washingtonpost.com
Blackboard Blogging
Web Journals Become the New Fly on the Wall of Teachers' Lounges

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The teachers' lounge -- that secretive place where, students imagine, teachers sip coffee, smoke and gossip about them -- has gone global.

The blogosphere is the new lounge where teachers gather to talk about vicious administrators, educational reforms both stupid and smart, marriage, divorce and, yes, students.

Especially the ones who wear really inappropriate clothes to proms.

Some are gossipy:

I'm going to Portland for all of next week and leaving my children without me. It feels weird to leave them for a whole week. Not to mention the fact that their sub is going to be this guy that reeks -- and I mean REEKS -- of cigarettes. I seriously have to hold my breath around him because I gag if I don't. . . . The kids are horrified by my abandonment.

-- http://www.firstyearteacher.%20blogspot.com/

Some are rooted in personal, sometimes esoteric opinion:

Yesterday I considered Robby George's argument that marriage is a unitive act of complementary persons. I agree with him. Other strategic minorities in industrial societies do not agree with him.

-- http://gruntledcenter.blogspot.com/


All give teachers a way to be heard as never before.

On one level, blogs are little more than personal journals posted on the Internet for all to see. They provide a forum for teachers to share ideas with colleagues around the world or simply talk about themselves and others. But under a wider lens, the sometimes funny, sometimes searing blogs paint what may be the rawest portrait seen of the teaching profession in transition -- and by some measures, in trouble.

Read some and find out why more teachers than ever -- some estimates say up to half in this decade -- are leaving the profession feeling exhausted, disillusioned and underpaid.

Last May, my school board approved an allocation to purchase a wireless laptop cart/mobile computer lab for our school. This was exciting, because we were, at the time, working on a small package of professional development around incorporating technology into our instruction . . . Unfortunately I'm still waiting for those computers. The staff's excitement is long gone. Promises made by district technology personnel were broken repeatedly.

-- http://www.budtheteacher.%20typepad.com/

Other blogs can draw the reader into the big educational debates of the day, such as the one surrounding President Bush's No Child Left Behind law and the added pressure some teachers say it has put on them to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests.

Or into smaller ones, such as Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica Online (especially after a study published in December in the journal Nature said the free, open-access encyclopedia is about as accurate as Britannica).

Educators had been slow to catch on to blogs, in part for privacy and security reasons, according to some teachers. But their blogs have been growing exponentially over the past year, according to people who monitor Web content. A few years ago, there were practically none; now there are thousands.

Some teachers use blogs in the classroom to communicate with students and allow them to critique each other's work. But it is in the personal blogs that teachers have some of the most open, and occasionally brutal, discussions about themselves and their profession.

Those who get particularly personal often blog under a cloak of anonymity. Even the "complete profile" on their personal blogs doesn't reveal very much about them.

That may be in part because of ethical questions about how far teachers should go in talking about students, colleagues and personal problems. It may also be because they've seen how easy it is for a teacher to get in trouble.

Andrew McNamar of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., blogged about how inappropriate it was for some girls to dress like call girls at the high school prom, only to find himself asked by the school to be careful about what he posts.

He removed the controversial parts from his blog, the Daily Grind ( http://www.ahighcall.blogspot.com/ ), but not before attracting dozens of responses from around the country supporting his comments.

Some teachers say they find Web logs to be a powerful learning tool -- for themselves.

"I personally use blogs every day to keep up on what the newest thoughts are on education," said Scott E. Schopieray, assistant director of the Center for Teaching and Technology at Michigan State University. "I have my own research that I'm an expert in, but I can't be an expert in my domain and also be one in every other domain, so I use blogs posted by other educators in order to capitalize on their expertise."

"I have an idea, I put it on my blog," said David Warlick, of 2 Cents Worth ( http://davidwarlick.com/2cents ), who teaches teachers around the country how to use blogs. "I learn something as a result. This last year has been the most incredible learning year of my life because of this ongoing conversation of ideas through blogging."

Yong Zhao, director of the Center for Teaching and Technology at Michigan State University, said it is important for teachers to know how to blog so they can understand the digital world in which their students live.

Ryan Bolger, a professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., started his blog to improve his Internet fluency and discovered he was having an unexpected impact. He posted a book review he had written but never expected anybody to see it. The Google search engine picked it up, and he got 500 responses every day. Now he is a confirmed blogger.

Although some teachers wonder about the merits of the blogging world, others such as Georgetown Day School teacher Meg Magistro say they wonder where bloggers get the time.

An American University professor who blogs under the pseudonym Dormgrandpop may have the answer:

This evening was my third faculty-student dinner. . . . We had good discussions about legalizing marijuana and reinstating the draft. My lids are drooping, so I must conclude.

-- http://dormgrandpop.blogspot.com/

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company