I started teaching in 2003.
In a fit of youthful exuberance I decided to embark on an adventure to teach English as a Foreign Language. I knew nothing about Korea outside of watching MASH re-runs and my teaching experience at the point consisted of some in school observations as part of my education degree. Yet this didn’t seem to bother my employers. Thus I winged my way over to the Land of the Morning Calm thinking that teaching a bunch of Korean 5 year olds their ABCs would be a piece of cake.
By lunchtime I had a melt down into a misery. I had no idea what I was doing and there was nobody around to help. So I did what any normal 20 something in need of advice and support in the early 2000s did. I searched google. From that search I found a message board filled with teachers who were in the exact position as me only with a few months more experience.
Through message board I learned some teaching strategies, a few useful phrases in Korean, found out where to buy western goods, made life-long friends and at the end of my 12 month contract found a job. On the board I argued about current events and posted stupid videos. We organised parties and study groups. I know of at least one married couple that met through a party organised by members of the message board.
Again this was 2003 long before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or the phrase social networking had even been uttered.
We had no idea that this sort of learning would still be considered innovative 10 years later. All we wanted was to know where to buy western goodies in a land of unfamiliar groceries and connect with people who quite literally spoke our language.
I bring up this story not to pat myself on the back for being an early adopter but because I have no idea how to be a teacher without having a posse of online friends to help me out.
I wonder where teachers who don’t connect online source ideas and inspirations for their teaching.
I wonder who they turn to for advice in tough times.
I wonder how they decide what books to read and what conferences to attend.
In short I wonder how non-connected educators learn.
Unlike traditional and pre-planned in professional development, being connected to a global network of educators enables me to learn 24 hours a day. This was true even before the popular social networks were invented let alone considered important enough to have a month dedicated to being a connected educator.
After using social networking for over a decade to learn, I can safely say that no workshop or conference I can attend now is more valuable or offers a greater level of interaction than the network of educators I interact with on Facebook, Twitter or through reading blogs.
This is not to say I don’t find value in face to face interactions, far from it. The instant conversation and connection afforded to me by the avatars I interact with opens the way to a deeper level of conversation when we do meet in person.
However I’ve quickly realised that I may not be the best person to convert others to the world of online professional learning. Connected educators are often too passionate about our learning that we scare off the uninitiated with talk of hashtags, tweetdecks and RSS feeds.
Moreover the culture of how we learn and what we learn is so different. It requires a change in mindset and skill to go from working in the isolation of your classroom or school and having someone else guide your learning to using a device to control your own learning both personally and professionally.
It’s amazing how fast connected educators forget what is like to send out that first tweet or trying to follow a fast flowing chat where everyone else knows what’s going on. We don’t remember a time when our blog posts weren’t read by anyone else. In short we forget about the time and effort required to master this ecosystem and focus merely on the pay off.
For some the pay off isn’t worth the effort.
I think it is safe to safe to say that most teachers are connected to device that enables them to connect to the internet. If we consider all the different ways teachers have to connect online – facebook, twitter, nings, pinterest, flickr, google+, instagram, active education accounts are a small proportion of active teachers.
What we need is to get more teachers connected to one another.
To be clear I’m not saying that you need to be connected to be a good teacher nor that the unconnected are in anyway bad teachers. However if you are doing something awesome in your classroom couldn’t other people learn from it? Could other people tweak the idea and make it better?
We can’t have the same conversations with the same people on connectedness every October without some expectation for change.
Will next year be more of the same or a different landscape all together?