For many of the Twitterati, the social networking site has proved vital: ideas, lesson plans and blogs are shared; books are promoted; debate and discussion encouraged; help is sought; irrelevant memes are shared.
For lots of teachers it is an excellent decompression chamber – a place where they can speak to others who quite understand the stresses of education as they do.
Many a lesson has benefited from an insight sourced from Twitter, plenty of teachers have earned book deals, some have become well paid consultants and speakers.
News from the Department of Education or Ofsted is often broken and re-tweeted online.
The other side
At the same time, though, Twitter can be a minefield of petty vindictiveness and spite, warring factions of Trads and Progs, dominant voices commandeering conversations, never-ending debates about silent corridors or uniforms or hairstyles or isolation rooms or whatever the current educational bȇte-noir is.
It transforms into a time-vacuum where hours can be idly lost to little effect, a place where people go for support and leave feeling angry, a childish point-scoring exercise for those who shout the longest and the hardest, or an arena where the well-intentioned might be hounded out of a debate.
I’ve felt all of these things, the good and the bad. I’ve deactivated on more than one occasion and have sworn numerous times to manage my online time more effectively.
Here’s how I finally did it…
I only follow 40 people. These are the voices in education and in my subject who I think are vital.
I read their blogs, value their advice and, most importantly, I like the cut of their jib.
They might share amazing insights into Shakespeare or simply post things that make me laugh, but either way I see value in their tweets and I’m happy to have them on my timeline.
They also act as gatekeepers, sharing and liking other useful stuff – essentially, they curate Twitter for me.
I see far more material than that posted by my sacred 40, but they have quality-controlled it for me.
Why follow anyone who contributes nothing useful, antagonises you or rubs you up the wrong way?
I have no idea how people who follow hundreds or thousands of people could possibly stay up to date with everything, so I simply don’t try to.
Speaking of which, use the block and mute buttons. If you don’t like a particular person’s Tweeting, mute them. You don’t have to explain or justify yourself. It’s your timeline – manage it as you please.
Similarly, you can mute individual words. Currently on my muted list are ‘corridor’, ‘Chartered College’ and ‘Strictly’.
I simply have no interest in these topics, so have consigned them to the scrapheap. I don’t even know what I’m missing. And that’s fine with me.
Then there are more attitudinal issues – to do with your attitude. Those teachers with tens of thousands of followers are not better people or better teachers than you.
Remember that followers are not friends. Likes are not tangible rewards.
So turn off your notifications: you don’t have to reply to anyone and you can choose when to engage. You don’t have to suffer abuse. You can log in and out when you please.
If Twitter is doing your head in, you can deactivate it for 30 days at a time.
It’s not that important anyway: I’d suggest that the vast majority of teachers don’t use it at all and don’t care one jot about the current argument raging between the ‘titans’ of Edutwitter.
So when Twitter ceases to be useful, is a drain on your time, is causing you anguish or making you anxious, simply disengage, mute, block, log off and spend some time with flesh and blood people, be they friends or colleagues; reminding yourself that it’s merely an accessory to your life and your career – a tool to be used and not something you can or should rely upon.
Rob Ward is a cyclist and occasional teacher of English in Yorkshire.
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