By Teachers, For Teachers
I am a huge advocate for connected educators. I believe that there is power in social media in the classroom, and I enjoy utilizing multiple platforms to connect better with coworkers and teachers across the globe. I tweet regularly. I search Pinterest often. I post on Facebook. I learn from YouTube videos, journals and articles, podcasts, and anything else I get my hands on.
But something I realized lately is that for all the professional benefits social media in the classroom gives me, I also feel a little sadder.
“What?!” you may say. “For someone who advocates for teachers to become more connected, you’re saying that it makes you sad?”
Well, that’s not quite what I’m saying. Hear me out. As you know, I love the way digital resources connect me with people, ideas, and materials I normally wouldn’t have access to. But sometimes when I see all the amazing things other teachers are doing, I feel a little less impressed with my own teaching.
You see, social media sometimes plays a little trick on us. When we post something, we tend to post something that showcases ourselves in the best light possible. We post thoughts, links, or responses that make us look good. We’re not intentionally “showing off,” but we’re not about to post items that make us look like dummies, right?
But something happens when a user is regular exposed to dozens or hundreds of other teachers online. It appears on the surface that these teachers “have it together” and are doing things in the classroom that are so above and beyond what we’re doing. Our minds rush to compare ourselves to others, and at first blush it seems like we fall short compared to the standard our peers set for us online.
This is how I’ve felt at times. Some teachers seem so engaged and connected. Others are so creative. Still others are witty, resourceful, leaders, or professional. And me? I’m just … not as good as them. Funny how that works, right?
There’s some precedence for this effect. A 2013 study on Facebook use from the University of Michigan concluded that, “Facebook use predicts declines in affective well-being.” Adrienne Erin on Socialnomics wrote that, “Social media is like a game. We are all at war with one another for likes and favorites and we compete by posting pictures of our expensive dinners, vacations and social interactions." Another study even suggests that social media use (Facebook again in this study) leads to increased feelings of jealousy. As teachers, we love the idea of sharing our successes and getting our best ideas out there to our peers.
Sometimes I know one lyric in a given song, but when I sing this one lyric at the right time during the song, it gives the impression to others that I know the rest of the song. Weird, right? The same thing is sort of happening online: When we see someone post something cool, it gives the impression that they have everything together and are somehow superior.
So I’m not advocating for teachers’ decreased exposure to these medias. Rather, I’m advocating for smarter exposure. It is essential that educators stay connected online. They just need to do it in a way that leads to their progress and satisfaction rather than getting suckered into the fallacy of social media.
Margaret Duffy, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, recommends that successful social media use is all in how you look at it. She says, “Just being a heavy user of social media … doesn't mean you're likely more vulnerable to depression.”
Here’s a few teacher tricks to make sure you’re getting the most out of these resources rather than slowly getting convinced that others are better teachers than you.
Use social media to connect. Humans are happiest when they’re connecting, forging authentic relationships with people around them. Often this happens face-to-face, but begin to look at social media with the same scope. Try to focus on building relationships with the people you’re interacting with online. You’re more likely to feel happier and get more when you see the humanity in the people you’re connecting to.
Focus on learning. Remind yourself that you’re not connecting with teachers to see how amazing everyone else is. You’re connecting with them to find relationships and resources that will boost the educations of your students.
Remember the reality. Also remind yourself that no one’s perfect. Social media presents us with the illusion of the “ideal,” but the “real” is that we all share the same struggles and doubts as educators. We all make mistakes; we all have those students who concern or challenge us; we all have room for improvement. This is even true for those amazing teachers you’re seeing online.
Share your own vulnerabilities. Just be yourself. Sometimes we feel the urge to project our best qualities and shine a positive spotlight on ourselves just to keep up with others. But your honesty about your flaws as well as your successes will help you build stronger connections and encourage others to open up about themselves as well.
Take a break when needed. Finally, when necessary, just turn the darn thing off. Put the phone down. Close the laptop. Let the tablet battery die. It’s OK. Digital connectedness is an amazing thing, but so is real life.
It’s important that as we dive further into the 21st century, we understand how these new shiny tools can help us or hurt us. If you find yourself looking longingly at other teachers and imagining how perfect their classrooms are compared to yours, then stop deluding yourself. Recognize that it is easy for us educators to falsely perceive how great others are, and that when we use social media with the right mindset and intent we can become better and avoid the pitfalls.
Have you ever felt jealous or downtrodden when using social media as a teacher? Tell us how you get the most out of your connectedness in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.