The original chat has spawned dozens of others.
There is the Monday night social-studies chat — #sschat — to which Josephson and Kulowiec frequently contribute. It draws about 80 chatters each week.
Music teachers (#musedchat), psychology teachers (#psychat) and special-education teachers (#spedchat) all tweet to one another weekly. So do specialists in gifted education (#gtchat), foreign languages (#langchat) and Jewish studies (#jedchat). And of course there is a chat for math teachers (#mathchat) and one for teachers of English (#engchat).
“Some teachers find writing in front of students intimidating, but I think it helps to show kids it takes work — even for you,” tweeted Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) during a recent #engchat about motivating students to write.
“I tried this idea — typing directly onto SmartBoard & talking out loud as I go. Hey Mikey, they like it!” replied a middle-school teacher known as @kenc18.
Most groups have Web sites to archive conversations. They don’t confine themselves to talking during scheduled chats. Teachers say that anytime during the week, they can tweet a request for help with a lesson plan and expect to receive a half-dozen responses within minutes.
“When you get expert educators sending you these things, the quality of it is just surreal compared to what I would get on my own,” said Becky Ellis, an instructional coach in Ogden, Utah, and another faithful #sschat participant. “It’s a lot better than just Googling.”
‘Energy and inspiration’
Not everyone is convinced. Tweeters say plenty of teachers look askance at Twitter as little more than a platform for celebrity navel-gazing and inane commentary on the mundanities of life.
“They think of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore and what are you having for breakfast,” said retired teacher Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1), who has put together an online catalogue of education-related Twitter chats. “I say no, no, no! That’s not it.”
Converts include new teachers as well as hardened veterans from affluent private schools, struggling inner-city schools and everywhere in between. Participants say teachers who go out of their way to collaborate online tend to be creative, motivated people with high standards for their own performance — the type who would rather try something new than pull out the yellowed lesson plans they’ve been using for years.
Nineteen-year educator Ron Peck teaches in a small public high school tucked up against the rugged Klamath mountains in southern Oregon, hours from the nearest big city.
Resources in his district are limited, he said, and innovation is slow. He said Twitter has been a lifeline to the larger world, infusing his classroom with new ideas and technologies that he wouldn’t otherwise know about.
It’s also kept him excited about his job. “The energy and inspiration is one of the best things about it,” he said. “If I was still isolated in my classroom after almost 20 years, I would probably feel burned out — but I have colleagues who are like-minded and who I can talk to daily.”
Among those colleagues is Josephson, who said she, too, has built solid relationships with #sschat participants around the country, from New York to Kentucky and beyond.
She is among a group — including Peck, Ellis and Kulowiec — planning a springtime face-to-face gathering for #sschat-ters. Meanwhile, on Twitter these days Josephson is as apt to share her own links and tips as she is to ask fellow teachers for help.
And she’s planning to go to graduate school next fall — but to study education and history, not law. Afterward, she intends to return to the classroom for at least another dozen years.
“I’m just getting the hang of things,” she said.