Friday, August 07, 2015

The Humbling Reward

Last week, I posted here under the title "Stupid Questions." Occasionally, a post will take on a life of it's own and this has turned out to be one of them. As of Wednesday it had cracked the list of top ten most read Teacher Tom posts of all time and is still rising. I don't usually share this sort of information, mainly, I suppose, because after six years of doing this every day I don't pay that much attention to it any longer, but I knew something was happening with this one because I started receiving anonymous mean-spirited comments so I checked the stats.

Sure enough. It happens every time a post picks up any kind of steam. It means I've burst out of our progressive play-based bubble. You don't usually see the comments because I moderate them and it's my blog and I don't chose to argue with anonymous people on the internet. It's one of the reasons I prefer Facebook for online debate, everyone has to identifying themselves, and if you're familiar with my personal page, you'll know that I often get into it there, usually with people I know, and we therefore strive to keep it civil even as we disagree. I call it "doing democracy," and I think Facebook is a wonderful medium for it.

In this case, the post in question hardly seemed controversial. It was just a few paragraphs based upon a bit I've started including in one of the talks I give when invited to conferences and professional development events. My audiences usually chuckle, but apparently there is something in the simple idea that got under some people's skin enough that they needed to anonymously give me the business.

Whatever the case, if any of those commenters are still reading here, which I doubt, and you are feeling dissatisfied with my lack of engagement with you over that or any post, please take your comments to the Teacher Tom Facebook page where we can have a civil discussion about our differences.

Back in 2011, I posted a piece entitled "The Language of Command" in which I challenged all of us to take stock of how we speak with children. As I wrote that one, I knew there would be push back, even from people inside the bubble, and I was right. A few days later, I wrote a follow-up piece entitled "Spoiled Brats" in which I attempted to address the questions and concerns that came up from readers. That post shot to the top of my most read list where it remains today, almost exactly four years later.

Readership is thrilling. I'm flattered when something I've written is not just read, but shared by others. But, I'll never forget how my excitement mixed with fear the first time one of my posts "took off." It was the first "political" post in which I wrote about my experiences at a healthcare for all rally in downtown Seattle. In those early days of blogging I followed my readership statistics so closely that I would sometimes just sit here refreshing the page, counting readers one at a time. Until that day, I'd never had more than a couple dozen readers, but this one raced up over 100 in a single day! It was both awesome and terrifying.

And today, six years and 2000+ posts later when even my least popular posts receive thousands of readers, I still experience a knot of fear as I hit the "publish" button. I guess I'm just worried that today will be the day I piss off the entire internet.

But, you know, I keep doing it, every day, posting my reflections here. I do it for myself, of course, because that's the nature of a blog, but I also do it because I think I've figured a few things out about young children and I want to share it with as many people as I can in the hope that in some small way I can make the lives of all children better. There is an ever-growing group of us who are doing this, hopefully making our bubble bigger and bigger. Most of it is preaching to the choir of course, but (to borrow a brilliant line from the TV show West Wing) "that's how you get them to sing."

I've ruminated on my fears and the "negative" comments in this post, but, of course, most of what comes from blogging here is pure joy. Almost every day I receive notes of thanks from readers -- teachers, parents, students. Those positives far outweigh the negatives.

Last August, I was on a speaking tour in Australia when my hosts asked if I would mind popping down to New Zealand for an unplanned event. A preschool teacher I'd met on a previous trip had expressed a strong interest and had been willing to do all the leg work required to organize an event. I was a little surprised because I remembered him as having been somewhat irritated with me, often interrupting my presentation to challenge me. My schedule was already quite full, but we shoehorned this one into my itinerary in such a way that I landed in Christchurch at 2 a.m. where my new friend met me at the gate. As we walked to his car, he said, "I have to confess that have an ulterior motive for wanting to see you in person. I heard you talk last year and have been reading your blog ever since. I wanted to tell you in person that you have completely transformed my relationship with my daughters and the children I teach. Everything is so much better now."

That moment stands at the top of my list of professional highlights, a list far more important than any list of readership statistics.

I don't expect to ever stop blogging just as I don't expect to ever stop teaching at Woodland Park. This is early childhood education. It's not always pretty and it is always highly emotional. I can stand the slings and arrows because of the humbling reward of knowing I've made a difference. 

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Julie said...

I completely understand that sentiment that you might "piss off the entire internet." LOL. But I love your work and I'm glad to know that you will keep on keepin' on!

Anonymous said...

Dear Teacher Tom,

While you're on the subject of people leaving rude comments...I've been wanting to say something about this, but have worried about coming across as rude, so maybe now would be a good time to go ahead and say it! I've been reading your blog for a while now and although I absolutely LOVE your posts, sometimes I hesitate to share them with others because at first glance the blog comes across as...well...a bit odd, or even self-absorbed, with that picture of you at the top. It appears that it's a blog about a guy in spandex and a cape posing heroically, rather than an incredible teacher sharing insightful reflections on education (not that those are mutually exclusive, but I don't think the former is really the main point of your blog). You share so many beautiful images of the students in your classroom, have you ever thought about using one of those as a banner instead?

Hope I haven't offended you, but if I have, feel free to delete this along with the other rude comments and carry on with your great blog posts!

Teacher Tom said...

Not offended at all, Anonymous. I'm not likely to change the picture. Most people tell me they love it. In fact, when I speak people are very disappointed if I don't have the costume with me. That cape has traveled to three continents and a dozen countries at this point! It has become my signature!

As for the self-absorbed stuff . . . Well, it's a blog. Sorry.

Fiona said...

I dearly wish that I had known you were in Christchurch. Please feel welcome to come back again soon!