It was a sweaty June afternoon in the middle of 2008. I just about felt unwound from my fifth year of teaching.
I was making plans to revamp my class website. I had been on this Facebook thing that everyone kept talking about for a few months. And I had my very first smartphone—a Blackberry Curve. I felt all technological and connected. It felt pretty good. Pret-ty goood.
It Begins and Promptly Fizzles
I heard some chatter about Twitter on the BlackBerry forum I posted on. I sort of knew what it was. Micro blogging is what Twitter called it back then. I imagined very tiny people typing on very tiny computers. It seemed interesting. So I bit and signed up
It was fun at first. I read tweets, posted dumb jokes, and generally just wasted time.
I spent hours one day searching for people I knew. The only person I found was a guy named Jack. Jack Squat. Twitter in 2008 wasn’t what it is now. This was way before just about everyone and their house plants had a Twitter account.
I don’t think I got a single reply from anything I posted that month. I barely got a response from anyone I tried to chat with. Disillusionment promptly set in, and I all but abandoned Twitter.
Then, about a year later, everything changed.
It Begins Again
The unforgiving September heat of Texas made me glad to be inside. My family and I had just moved across town to a bigger house so my six-month-old son wouldn’t have to live in the corner of our living room anymore.
The end of another busy Sunday had left me exhausted and cranky. Lesson plans were the furthest thing from my mind, but I needed to have something for the next day’s readers workshop.
Twitter popped in my mind. I had used it a few times in the past year to look up current sports scores (for my wife, duh) and movie reviews.
Wow! I searched for reading workshop and was shocked at how many results turned up.
There were all kinds of cool links, and just as many people. I quickly found a link to something I could use. And that was that.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first step to becoming a connected educator.
The Beginning of the End
Twitter became a regular stop for resources and planning.
I followed some cool teachers that started to show up frequently in the search results. I started asking questions in addition to my dumb jokes. I had real conversations. I followed even more people. I began sharing my own ideas and resources.
I had no idea there were so many like-minded teachers. I was so used to being the voice of descent and the guy with odd ball ideas. I went from being the guy with “innovative” teaching styles to just one of the guys. If felt good. Really good.
I wanted my teammates to know how many great teachers were leveraging Twitter to share resources, ideas, and camaraderie. I wanted them to experience it as I was.
And I was arrogant enough to think everyone needed to experience it.
I was so wrong.
The End of the Beginning
Many of my colleagues hadn’t heard of Twitter. A few thought it was some website to share what they were having for breakfast or when their next bowel movement was going to be.
Most didn’t seem interested in connecting online with other educators. Rather than talk with patience, I started getting irritable. Instead of approaching with humility, I approached with arrogance. I slowly alienated myself.
My arrogance bled into superiority as I tuned out common comments.
“You mean you do this in your free time?”
“I don’t need one more thing in my life right now.”
“This seems too hard. I don’t want to mess with it.”
Superiority faded into frustration. The whole connected thing was now one more way I was different instead of the same. I became that guy. The Twitter guy.
I hated it.
Blinded by Passion
Why couldn’t others see the greatness of online connectedness? There was so much to learn, and it was right at their finger tips.
My frustration communicating this to my coworkers climbed. My fascination with my online friends climbed too.
I was excited to talk to others who hated standardized tests as much as I did. Many of my Twitter teacher friends despised reading logs, saw little value in traditional homework, and knew that compliance wasn’t the purpose of school.
My passion for education and students grew. It grew so much it started to blind me. I missed that critical truth so long ago.
I fell even deeper into my hole. I was sharing, blogging, and participating in educational chats. I was also becoming even more disillusioned with the reality of public schools.
This continued for the next four years. Education moved from just being my job to being my hobby as well. It consumed my work time and most of my free time.
I lost myself in many ways. Giving my all to be a supportive husband, attentive father of four, and an unrealistic ideal teacher (all while struggling with the ups and downs of depression) were burning me out at an incredible rate.
I made less and less time for hobbies I was previously excited about. I didn’t have any close friends or a life outside of my home or school anyway. This continued to push me further into trying to be a good connected educator.
The sad part is, I didn’t even realize it as it was happening. This was one of many reasons I walked away from teaching a few months ago.
The Aftermath of Being Connected
In the fantastic swirl of being connected, I lost touch with who I am, not just as a teacher, but as a person. I became smaller as my connectedness became bigger.
I fell for the lie that if I could just try a little harder, work a little longer, plan a little better, and get a little smarter, then I could finally be the teacher I wanted to be.
It is a lie.
Most of us are never going to be the teachers we want to be. We’ve set an unrealistic ideal for ourselves that is made even worse by unreasonable testing outcomes and the unpredictable nature of working with children.
My connectedness fueled my passion, and my passion kept me from being effective.
My teammate and friend, Jessica, gave me some words of wisdom that will stick with me for a long time to come.
Teaching is a hard job. Some people try to make it into life or death. But it’s still just a job.
Teaching is a hard job. An impossible one many days. We put so much of ourselves in to it, but we can’t lose ourselves in the process.
Connected or not, it is still just a job.