I am still getting over a particularly humiliating moment in our town centre recently. Instead of displaying my usual cowardice and walking blindly past a presumed destitute, I reached in my pocket for a pound.
With a genial smile I tossed the coin down into the seated woman’s cup, only for this to prompt a small splashing sound and a quiet but extensive curse. It turned out the woman was merely on her tea and smoke break from working at the shop behind her. By great good fortune a couple of pupils were walking just behind me, and so the incident was soon being raised on a regular basis in my lessons at school.
It was typical of the way things have been going for me of late. Like the naive novice teacher that I used to be, all my attempts at love and kindness have ended up backfiring repeatedly.
Still worse than my tea mistake (at least in terms of the sheer multiples of people offended) has been my decision to join LinkedIn, the online networking site. I linked in with some reluctance. A rather eager new neighbour had emailed me, asking me to "link in" and – once again – I was just trying to be nice.
As a teacher I did not really think that I should get caught up in this sort of net. Education is getting pseudo-corporate enough without school teachers "networking" and writing "self-profiles". I had been deeply put off after reading what one LinkedIn expert had written in The Huffington Post: "Consider your LinkedIn profile a content marketing hub." To have a "content marketing hub" – is that what I went into teaching for?
As a reluctant member, I certainly did not intend doing anything at all. However, complete inertness may work for some memberships, but not at LinkedIn. Doing nothing has made me come across – at least in the eyes of all the teacher and non-teacher friends who turned out to be LinkedIn and who suddenly began requesting odd things in my email – as witheringly cold and unresponsive.
All the attempts at LinkedIn camaraderie – "Please add me to your LinkedIn network", "Stephen, please welcome Oliver to LinkedIn", "Check out Roger’s new job", and those reproachful-sounding follow-ups "Norman’s invitation is still awaiting your response" – have continued to be met with total silence from this end. This is partly because, as a teacher, I do not have enough time.
It is also because I am definitely of no career-accelerating use to anyone. But it is mainly because I just do not see any point.
There are surely two distinct choices when it comes to online networking. If someone just wants to share news, jokes and jollity with friends and colleagues then they should go for sociable outlets like Twitter or Facebook. And of course there's TES if they want to share their work and develop a web of useful contacts. Another option is to join the Freemasons – maybe with a sub-lodge for teachers if that’s what some want. Although it may already exist…
In my view LinkedIn is like an old-school golf club, and encourages a rather distasteful idea of how to get ahead in your career – it's who you know, not what you know. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but it feels wrong. Or put another way: you can either drink from a cup or you can beg from it.
You cannot do both. Not unless I happen to be walking past.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire