Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Revisiting My Blogging Methods and Purpose

It has recently come to my attention that I may not be representing myself accurately on this blog. People who know me in real life have recently suggested that my writing here is significantly more angry and vitriolic than they'd expect. This concerns me.

It is true that I am angry, disgusted, and horrified by a lot of what I learn about education politics. On the other hand, I try desperately to keep an open mind. I continually attack my own beliefs (in my head) and try to consider others' arguments. However, it may be the case that the tone I often take on this blog gives first-time readers the wrong impression about who I am and what I stand for.

There seems to be something unique about the act of blogging in that the blog's entirety (especially blogs that have any sort of personal tone to them) often provides necessary context for individual posts. There are some people who read this blog regularly, and have a much stronger sense for who I am (I hope), and then there are some people who stumble on to this post or that post once, and will probably never return. The way the latter group interpret a given post will certainly be different from the way a long-time reader does. As the author, I have not, until recently, thought much about the dilemma that comes with giving inaccurate impressions to first-time readers. However, recent events have forced me to think long and hard about that. How do I portray my character accurately in each post while attempting to differentiate mood, tone, and purpose between posts? Is that even a worthy goal? Or should the blog and its posts be unified in focus?

The original purpose of this blog was an outlet for my thoughts on education. Nobody read it. As readership increased, my goals changed. Without a ton of deliberate thought, I began to see this blog as an opportunity to share my unique experiences in schools with people who aren't in education and commiserate with other people who share the same frustrations. I wanted particularly to keep a log of the ways my job was affected by federal and state policy decisions. However, in between all that, I still have made use of this as a venue for thinking out loud and, at times, venting when I get really angry at something that's happened at school or in the policy world - a world that seems so ludicrous and blatantly wrong at times that I may have done a poor job of being professional as I've written about it.

In essence, I've done a lot of thinking about the best way to continue this blog. Ultimately, I'd like my writing to accurately, yet appropriately, express what I feel is my very appropriate frustration with really stupid policies. But I'd also like to be, more than anything, a seeker of truth. I'm not interested in being an ideologue or a partisan pundit. I'm not interested in being vested in ideas regardless of what new evidence may arise to contradict them. I am interested in fighting for what I think it right for public education.

In this vein, I think it's appropriate I make clear to readers what I may not make clear on a regular basis:

1) I believe most of the corporate reform talking points are spot on. That's why they're so effective. The problem (and it is, indeed, an enormous and very insidious problem) is how the corporate reformers seek to implement their talking points. It would be nice if we had better teachers in this country, and it would be nice if we could find ways for professionals to hold each other accountable for the work they do. But we will not achieve this by promoting TFA, using standardized test scores, and driving quality people out of the profession by scapegoating them for larger societal problems.

2) I find teaching in a high-poverty environment to be very challenging, but this does not mean that I don't think my kids are capable of college-ready work. Many of them are. I see the majority of my kids engage with incredibly rigorous texts on a daily basis. They discuss the connections between and among big concepts like nationalism, imperialism, industrialism, liberalism, capitalism, and socialism; and frankly, I'd put some of them up against any college freshman at Harvard in a debate on the issues we've learned about. Teaching in high-poverty urban schools does not mean working with kids who are inherently dumber. It means finding ways to accomodate for many of the skills they lack in comparison to their peers nation-wide.

3) I do not believe that ignoring people who disagree with me is an effective way of making progress. I thought I'd made that obvious here, but I'd like to say that again, just in case.

I've learned a lot of things in the two years I've been blogging. When I started, I really liked the idea of writing anonymously as a way of documenting fully and accurately many of the most important experiences I had. However, I've learned that the extraordinarily litigious nature of our society makes it nearly impossible to speak your mind openly and share fully your experiences in public schools as a teacher (that is, if you care about keeping your job and reputation intact). I've learned this lesson the hard way, by getting smacked in the face a few times for airing my opinions, sometimes foolishly and without thinking about repercussions. In my attempt to use this blog as a means of advancing my ideas and resisting those of corporate reform, however, the anonymity of the blog has increasingly deteriorated. It seems now that I might provide the blog with a stronger and hopefully more authentic voice by eliminating the "Reflective Educator" pseudonym entirely (as much as I will continue to strive to live up to that identity). I expect this switch to come in the new few weeks.

I'd like to end this post with an appeal. Writing this blog has taught me that writing with an authentic voice and appropriate tone can be extraordinarily difficult, especially when you're navigating politically sensitive issues. I'd like very much to learn to do that well. If, as readers, you feel I've violated my professed aims in writing this blog, please point those lapses out to me. The last thing I want people to believe about me is that I'm merely an angry teacher in a tough school who doesn't think much of my kids or other people's opinions. It's not the reality, and if my writing, post by post, seems to betray something other than my intentions, I'd like to be told about it.


  1. The True Teacher is one who learns. No politician or business person would dare be so reflective.

  2. This is an inspiring post. You've made me a better person today through leading by example. Thank you.


  3. Whatever else you may have said, it's always been clear that you care for and respect your students.

  4. This seems to be a trend: "Some readers of my blog, particularly the TFAers who are about to begin their training, are probably a bit confused about who I am and why I’m so cranky."


    I think I need to (re-)answer that question too...

  5. Don't think you need to clarify or justify your thoughts to like-minded individuals, and the others will find fault no matter what. To thine own self be true. You have a lot of courage for maintaining this blog. Keep it up.

  6. Hi,
    I wasn’t able to find any contact information, so I thought this might be the best way to reach you. I wanted to send some information your way on our ‘Parent Day of Action’ which kicked off at 7am this morning. By 9am, our volunteers and organizers had already collected over 1,000 petition signatures of New Yorkers opposing Bloomberg's plan to fire 4,100 teachers. Throughout the day, more than 100 volunteers have been talking to parents at schools and subway stops across the City (press release here: http://bit.ly/lqAFvM).

    In addition to gathering petitions, we have also been collecting audio and video testimonials from public school parents. You can find them all, uploaded in real time, at parentsforteachers.com

    We want to make all of this information and these resources available to local bloggers like you. So we have decided to launch, what we call, the Public Advocate’s Blog Toolkit.

    Here’s a link to the toolkit: www.advocate.nyc.gov/blogs. We've pulled together videos, documents, widgets, and a bunch of other media that we think may be helpful in creating informed discussion on local blogs. The site will provide already embedded examples of the resources, along with the specific codes to post on your own site. For example, if you like one of our banners or videos, you can see how they would look on the site, and then just copy and paste the code we provide to embed it on your own site.

    Also, if you like, we can add you to our site's blog roll. We hope you find all of this useful, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach me (jlacayo@pubadvocate.nyc.gov) or Jeff Merritt (jmerritt@pubadvocate.nyc.gov).


  7. To thine own self indeed. Anyone who really has an interest in what you have to say on your blog can go back and read past posts and check out where you are coming from and where you are trying to go with your current posting.I don't get it! People will believe what they want to believe, it is pretty obvious you care about teaching, teachers, your students, and any other student stuck in a "hell hole" passing as a school under this so called urban education reform movement.

  8. Another vote here for "to thine own self be true," and I'll add Dr. Seuss' "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

    I like the "Reflective Educator" even if you do go public. It implies who you really are and does, indeed, set the tone of your posts. You're here to reflect. Sometimes that means venting...sometimes that means changing your mind...sometimes that means analyzing your day in class.

    This blog has been inspiring for me. I spent 35 years as a public school teacher and it's nice to know that there are people out there who are still fighting for public education. It's so easy to get discouraged. More than once I posted an "I'm not going to talk about NCLB again" rant on my own blog. It's frustrating and hard to keep fighting against the money and power trying to destroy our public schools. I for one, am glad you're here and venting when you need to.

    And, btw, the only thing I would disagree with you about today's post is your claim that the talking points of the corporate reformers are "spot on." But that's another conversation :)

    Keep up the good work!!!

  9. Just for the record, I've never found you angry or vitriolic. The level of absurdity these days is so high it's tough to maintain the sort of tone you strive for. How do you describe something ridiculous without making it appear so?

    And why would you want to do that? It isn't you--it's the nature of the situation.

  10. I understand your frustration. I often think that I come across as too "mean", and I probably am. However, nothing makes my blood boil faster than some education no-nothing telling us how we should educate kids.

    As for your anonymity, think carefully. Even if you have a decent principal who won't go after you for what you say here, you will almost certainly end up censoring yourself to avoid offending anyone. Once you're out there, you can't take it back.

    The fact that so many of us blog anonymously speaks volumes about the current state of education. Speak your mind, get yourself harassed. FTR, I have never found you to be acerbic, but hey, that's coming from a sour puss like me.

  11. Michael FiorilloMay 31, 2011 at 10:49 PM

    Over the years, I have often found that when I defend myself or others against demeaning, destructive treatment, I am then accused of being the S.O.B.

    I can't help but feel that there might be a little of that in your concern about sounding "angry."

    Teachers have every right to be angry, and while there are productive and non-productive ways to express that anger, we shouldn't shy away from the appropriateness of it.

  12. I don't find you angry but thoughtful and reflective. I understand what you are saying about hearing all points of view. But when one side has the atom bomb and the other a pea shooter, providing a forum for ideas that have an intent other than what is being presented on the surface creates a further imbalance. Thus the anger. But your voice calling for a more rational debate has certainly made me think. I agree that the blogging world can make people come off someehat differently than they are in person. I rant about charter schools but when I meet many of them at meetings I have found we can engage in a rational discussion, even with parents from HSA. I think it is the isolated act of blogging vs the social interaction. I prefer the latter when possible.

  13. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. I appreciate them. I think you're all right. There is a serious dilemma in fighting something that we have a right to be angry about and presenting ourselves appropriately to people looking in from the outside.