April 4th, 2014
We leave you with some lighter fare on this Friday by Stenhouse editor Maureen Barbieri. Maureen has been learning about and experimenting with Twitter and she often shares her excitement and her Twitter encounters during our staff meetings. She also shared this story that you are about to read and while we all laughed at first, I think we could also all appreciate the painful learning curve of some of these social media tools. I am sure you’ve all been there too. Share your own Twitter fiasco in the comments section by Tuesday, April 9, and Maureen will pick someone to win a free Stenhouse book!
The Twitter Fiasco
One of the things I like best about living in New England is the change of seasons. We’ve had a long, cold winter this year, but now spring is upon us, and this is reassuring. The year has a certain rhythm to it, and we know what we can count on. Still, the older I get, the more I realize that everything changes, that our days here are numbered. I face this the only way I know. I keep busy. I cherish my family, I read, I write, I stay in touch with friends. But most of all, I work.
In my sixties now, against all odds, I have a brand new job. Instead of being the one putting manuscripts in the mail and praying for a lucky response, these days I’m at the other end of the envelope or e-mail attachment—an editor who solicits work from eager young teachers who are passionate about what they are doing in classrooms. It is both a privilege and a big learning curve for me, not because I’m unfamiliar with what they write about—after thirty years as a teacher, I do know their world—but because writing, editing, and communicating have taken great leaps forward, and a person needs to know lots of new technology just to keep up. First I had to learn Track Changes, then Dropbox, Google Docs, and Concur. My NYU students compelled me to join Facebook, which I love mostly because it lets me see photos of their gorgeous new babies and keep up with how their teaching is going.
Lately though, I’ve become aware, again thanks to my former students, of the world of Twitter. At first I signed on just to follow people I admired, to see what they were reading and recommending. I follow educators, news agencies, arts organizations, even political groups, and I discover articles and video clips I certainly would have missed otherwise. Literacy specialist Shawna Coppola calls Twitter the best professional development available to teachers free of charge, and I tend to agree.
But I’ve begun to wonder if there might be more to it than just perusing what other people are saying or suggesting. Maybe I need to be more than what Chris Lehman calls “a lurker.” So the other evening, as I settled in to read my Penelope Lively book and watch television with my husband, I decided to check Twitter. Sure enough, there was a “chat” happening that I found intriguing. At something called #Engchat, teachers were talking about a new book that had just been published. I read interesting comments from people obviously committed to their work in classrooms. One person spoke of her love of poetry and how that helped her thrive. Others mentioned supportive colleagues. One said that yoga and meditation were important to her. Then, all of a sudden, I read this: “You know that if Donald Murray were alive today, he’d be on Twitter.” Well, that got my attention. Like so many writers, I adored Don. Teacher, mentor, friend: he was a hero to me, a huge influence on my life both in and out of the classroom. I perked up when I saw his name. I got brave. I decided to move beyond lurking and actually “tweet.”
“I agree,” I typed into my iPad. “I miss Don Murray every single day.”
Within seconds, there was my message, clear and bold on the screen. Except that it was a little different: “I agree. I is Don Murray every single day.”
Whoa!!!! Mortified, I choked back tears. I tore at my hair. I typed a furious correction—“I MISS”—and slammed the iPad shut. Then, as my husband realized what had happened, we both began to laugh uncontrollably. We didn’t stop laughing all week. My silly typo made me seem like a crazy person, thumping my chest on top of a mountain, claiming Don’s spirit. Since this happened, every time I express doubt about whether I can do something—drive in snow, cold-call a new author, plan a difficult meeting with a student—Richie says, “You can do anything. You IS Don Murray.” I married a comedian.
When I finally get over my embarrassment, there are a few things I will need to admit. First, I do try to channel my old friend as I navigate these rocky waters of being a grown-up—an “elder of the tribe,” as he used to call it. When I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or fearful, I think of him and remember his insistence that the show must go on. Life moves forward. We have to stay in the game: striving, contributing, and, most of all, learning. It’s been said that there are no accidents.
Second, I must acknowledge that it’s not complex technology that caused this faux pas. It was instead the simple failure to proofread. This can happen when using any device—even paper and pen—at any time, and there really is no excuse for it. My fingers may be too fat or too fast for the iPad, but I should not have let my words go out into cyberspace so easily. A good lesson.
Finally, I am grateful to all the people at Stenhouse, at UNH, and all the other places where I’ve been lucky enough to teach, whose patience and support carry me forward. Lisa Delpit says that the only two things we need as educators are humility and inquiry. Thank goodness these are two things I have in abundance. I want to learn to navigate Twitter because, in the words of Tony Sinanis, “Twitter is about the human connections you establish . . . about the people you get to know, respect, and value, much like what happens in a well-functioning classroom or school.”*
So, I am committed to trying. With the help of good friends, I will learn to use this and other social media to be better at my job, to find out more about the world, and to engage in meaningful ways with other people. I believe that, if Murray were here with us today, he would indeed be tweeting. And, of course, I will always miss him.
*Tony Sinanis, quoted in “Social Media Is Better Than You Think” by Peter DeWitt, Education Week, March 11, 2014.
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