Tag Archives: Twitter

Handy Tips for Bloggers

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time (and even if you haven’t) you will know that I don’t often, if ever, attempt to tell anyone what to do.  This blog is a place for me to reflect upon events that surround me, and contribute to wider discussions I see taking place upon Social Meeja.  However, there was an interesting reaction to my Nurture 15/16 post (where I have, I freely admit, relentlessly focussed on the positive things that have happened this year, who wants to hear about my bad back, after all?), and in particular those connected with this blog, so, in the manner of encouraging wannabe bloggers who feel a bit nervous of putting their toe into the blogosphere, here are the things that have worked for me.

  1. Decide which blogging platform you want to use. When I started this one, I wanted it to look a particular way.  I also wanted it to be easy to do (I am not overly techie) and I wanted it to be free.  I like WordPress for all of these things, but there are others.  I discovered that the blogging sites have communities, and these can be really helpful.
  2. Do a bit of reading around your chosen platform. When I signed up to WordPress, I followed the links to all of their newbie advice.  It was all a bit intimidating when I realised quite what a big world it is, but, as I write about children (and my own children in particular) I persevered and took their advice very much on board.  If you write about children I would strongly recommend that you do this too – before you publish anything.
  3. Think about what you want to call your blog. I originally thought up the title years ago, when I was thinking of writing it as a book.  I couldn’t quite marry up the blog address with the blog name, but never mind.  I’m not a total perfectionist.  I started off by using my own name as the web address – which I felt was a mistake, so I changed it.  (There’s loads of musings and ramblings around, so you might want to avoid them as potential titles.)
  4. Think about what you want to write about. I thought about this really carefully when I started, and settled on three main themes: Down’s syndrome, parenting (in particular the experience of mothers) and education, and the interconnections between them.  The education bit took over a bit (!), but I’ve been really strict and stuck to like glue to my starting principles.  I realised pretty quickly that there are about a million Down’s syndrome parenting blogs, and the teacher blogging world is equally huge – I didn’t want to be just another little fish in the big wide ocean, so I thought carefully about what I could uniquely add to the discussions.  What did I have to say that other people might want to read about (or, in sales-speak, what is my USP)?
  5. Think about your principles in blogging. Some people blog commercially and promote/review products on their blogs.  I felt really uncomfortable with that (and am no doubt a huge disappointment to people who supply such things), so I don’t.  People also tell me about SEO, but, for me, my blog is about the writing, and I don’t want to compromise my artistic choices, if you know what I mean, and if that doesn’t sound unbearably pretentious. Don’t tell lies.
  6. Decide on a schedule. I decided to write weekly, and I still just about manage to stick to that.  I was discussing this with my friend Jack – as his other writing commitments have grown, so the regularity of his blogs have changed, and it’s the same for me.  When I started I had ideas falling off my fingertips – now that I’m writing more for other people, I need to honour those commitments.  When I’m really busy I can’t blog, so I have had to learn to forgive myself for that  – and hope that my readers do too.
  7. Decide how long your posts are going to be. This is a bit of a monster.  I don’t usually like posts to be as long as this!  I tend to favour stories, but sometimes poems pop out, or letters.  Don’t be afraid to do something different.
  8. Decide on how you want to publicise your blog. Most of my readers come from Twitter, which I really enjoy.  I could have joined Mumsnet or Tots100 or Britmums, but I was a bit intimidated, worried about the reaction I would have as a teacher.  I have a Facebook page for my blog so that I can separate out my blog from a platform I essentially use for keeping up with friends and family (who have generally heard me going on and on before, and don’t necessarily want to read it on my blog).  You can use Facebook to build up your own communities, but I like Twitter for that, and I haven’t got all the time in the world to devote to it.  There’s Pintrest too, and Instagram…publicising and working on your blog can become a full time occupation if you’re not careful.
  9. Don’t worry about the stats. I love seeing which posts go well, and which ones die a fast death, but I don’t let it consume me.  I’m happy when anyone reads this blog.  I’m not prepared to put any old rubbish on here, just so that the stats look better.  I’ve got something to say and I want people to read to the end, not just click and then click away.  Make it easy for readers to follow you, so use the sharing add-ons if your chosen blogging site has them.
  10. Think about your readers. Who are you writing for?  I reckon I have a specific audience, mostly teachers and people with an interest in SEND – and lots of parents too.  I try to make what I write accessible to them.  For me personally, I generally start with an idea that I want to get across, and then I spend some time thinking about how I am going to do that.   I write it out on the computer (or by hand if I have to), generally on one day, and then edit the next, put it on the blog and then read it aloud.  That way I can really think about what I have written, and hopefully not publish too many mistakes (you can always tell if I haven’t gone through this process).  It also gives me a chance to think about whether what I have written will cause any harm, in particular to my subjects.  I have people I turn to if I am really not sure, and they have been happy to read a potential post for me and make suggestions.  Sometimes I have binned the post and gone back to the drawing board.

 

So that’s about it.  I hope that’s helpful.  I’ll end with that Virginia Woolf quote again – because letting voices that are not ordinarily heard is important, and that voice might be yours.

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

 

Words of Power

The thing about being a school teacher, be it primary, secondary, Early Years or whatever, is that you see an awful lot of interesting behaviour in the course of your daily grind.  There is always someone doing something special you have seen before, and, I reckon anyway, a large amount of these behaviours have at their heart a desire to get something that they really want, not time out, not work avoidance: attention.

Children have a hundred million different ways of securing this most precious of commodities, and an equally large number of reasons for seeking it.  Sometimes you know it’s because they are starved of it at home, parents may both be working all hours (they might even be teachers), they might be part of a large family, they might have joined an even larger, blended family.  Sometimes, everything on the surface seems to be tickety-boo, only for chaos or unhappiness or money worries or illness or alcoholism to lurk underneath, stealing it all away.  Put most children in a classroom and they figure it out pretty quickly: they like getting the attention of their teacher and they will employ their considerable wiles in order to get it.

We teachers like the ones who figure their way to the attention-lode by conforming to the rules, handing homework in on time, having neat handwriting and completing all the tasks we set them to do and more, always trying hard, always doing their best.  But there is another sort (I rather like these ones too).  They are the ones that take up so much of our time, eating up our energy with their demands; they have figured out something else entirely.  For them, any attention is better than none, and they really don’t care how they get it.

There’s the one where they ask a question that is completely unrelated to what you are attempting to teach.  There’s the one where they can’t bear to wait for someone else to work it out for themselves, so keen are they for you, and everyone else, to know that they know the answer, to congratulate them on their cleverness.  There’s the one where they lead (or attempt to lead) derision over someone else’s stumbling mistakes, and then there is the one that gets on my nerves the most; just as you have everyone sitting there in the palm of your hand (figuratively speaking), eyes glued, brains firing fireworks, they make a smart remark into the pregnant silence and neatly switch the gaze of the entire class to themselves.

What these kids have worked out, what they have discovered without anyone having to teach them, is that words have power. They may take no notice of us when we blither on about choosing verbs effectively and up-levelling connectives (or are they conjunctions now?), but they know already how to use a word for maximum, disruptive, and often hurtful effect.

The thing about children, though, is that they are still overtly learning.  Sometimes they say things, and they have no idea that they have just dropped a verbal nuclear bomb on one of their friends.  They can’t understand why nobody will play with them, and, usually, when someone (ie. me) has pointed their mistake out to them, after a bit of encouragement, they are (usually) happy to apologise.  They are still young, they didn’t mean for it to come out the way it did, and for that, we are prepared to cut them a little slack.  Unless, of course, they did mean it, if they knew exactly what they were doing, and the sorriness they feel is that of being found out with their metaphorical hand in the cookie jar or their metaphorical pants down.  Their apologies, then, are grudging, revealing.

In many ways, it is the same with adults – although, thanks to years of learning subtlety, a little harder to discern.  Most times, when people realised that they have said something, say, about Down’s Syndrome and they see that it has hurt me or families like mine, their apologies come quick and fast, and with sincerity.  When they meet my son, my bonkers, funny child, they often admit that the person who was suffering was them, and it was ignorance that was the matter.  “I didn’t think he’d be like this,” is something I have heard more than once.  “You’d never think it, to look at him,” is another, and, one of my Granny’s best, “I can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about.”

She was right about that one.  There’s an awful lot of mis-information out there about Down’s Syndrome, and, sometimes, it can feel as if one has stepped into a time slip and fallen into the 1930s.  As if the future held only institutions, or shortened life spans or pity, or scary things for sure (like those things never happen to the genetically perfect).  Or it could be some sort of dystopian novel where if a potential baby, boy, girl, Down’s Syndrome, carrying a non-genius gene, or whatever was out of fashion that day could somehow be swapped for one that did measure up, and  no-one would be the least bit bothered about it, no tears would be shed, no hearts would be broken, there would be no shadow of sorrow or lingering what-might-have-beens at all.

And if they use words of power, like mong, or retard, or imbecile, or sub-normal (or educationally sub-normal, remember that one?), or Down baby/person and they haven’t met my son, my glorious, funny, vulnerable son, who has no voice, as yet, no way (yet) to tell them not to use him as an insult, the day they do their shame, their sorrow is palpable, and, when they understand how it is, they stop.  They step away.  They understand their power and they clean up their mouths, their minds.

Like children, you can tell what it was all about when you listen to the apologies.  And, in exactly the same way I deal with an attention seeker in my class, the best way to deal with them is to do the very thing they hate most of all.  Ignore them.

Does this look like suffering to you?
Does this look like suffering to you?

Too Damn Busy To Blog

I have been meaning to write this ever since I joined Twitter and Michael Tidd asked the excellent question: where are all the Primary bloggers?  here I have had this post rattling around in the back of my mind all that time, and, following an interesting Twitter debate about why so few women teachers present their ideas at TeachMeets, courtesy of @ChocoTzarand @betsysalt I thought it was about time I put my fingers to the keyboard and set about trying to answer the question.

The title says it all, really.  I don’t consider myself particularly unusual as a primary school teacher.  My workplace is dominated by women not so dissimilar to me.  More and more of us are carrying on with our jobs (I hesitate to classify mine as a ‘career’) after marriage and kids.  More and more of us, thanks to the bonkers UK property market, have no choice in the matter.

And the title of Working Mother, especially Working Teacher-Mother, makes us, perhaps, amongst the busiest people on the planet.  For a start, the job of primary school teacher, or of teacher of any kind, is an intense one. Once the children arrive in the building, there isn’t a moment when your feet touch the ground until they go home.  And then there are all the other things that need to be done, so that you can be ready for their return in the morning. Tidying, cutting out, sticking, photocopying, marking – all these things as well as the thinking, planning and preparation that goes into coming up with valuable lessons that will engage children, make them learn stuff and keep the inspectors happy (no easy task, I can assure you).

Since starting on my blogging journey I have noticed that many of the edu-blogs are written, not only by secondary teachers (it makes for interesting debates, as the differences in our understandings of what it means to be a teacher come to the fore), but also by those in more senior positions than me (not difficult).  I wouldn’t be so crass as to suggest that those in management positions in schools have less to do; what perhaps they do have, as opposed to those of us who are more at minion level, is time to reflect upon issues wider than what has been going on in our classrooms that day.

Now I am lucky.  My present job is geared in such a way that I can keep work at work, so that when I get home, I can concentrate (sort of) on all the things I have to do when I am here.  This last month, for instance, has been dominated by birthdays.  I have made four birthday cakes.  I have sourced candles and invitations, ferried children about to various party venues as well as come up with, bought and wrapped presents; next week we shall start on the thank you letters.  The thing about birthdays, though, is that they come on top of all the other things one has to do in the home – and all these things need to keep on being done or nobody has any clean clothes to wear on Monday morning, and there is nothing to eat for breakfast, lunch or tea.

I’m not going to labour the point.  Primary teaching is dominated by women.  Virginia Woolf had it right when she declared that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction, or in this case, blogs.  She needs access to a computer, and, more than a room perhaps, she needs time.  Time and space within which to be creative, to create.  Which, when you have a busy job filled with children, and a home life filled with similar beings, is a rare and precious thing indeed.

And it’s not just that children have a tendency to suck all the energy out of a person.  They are also pretty good at reducing your confidence in your abilities.  Take giving birth. It’s all supposed to be so natural, yet how come it goes so spectacularly wrong?  Our bodies fail us, right when they are supposed to be doing what they are ‘designed’ to do.  Same goes for abnormalities.  Same goes for breast feeding.  I liked looking after baby; I settled into it and enjoyed myself hugely, but I know that I am not necessarily typical.  Many of us are shocked by how hard it is, how far it is from the ideals we are sold in all the books and magazines.  And I have a theory about toddlers.  As their ability to say, ‘No’ increases, your confidence in yourself as a capable human being goes in the opposite direction.  It doesn’t surprise me that many women feel that, post partum, they lack confidence in the workplace.  They probably lack confidence all over the place.

I would love to attend a TeachMeet.  I’ve been truly inspired by all teachery types twittering away.  I’d love to go along, and I don’t have a problem in standing up in front of other people.  (It has been said that I love the limelight perhaps a little too much.)  I don’t, because I have to accept (and this is my personal view, I can’t speak for anyone else here) that right now, right at this moment, it is not my time.  Right now, I am in the middle of the maelstrom that is parenting, mothering three smallish children and running the household we live in.  Their needs, and the needs of my family as a distinct unit, are such that my wider ones are on hold for a moment.

In the mean time, I must hope that my chances to make a wider contribution don’t pass me by.  I need to hold on to the certainty that what I do now matters.  That even though I am no big shot, no public speaker or goer on book tours, meeter or greeter of the great and good, I still have something of worth to say.  For now, this blog will have to do.

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh.

…if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality… then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. … I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

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