Lately I’ve been reading a lot of pieces from parents expressing how frustrated they are with being “judged” by other parents and the parenting community at large. You know the essays: please just let me parent in the way that works best for me is usually the general gist. I find myself oddly drawn to these pieces. I nod a lot as I read them…which is slightly strange because I have no children. Just the one cat, and the only time I ever feel judged in my pet ownership is when he doesn’t behave himself at the vet. And even then they’re usually fairly understanding. So I’ve been trying to figure this out: why do I feel this kinship with parents who’ve decided to boycott the blogosphere?
Then I spent the past week watching teachers have arguments on Twitter and Facebook about whether or not Accelerated Reader is the best thing ever invented or the Destruction of Childhood Reading as we know it. The conversation has frequently gone something like this:
All teachers who use AR are doing terrible things to students. and it must be DESTROYED!
He/she is right! AR once attacked my dog and then peed in my Cheerios! Everyone who uses it should be judged on social media IMMEDIATELY.
Wait, I sort of like AR and my students tell me they love it and want me to keep using it…
GASP! How dare you like a teaching tool I have deemed unworthy! You are ruining children!
All of the sudden, it became quite clear why I find myself nodding along with those “don’t judge my parenting” articles.
I should note here that I actually have no super strong feelings for or against Accelerated Reader. I find AR to be like most teaching tools out there on the market: either incredibly useful or incredibly damaging depending on how it’s used and the context in which it’s used. As we teachers know best, no classroom and no two students are the same. One size rarely fits all, and what works well in one context can actually be a very poor teaching tool in another context.
Which brings up an important question: why are teachers jumping on the internet and telling each other all the things we’ve decided everyone else is during wrong? And full disclosure, I’m sure I’ve done this too. Probably somewhere on this blog, in fact. We teachers tend to be incredibly protective of our teaching practices. While this is often a good thing, it also can make us far more likely to vilely detest things we’ve had bad experiences with and to also be extremely protective of those tools we love.
But there’s danger in that type of thinking. Sometimes at night when I'm feeling particularly self-destructive I try to imagine what my first year of teaching would have been like if social media had been around in a big way back then. I usually come to one conclusion: thank goodness it wasn’t. Your first year of teaching is dangerous and scary and filled with self-doubt. Now imagine having several million voices screaming you’re doing this wrong every day and adding onto that self-doubt. These days I’m secure enough in my own teaching practice (mostly) to agree or disagree when someone tells me I’m doing something I shouldn’t be, but back then? I probably would have just been in tears every single night. Even more than I already was.
I appreciate that the teaching community is a place where people want to teach others and mentor and share ideas. That’s what makes our community strong. And we certainly shouldn’t be shy about expressing what’s worked and not worked for our students in the context of our classrooms. But when we start shouting down ideas, tools, and practices with the level of judgement I’ve seen this week? All we end up doing is sounding like those horrifying mom blogs everyone seems to have run away from.
Maybe we could just curb our language a bit. Rather than using 140 characters to say “AR is the worst thing ever and we all need to back away from it” we could say something like “I’ve found AR doesn’t build a love of reading; others with diff experiences?” Or instead of “Remember what a terrible teacher I was when I gave timed math tests” we could say “Here’s some research on neg effects of timed tests.” Or whatever fits into 140 characters that won’t terrify the brand-new teacher who is trying their darned best and has a lot of other people telling them why timed math tests are important.
If there’s one thing most teachers I know hate, it’s the idea that “research proven” is a real thing in education. Because we all know that what research shows in a public middle school in Woodland Park, CO is likely not the same thing research will show in a private middle school in New York City, New York. We generally dislike when companies and politicians shove “this is research proven” down our throats. So why do we do the same thing to each other? Just because it’s our own research doesn’t make context any less important.
To the parents out there: I applaud you for ignoring the judgement. I could never do what you do; I like sleep way too much. To the teachers out there who promote conversation and mentorship: I applaud and appreciate you. Let’s just try to tone down the judgement a notch. I’ll try to do my part.