States Opinion

13 Things I Learned While Blogging for Education Week

By Nancy Flanagan — September 22, 2018 6 min read
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This is the 500th blog I’ve written as the Teacher in a Strange Land, for Education Week Teacher. As it turns out, it’s also my final blog for EdWeek. I’m leaving because it’s been nearly nine years since I started, and because I want to write, especially in this political cycle, about other things in addition to education.

I have to note that Education Week Teacher has let me write about anything I wanted, year after year. They’ve been diligent about promoting my blogs. They’ve fixed a lot of my wonky blog titles. Best of all, they’ve paid me to write--something most teacher bloggers only dream about. I genuinely appreciate the opportunity and hope that there are always outspoken teacher bloggers writing for Teacher.

Thanks, Education Week. It was a great gig, but it’s time for the Teacher in a Strange Land to ramble on. Look for the same name in a new site.

In the meantime, here are 13 things I learned in the past nine years of observing and writing about Ed World:

1. The largest (and nicest) part of my audience has always been teachers. I’ve had long, fruitful dialogues with teachers, including those who didn’t agree with what I wrote. Parents also read the blog and often express strong opinions. I’ve almost never had a comment or exchange with a school administrator, however. Probably this is because the blog is hosted by Education Week’s Teacher division, and school leaders are most interested in policy and management. Their jobs and reputations depend on different issues and metrics than the issues that most concern teachers. Closing that gap between teachers’ and school leaders’ commitments and enthusiasms would, in my opinion, lay a greater foundation for education that works for all kids.

2. Any blog with a number in the title will draw more traffic. Doesn’t matter what the topic is--or even the size of the number. Two Reasons to Talk Back to Your Principal? Thirty-seven Things Your Legislator Needs to Know about Your Classroom? Somebody wants to know. Because numbers.

3. Writing a blog speculating about why 80% of the K-12 teacher workforce is female, but only about quarter of the best-known and most-followed education bloggers and thought leaders are women will make people angry. And when I say people, I mean men.

4. Until lately, what teachers were most interested in, blog-wise, was pragmatic advice and ideas about practice. My most-read blogs were about things like parent-teacher conferences, five paragraph essays or back-to-school tips. Lately, however, my readership on education policy and political-themed commentary has spiked upward. Can’t imagine why.

5. Of all the topics I’ve addressed, the one that’s consistently drawn the most heat and long, link-laden commentary is education for the gifted. Most of the ire and arguments boil down to parent anger over the fact that public schools seldom have enough resources to treat very bright children differently from their peers--and the trend toward public education spending for all groups has gone in the wrong direction.

And since this is the last chance I’ll get to say this here... I still believe the best education option for gifted children is a sharp, caring teacher (or three). I subscribe to the idea that ‘gifted’ is a very broad category, children with a wide range of unique talents deserve special attention, and all kids need to be challenged.

6. Writing blog titles is harder than it looks. And titles are super-important. Some intriguing titles turn out to be seriously mediocre blogs. But they draw readers. And...

7.Reader numbers are important. Aren’t they? For some bloggers, they’re the driving force. There is a lot of good education writing out there, however, with modest but active readership. The very best education bloggers are all about the conversation that the blog generates, taking time to engage with readers and find compadres. Developing these networks around common interests and issues--starting through a blog or FB post or even a Tweet-- has built a whole new model of what I think is the future of teacher leadership, and collaborative professional development.

8. When I started blogging, 15 years ago, I wanted to write primarily about teacher leadership. It was my core passion--the idea that accomplished teachers could have a greater voice in shaping policy and practice, in their school districts and states, without leaving the classroom. In my mind, teacher leadership was about influence over teachers’ professional work--not titles, degrees, or stipends. This idea has gained little traction over the years. Instead, teacher leadership now seems to belong to organizations and is mostly about grant funding, policy compliance and formal roles.

9. Some blog topics are evergreen. Here are a few: Why the arts are critical, but chronically underfunded and ignored. My governor is worse than your governor. “Boredom” (I put that in quotes because what many students and parents call boredom is something else entirely). Too much testing is killing curiosity and joy. My research is better than your research. Please, stop destroying public schools.

10. There has never, in nine years as the Teacher in a Strange Land, been a shortage of topics. I keep a simple file on my desktop with catalogued blog topic possibilities--from news articles, op-eds, research studies, and plain old weird things school people have done (like decide Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in social studies classrooms in TX, which is a terrific blog topic). There are hundreds of potential blog topics in that file. I’ll keep writing about them.

11. There is enormous competition for education-specific audiences in digital media. Therefore, if a respected national publication is paying its editorial staff and reporters, they need to sell ads. And some of those ads will be for products and services that some readers don’t like. This doesn’t mean the news outlet is biased, necessarily. It means it is a business. Education journalism is--surprise! --like other journalism: In striving to be ‘neutral’ and informed, it frequently strays into editorial opinion that readers disagree with. Corollary: It’s good to read things around which we disagree--sharpens our arguments and rhetoric.

12. Anybody who want to blog--and have an active readership and dialogue around what they write-- needs to read other education blogs. There are some great blogs out there--far more than there were 15 or 20 years ago, when edu-blogging was a newish thing for educators. When reading a new blogger, it’s immediately evident if the writer has followed the deepest and best-informed blogs, because they write as if jumping into a conversation. Conversely, bloggers who don’t follow other blogs read as if they’re constructing a term paper with a catchy title.

13. Public education, in general, has not gotten worse in the 21st Century. Policy around public education has not improved--thanks, ALEC! ---but there are still good public schools and dedicated teachers everywhere. Teachers have survived dozens of counterproductive laws and worked around hundreds of senseless policies, using the same tools teachers have used for decades--subterfuge and common sense. The ease and immediacy of cross-country communication has led to hopeful generation of better ideas and support for resistance. And this fall, the buses started rolling for another school year.

Thanks again, Education Week and TIASL readers.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.