I’m the first to say that social media has been a huge boon for teachers. I’d go as far as to say that the internet has been transformational for the profession. The opportunities for sharing resources, ideas and even the occasional moan are invaluable. It’s particularly helpful for teachers in small schools – or secondary colleagues in small departments – who don’t have a network of colleagues to share ideas with.
Whether it be through Tes Community, Twitter or Facebook, the opportunity to talk to other teachers – especially those in different schools – can be hugely helpful. But there’s also a risk. Like so much of social media, what we often see shared online is others at their best, and that can be daunting.
The trouble is, the job is full of ups and downs, and we can all have those days when we’re feeling like things aren’t working out. It might be the planning that seems never to come to fruition, the pile of work uncompleted or that moment of despair when you realise the whole lesson has gone awry; there are plenty of occasions when teachers feel that they could be doing better.
We don’t always want to share those moments – certainly not publicly – and we must remember that others don’t either. Just as individuals are far more likely to post photographs on Facebook of weddings and bar mitzvahs, rather than of funerals and illness, online forums and social media feeds tend to be filled with moments of triumph.
That’s not to say that there aren’t opportunities for honest discussions about the frustrating sides of the profession. One of the joys of networking online is the safety of distance. Teachers can build up a network of contacts who aren’t directly involved in their school, and with whom it’s safe to share tales of despair.
It’s for that reason that I’d encourage every new teacher to sign up to some form of online network. As a new teacher, it’s so tempting to believe that everyone else finds the job easy. In truth, nobody does. Yes, over time it becomes easier, but it’s always a challenging career, and few people are foolish enough to imagine they’ve mastered it.
That’s true at every level. As a new headteacher, I’m blessed with networks: within my locality, my academy trust, previous schools – even friends and family. But my online networks allow me that discreet support network that’s just a little further removed. People who know the strains of the job, who have experienced the challenges I’m facing and who can honestly share their own mishaps and disasters along with a reassurance that we all face the same hiccups.
So whether you’re a new trainee just starting out, a NQT fretting about how you want to be a better teacher next year, an old hand who feels like you should have got over those little panics by now or an experienced leader looking for a bit of outside advice, it’s worth looking online.
The internet can be a great place when teaching gets tough, and not just the distractions of funny cat videos.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex.