Why Teachers Should Twitter
Twitter, for all its phenomenal success in the world of technology and social-media, is still a service that is largely misunderstood. Place that context in the world of Teachers/Educators who are notoriously stereotyped as technophobes and you have recipe for disaster and mass confusion. Take myself for example: I’m a 30 something-year-old math teacher. A “Millenial” if you will. I love technology and am always looking for ways to inject technology into the classroom. I’ve had a Twitter account for a relatively long time, since March 2009 in fact1. But even I myself did not realize the how and the why to use Twitter as a math teacher until this year. It took me SEVEN FREAKING YEARS to figure things out. And that’s coming from an admitted technophile. No one told me why teachers should Twitter and I can only imagine there are even more educators out there like myself who still do not understand how to leverage the power that is Twitter in their teaching practice. So that is the point of today’s blog post. I’m going to talk about why you should be on Twitter.
What I did wrong
To be completely honest, I wasn’t even a teacher back in 2009 when I started using Twitter. In fact, teaching math wasn’t even a nascent thought in my head let alone how Twitter fit into my life in general. I just knew that people were using it and that I might as well jump on the bandwagon as well just to see what the fuss was all about. I suspect FoMO (or “Fear of Missing Out” for you Internet noobs) is a large part of why people start off using Twitter in the first place. Back then, as it is now, Twitter was touted as a “social network” which in my head put it in the category of another “social network” I was more familiar with: Facebook. So naturally, I used it like Facebook.
- I used Twitter to announce what I was doing. (Usually nothing)
- I used Twitter to post pictures of food (Instagram wasn’t around yet).
- And because I was painfully aware that no one was really listening to my random Tweets anyway, I even tweeted about the fact that I knew no one was listening. (Pathetic, I know.)
And so I stopped using Twitter, because as far as how I was using it, Twitter was neither “social” nor was it a “network” for me in any way shape or form.
How I got back into Twitter
Fast forward to 2015, I was now a full fledged math teacher with my own classroom and I really enjoyed it… for the most part. I say for the most part because although I was getting better as a teacher, improving my classroom management, and really settling into the day-to-day responsibilities of what it really meant to be a teacher, I was still spending HOURS lesson planning, thinking about student engagement, and obsessing about how to make my lesson more effective for my students.
As I was searching through Google day after day for math lessons and lesson plans, it occurred to me that I kept coming across something over and over again, something that I hadn’t realized until I really started searching through Google on a more regular basis. What I was seeing was repeated references to Twitter. More specifically, it was a Twitter hash tag: #MTBoS.
What is #MTBoS? Well, it’s an acronym for “Math Teacher BlogoSphere”. Apparently, what had been happening while I was learning how to be a teacher was that math teachers around the country had been quietly and diligently blogging about their experiences in the classroom, sharing about the highs and the lows of their careers, as well as networking and communicating through Twitter. Most recently, math teachers on Twitter had organized themselves into the MTBoS hashtag and created a vibrant underground community that was sharing ideas, asking and answering questions, and even organizing their own greeting committee of sorts. I could write more about #MTBoS, but I’m going to stop here because the great Dan Meyer (who is as close to a rock star we get in the math teacher world) already wrote a much better blog post about it. Click here to read his take on the #MTBoS.
It has been almost a year since I’ve plunged myself into the #MTBoS community and I can say pretty confidently that my experience this time around has been a 180 degree change from my initial foray into the world of Twitter. Here are a few thoughts about what I’ve learned in the past year:
1. Twitter is a networking platform before it’s a social media platform.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you remember my first mistake in my initial experience with Twitter, I was treating Twitter like I treated my Facebook account, tweeting random things about my day and hoping that my friends would realize I was on Twitter and “follow” me. What had ended up happening was that none of my friends were even using Twitter at the time and so subsequently, they didn’t see my tweets and everything I was doing on Twitter was essentially meaningless.
What I learned this time around was that before you can really get social, you really need to take the time to built up your own Twitter community of sorts. What that means is focus on a specific niche, follow the people that really contribute to that niche, and build that small community of voices you really want to interact with because once you have that in place, the social aspect of Twitter gets that much richer. You’re not just tweeting into the nether of the Internet. You are communicating and sharing ideas instantly with a community of like minded individuals like yourself; a community that you have complete control over who you follow and who you interact with. It really is a powerful thing if you think about it.
2. You get the value you put into it.
I’m going to be honest, when I initially stepped back into Twitter, I almost quit again. Call it a case of once bitten twice shy, but it really intimidated me to interact with the #MTBoS community. Every now and then, I would see the people who I considered my Heroes in the math teacher world 2 pop up in the #MTBoS Twitterstream to ask a question to the #MTBoS community and I was too intimidated to answer. After several missed opportunities, I just decided to throw caution to the wind one day and tweeted back an answer. Imagine my surprise when I received a “like” and even a response back to my answer!3
Ever since that first jump into the deep end of the pool, I’ve jumped in several time since and I have come to realize that you really do get the value you put into it. Sure, you can follow the #MTBoS hashtag and silently observe the conversations going on. However, once you start asking and answering questions yourself and contributing to the conversation, you begin to realize the scope and the power that social media really has to educate, inform, and influence the trajectory of your personal development as a teacher. Through the community I’ve been a part of on Twitter, I have interacted with teachers I have never met before in my life, shared lessons and ideas for lessons, discovered resources that I never knew existed, and have developed far more as a teacher through these interactions than any PD I’ve ever been to in my life.
And this leads me to my third and final point:
3. Play the long game
I think a lot of people give up on Twitter too quickly. Sure, some people may take to it naturally, but if you’re anything like me, you may have wondered more than once what the hubbub was about regarding Twitter. What I really think people should do is play the long game with Twitter. Don’t just give up because no one is responding to your tweets. Stick around for a while. Watch the tweets roll by. Find an interesting tweet and “like” it. Retweet it if you agree with it. Add your own comment to your retweet if you really want. As you stick around longer and invest time into Twitter, it really begins to take on a life of its own and you might start wondering how you lived without it as a teacher.