You Should Start Your Own Teaching Blog
I read a blog post a few years ago by one of my heroes in the math teaching world, Kate Nowak. Her recommendation was simple: Blog on a consistent basis to become a better math teacher. Although she was writing this to her area of influence in the math-teacher-world, I believe it applies to any other K-12 subject as well so I’ll make this recommendation to you all: You should blog to become a better teacher.
Why Should Teachers Blog?
I wrote about this before on a personal blog of mine so for the sake of time (and also because I’m lazy like that) here’s a horrible cut and paste job 😛
1. Keep a record of things that worked and things that didn’t.
I had a horrible time in my first year as a teacher (as I’m sure was the rite of passage for many a first-year-teacher). Without getting too vulgar or coarse with my language, let’s say that I think I would have had more fun building sand castles in a vat of monkey doo doo for all of the sleepless nights and nausea inducing moments I had as a first year teacher. Okay, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but I can’t tell you how many hours I scoured the internet looking for interesting lessons, life hacks, and jedi mind tricks to keep my students engaged and my classroom management in check. I’m not a first year teacher any more, but I’m still learning. By keeping a record of things that worked and things that didn’t, it helps me to self-reflect, improve on my teaching practices, and share that insight with anyone (or no one) who would care to read it if they stumbled across my writing on the Internet.
2. Sharing is Caring
Something that struck a chord with me in Ms. Novak’s post was the fact that this is a “caring and generous community” (her words, not mine). I’m not saying that I have any great ideas as a teacher, but you know what they say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and welllll, let’s just say I had a lot of necessity in the past few years. The primary purpose of this site is to share what I have and also to encourage other teachers to share their insights with the larger teaching community as well. I’m willing to share whatever I have with the community and let them do with it what they may and I hope this attitude catches on with others as well.
3. Be a part of the community
Last but not least, I blog out of the selfish need to get my voice out there and be a part of the community of math teachers. For those that don’t know me (which I understand is statistically most all of the 7 billion people on this planet) teaching math is a career change for me. However, in every career or interest that I have pursued in the past, one of the most enjoyable aspects of perfecting whatever craft I have been working on has always been “talking shop” with other people that share my interests. By contributing to that community and engaging in conversations and forming relationships with other math teachers, I’m hoping to take advantage of the unique opportunities that the internet gives us which will in turn, help us all become better math teachers and educators. I suppose that holds true for teachers in other subjects as well, hence my suggestion that blogging should be an important exercise for as many educators as possible.
How to start a blog
Starting a blog these days is relatively simple and depending on your level of expertise (or lack thereof) you can either go one of two ways: (1) The “free” route where you don’t pay any money but have limited controls in terms of the aesthetics and functionality of the website, OR (2) The “paid” route where you get a custom domain and webhosting plan of your own and have free reign over the design and functionality of your blog.
The Free Option
Right off the bat, I’m going to recommend option #1 if you have little to no experience doing things on the Internet. It’s 2016, and there are a LOT of companies vying for the opportunity to help you create a website on their platform. Here’s a short list just to get you started:
Free Website Builders
The Paid Option
If you’re going with Option #2, there is a little technical know-how involved, but there’s nothing a quick google search can’t help you overcome. You can boil starting a your own teaching blog down to 3 steps:
- Find and buy a unique domain
- Get a webhost & set up the CMS of your choice
- Write! Write! Write! (Content is king!)
Find & buy a unique domain
If you have no idea what I mean by “domain”, that’s the actual web address you type into your browser when you want to get to a specific website. For example, the domain for this website is “Tips4Teachers.net”. I’m going to be upfront with you, most of the good domains have been taken already so you’ll have to get creative with your name. I readily admit Tips4Teachers is not the most creative name in the world and we considered a lot of different variations on it, but after a few days of agonizing over the decision, the Tips4Teachers team decided that the content and mission of our site was ultimately more important than the name so we just went ahead with it. If you end up spending more than a few days agonizing over your decision like we did, my suggestion to you is to do what we did. Focus on quality of content because ultimately, that is what people are looking for, not some catchy name with crappy content.
If you’re looking to see if a domain name is available, there are a few online tools you can use to check. My hands down favorite is Who.is because of its simple and clean interface.
For example, if you typed in “tips4teachers.net” into that search bar above, it would tell you that the domain has already been taken. One thing to note, however, is that often times, the less popular suffixes are not taken. The reason why we don’t have tips4teachers.com is because it was already taken, but .net was available. Apparently, someone had bought the .com a few years ago, but had since done nothing with the site so we felt comfortable going with the less popular .net option. In the end its up to you, but again, my original recommendation still holds true in this area as well: content is king!
Get a webhost & set up your CMS
Once you have your domain picked, you’ll want to pick a webhost. A webhost is a company that owns the servers that your website will “live” on since its cost prohibitive for the average person to run their own servers out of their homes (if you know how to do that, you certainly wouldn’t need to be reading this article anyway!) Without getting too complicated, if you’re starting small like 99% of all blogs out on the Internet, webhosting plans are relatively inexpensive. The webhost we run Tips4Teachers on is Hostgator which is a company that regularly appears in top 10 lists if you were to do a google search on webhosts. I’ve never had a problem with them and they have been great whenever I ran into an issue trying to set up a website and so I can’t recommend them enough.
One of the reasons I recommend Hostgator is because they have a super simple way to set up WordPress which is my CMS1 of choice. When you log into your hostgator account, at the top of the page in the “special offers section, there is a WordPress option that looks something like this:
When you click on that link, it takes you to a page where it gives you a super simple, one-click install option. (Note, there are paid options, but I recommend just going with the free option.)
It will take a few minutes to install, but once it’s done, it will take you through the login process and you’re ready to go! I love WordPress because its customization options and the plethora of plugins that are available to add a lot of super useful features to your website. They say that 25% of all websites on the Internet run on WordPress. While I have no way of verifying that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. With that said, if you ever get stuck on how to customize your theme or which plugins to add, just Google it. There’s no shortage of articles and Youtube videos that help you set up your website on WordPress.
Write! Write! Write!
Once your blog is all set up, the real work begins. The name of the game is CONTENT. If you have great content and write honest insightful articles, people will notice and the teaching world will be a better place because of it.
And… that’s all there is to it! Go forth, blog, and contribute to your local teacher communities!
CMS is short for Content Management System. It’s basically a platform that handles all the technical details of writing a blog post and publishing it on the Internet.↩