodding heads I said, “So, you really think that teachers are not professional enough to take in information about a student, but then NOT hold that information against them? What are we saying about teachers?”
Now the nodding was less.
Another teacher commented about a recent experience she had where learning about a “difficult” student prior to her entering class had helped her develop a plan for that kid that started the moment she entered the room. She went on to say that the student had an exceptional year as a result her preparedness. Further conversations ensued, many teachers talking about the important things they learned from reading a students’ file: a recent death in the family, a traumatic experience, a difficult move. All this information that wouldn’t have been known if these teachers had not read the file like they believed this meme was telling them to do.
Now, I know that the meme doesn’t exactly say, “Hey! Don’t read a kid’s file because then you’ll judge them before they enter your room and as a result will have a terrible school year.” I know it doesn’t say that.
But, (and this is leading to the point of my post, I promise!!) lots of people in the room just assumed that it was saying that. They assumed that a simple way to give a kid a “clean slate” was to not read their file. This made total, logical sense after seeing several of these memes shared around the Internets by people who “know what they were talking about.”
It wasn’t until after we talked about it, dove deeper into what it was really implying, did folks see what a silly idea it is to a.) not read a kid’s file in the beginning of the year, and b.) assume that teachers are such jerks that they can’t NOT hold information they learn against a kid. (Okay, I know that there are teachers who will absolutely judge a kid based on what another teacher says about them. And I know the kid will suffer because of it. I know this. Our profession isn’t perfect. But no profession is! You think just ‘cause there’s a sign that says, “All employees must wash their hands before returning to work,” that they all do?!? Please. But, for the most part, people are good, teachers are good, and we need to believe that they will do what’s right.)
This story is just a tiny part of much bigger picture, but I think it is a good way to demonstrate this: Being a society where we accept a lot of our information in the form of a soundbite, a headline, or (gulp!) a meme, is a problem. While helpful to let the consumers of information see the gist of something, it is not meant to be consumed alone. It is not meant to be the complete picture of an idea or practice or story. It’s simply a tiny piece of that.
I’m seeing a lot of incomplete pictures surrounding education on social media these days. Lots of soundbites, quotes from books and articles, and memes. Oftentimes, these folks have many followers and some sort of “celebrity” status (maybe authors, researchers, professors… or large corporations!) which means that they have a lot of influence and their messages are spread far and wide. And, unfortunately, I think these messages are being misinterpreted by folks, creating confusion, misunderstandings, and downright fighting.
To be clear, I am not necessarily criticizing the posters. Sometimes, they ARE experts in the field, and they know their “stuff” well. They are practicing teachers or recently retired from the profession. But, a lot them aren’t teachers. In fact, some have NEVER been teachers or have anything to do with education, they are just a company that has realized what a large consumer audience we are and have decided to profit from us. So, as practicing teachers, and the consumers of this information, we need to dig deeper, read further, click the link and READ the article, not just retweet the headline and carry on a conversation with others about it without knowing the whole story.
This summer, I saw a lot of infighting among teachers about “right” and “wrong.” (I am attributing this to my recent Twitter addiction… I cannot believe the brilliance that I see on there each day, but am simultaneously astounded by what a cesspool it is!!) Many times, the original post came from “an education expert” who isn’t a teacher. And more often than not, the argument came down to what someone “thought” something meant, versus what it actually meant. Or, what something “meant to them,” with no consideration of someone else’s interpretation. All across the three platforms I use, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, this fighting could be seen, and about all kinds of ideas: everything from leveled books, to Accelerated Reader, to Teachers Pay Teachers, to racism, sexism, and xenophobia. It got ugly… often. It was hard to watch.
And again, so much of it could have been avoided if we had just dug a little deeper. If we had just read the article instead of arguing either for or against its headline. If we had talked it out with curiosity, rather than digging our feet into the sand. If we had just considered another’s point of view instead of insisting ours is right. If we just looked up the definition of “microaggression” instead of assuming that we knew what it meant.
And so, Friends, if you’ve hung in there through my rambling, I thank you. I just wanted to put out a reminder that we are smart people and the experts in our craft, and so we deserve more than memes to tell us what to do; that at the end of the day, we are far more alike than different; and finally, we need to stick together and assume the best of each other. Politicians have worked hard enough to take away our dignity, we don’t need to be arguing among each other, reducing our dignity even further.