Clever blogs

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
Ranting into cyberspace can be great for letting off steam - just remember careless blogs cost jobs, says Hannah Frankel

Gossiping in the staffroom is good, but how about sharing your pleasure and your pain with the biggest staffroom in the world? There are almost 60 million blogs (online and often interactive diaries) floating about in the "blogosphere", and people from all walks of life are revealing their innermost secrets to a global audience. Everyone, from prostitutes to politicians, is doing it, with 100,000 new blogs being created every day, according to Technorati, a blog-tracking firm.

The technology analysis company Gartner predicts that the phenomenon will peak and level out at about 100 million by the middle of this year. More than one in 10 headteachers dabble in blogging, according to a survey of 360 heads conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders and the publishers Emap. Classroom teachers, however, appear to be trailing.

"There are quite a lot of bloggers who happen to be teachers," says James Richards, a lecturer in HR management at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and an expert in job-related blogs. "But not so many who specifically talk about being a teacher and teaching."

His site, www.workblogging.blogspot.com, advertises about 90 teacher blogs (although only eight are teachers from the UK), compared with hundreds of police blogs.

"Blogging has mushroomed without a doubt," says James, "but it's still nothing in this country compared with America. It is absolutely prolific in the US." It is hard to generalise about why people blog about their work, but James says it is rarely to just "bash the boss".

Instead, most bloggers use their sites to let off steam in a creative way; then their frustrations need not interfere with the job. One of the most infamous teacher bloggers in the UK is Mr Chalk. His witty warts-and-all portrayal of life at an inner-city comprehensive in England has won him hundreds of teacher fans.

His blog attracts up to 5,000 visits each week and has been the inspiration for a book called It's Your Time You're Wasting: A Teacher's Tale of Classroom Hell. In it, he writes: "The kids are thick, the parents are scum, there are drugs everywhere and half the girls are giving birth - who wouldn't want to be a teacher? I started the blog in October 2005 primarily for my own amusement," says Frank Chalk, who has now quit working as a maths supply teacher, having been worn down by poor behaviour and managerial incompetence. "I had a lot of stories about funny incidents from teaching and didn't want to forget them."

From those humble beginnings, a notoriously un-PC beast has emerged.

"Remember that you are a hero, so act like one," he advises readers in one of his postings. "If you are the head, then stop what you are doing right now and go and expel your worst pupil. If you can't dream up a good excuse, then what on earth are you doing leading a school? Then tell all the staff what you have done. They will respect you and support you in return."

In his book's glossary of educational terms, he defines pupils with learning difficulties as "thick", the learning-impaired as "really thick", and special needs as "yet another way to avoid using the word thick."

Mr Chalk says he uses his blog to amuse and draw attention to uncomfortable home truths. "There are lots of subjects that are taboo among teachers and I like to trample on them," he told The TES Magazine.

"For instance, some teachers are completely useless, some are absolutely brilliant. Why are they both paid the same?"

While some teachers use their blogs to express views and share their experiences, others use them as a resource tool. Debbie Jones is a primary teacher at an international school in Thailand.

She started her blog, www.littlemissteacher.blogspot.com, out of boredom one rainy day in August 2005.

The site, which shares best practice and ideas, now gets about 100 visitors per day, partly thanks to her role as associate writer for www.primary-teacher-uk.co.uk, an information, news and resources blog.

"I hope blogs such as mine make teachers' lives that little bit easier,"

she says.

"The global element is a big factor as well. I've had emails from teachers all over the world wanting to set up penpals for their classes or help with projects about Thailand. There are also some excellent ideas from American teachers who use their blogs as a way for their students to publish their work or answer homework tasks."

But not all bloggers have had such positive tales. More than 200 million bloggers have already fallen by the wayside, Gartner has found, and only 55 per cent of blogs are updated at least once every three months.

James Richards warns: "There are the elite blogs that receive a lot of media attention and are read by thousands, but most are read by about 20 to 50 people regularly. It's not necessarily a medium for changing the world, but it can be a great tool for connecting people and setting free some of the frustrations that go with the job."

Mr Chalk's chat

(taken from a blog)

I knew Mr Green was angry by the way he threw his briefcase on the staffroom floor, kicked it and shouted, "The fucking tosser!" I'm like that, I can sense people's moods. He did not need much questioning to tell his tale; basically it will be one you have all heard 1,000 times before.

Dwayne was mucking about in his lesson, being a pain and distracting the others. Mr Green told him to move; Dwayne refused. He threatened to call for the senior management team (SMT)and the kid shouted, "You think I'm fucking bothered?" To be honest, it happens so frequently it's almost tedious to relate.

Anyway, duty member of SMT turns up, Dwayne loudly refuses to go with him for the benefit of his mates, duty SMT begs and cajoles, promising all sorts of things. They both leave, nothing further heard. Mr Green sees Dwayne leaving at home time along with all his friends, laughing and shouting. He corners SMT chap and asks why he's let him go and what his punishment is going to be. SMT explains that he's had a good chat with Dwayne and he's not such a bad boy at all once you get to know him etc...

Mr Green has taught for 20 years and is a far better teacher than I could ever hope to be. He is perfectly capable of giving out his own punishment to Dwayne and is not one of those teachers who constantly pesters the SMT with minor problems. What he needs, like all of us, is a bit of back-up when Dwayne decides that he does not want to do what the classroom teacher tells him to.

As he was clearly upset, a few of us went for a beer with him after school, and after some more ranting we ended up laughing about the futility of it all. It wasn't really the time for major questions such as what the hell is going to happen to these kids after they leave us? Never having been made to do what they're told. Or questions such as why, oh why do we have such weak leaders who are unwilling or unable to back up the staff? Or why do we have to waste 29 decent kids' time while we pander endlessly to one badly behaved child?

No, it wasn't really the time for those sort of questions, because we've asked them so many times before and given up hope of hearing a sensible answer.

To read more, visit www.frankchalk.blogspot.com

Top tips for bloggers

Decide what you want to do with your blog beforehand and keep the posts focused on that.

Remember careless blogs can cost jobs. Make sure you are not "dooced"

(internet slang for being fired for your blog), by either writing anonymously or discreetly.

Visit other blogs and leave your site address in your comments.

Don't identify any pupils.

Have a strong opinion.

Get feedback about your blog from someone who doesn't know it is yours.

Keep an eye on how many visitors your site attracts. If you are your blog's only reader, you may want to call it a day.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?

Subscribe

To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers

Comments

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
 
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today