So I’ve watched and partaken in some of the debates on twitter this half term. It started with #toiletgate, where apparently teachers who don’t let students go to the toilet during their lessons are some kind of dictators, and those that do are allowing disruption to interrupt learning at every turn. There was then a twitter storm centred around some educators making comments of a very personal nature about other members of the edutwitter community. These comments were at best ill advised, and at worst a truly vile invasion of the private lives of fellow educational professionals.
Throughout these and other various spats that have taken place I was left trying to work out why we cannot just debate in a considerate and calm way that promotes mutual respect, and sets an example to the many thousands of young people that we work with every day.
Suddenly today I realised what (at least part of) the problem is, and it reminded me of a part of my leaving speech when I moved schools at Christmas. A small section of my speech referred to the fact that we cannot subscribe to the ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching. Schools are not exam factories that are a production line of young adults where all their needs are the same. Not only is every class different, but each of the approx. 30 students in each class are also different.
And this is the problem with debating things on #edutwitter. Not only are all students and schools slightly different, but every teacher is too. Some things you can standardise, but the issue is that if all teachers did everything in exactly the same way then what need is there for human teachers anymore? They might as well roll out the production line of teacher machines and get rid of all those hard working teachers. Remembering that every teacher is different, that their days might not have all been smooth, that some are more emotional/impulsive/argumentative/antagonistic/repulsive than others explains why we, at times as a profession, seem to struggle with modelling good debating skills on a public forum.
I started engaging in twitter debates on education with a very naive view that all other teachers were polite, would engage in debate respectfully, wouldn’t reduce a disagreement into something like we would see when two teenagers fall out. How wrong was I?!? Over the last year or two, I have seen some incredibly ugly sides of teachers that I didn’t realise (or perhaps didn’t want to realise) existed.
I want to finish by reflecting on what we say to those children/young adults/adults that we all work with daily when they fall out with each other. I tend to use phrases like:
“You need to think before you speak”
“If they said that to you how would you have felt?”
“Do you think that going after them was really the best course of action when you were already angry/upset?”
“If you felt upset why didn’t you find someone else to talk it through with rather than going to pick a fight?”
“Perhaps not posting that reply on your social media wasn’t the wisest thing to do!”
and so on…
I think that all those on #edutwitter who wish to engage in sometimes emotive/difficult/challenging debates would do well to remember some of these before posting some of the things that they do. It just might prevent a discussion from deteriorating into something that you might see on a teenagers social media feed.
At the end of the day, I haven’t met (in person or on social media) a teacher/educator who isn’t in this job for at least some of the same reasons as me – To make a difference; To share a passion for the subject that they teach; To inspire a love of learning in the next generation; To support those who find education/learning a challenge etc. We would all do well to remember that the next time we get a surge of blood running to our heads and we start to type something that perhaps we should delete before sending.
I suggest a hashtag something like #pausebeforeposting might be a good place to start.