*Avatar images pictured above produced in Emojiface app
Being in the thick of election season, I made a decision to revisit this piece of writing which I initially began working on about five months ago. The original post was inspired by an inner-struggle I was having about a Tweet I posted and whether to keep it up or to delete it based on some language I used. At the time, my senses were extra heightened as I was in the process of interviewing for a new position within my district. The Tweet in reference said “Kids raise hell in the name of reading and win big. Go kids!” and there is a link to a story about a group of teens battling censorship and deliberately distributing a known banned book in their community. Here is a link to my Tweet and the article in reference. Frankly, I didn’t even question my own language use until my good friend Morgetron, (whose amazing blog can be found here) modified my Tweet for her followers with much more “public friendly” language. Morgetron rephrased her version of the Tweet to say “Students combat censorship! Hooray for teens with brains!” (Her Tweet can be found here.) She, of course, included a link to the story and credited her modified Tweet to me but I couldn’t help but think that my very public Tweet could potentially bruise my online persona as an educator.
I keep a public Twitter profile that I use, primarily, as a professional resource. In addition to Twitter being a wonderful resource for communicating with students, parents, and community members, there is a strong community of active educators on Twitter and there are many opportunities to share and collaborate through this platform. When I finally allowed the dust of my overactive imagination to settle, I made a decision to keep the Tweet up. After all, according to www.freedictionary.com, to “raise hell” simply means to “take strong and forceful action, as to object or express discontent,” and that’s exactly what student Brady Kissel did when she ventured forth in distributing a banned book in her Idaho town.
I want to continue this post by giving some further context and a glance into the heart of a semi-rebellious educator…yours truly.
During my high school career in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I found myself deeply, and passionately in love with Rock ‘N Roll music, particularly of the pop punk variety. I was closely following bands ranging from the Foo Fighters, Blink 182, Green Day and Jimmy Eat World, to more underground talent like The Ataris, Alkaline Trio and Andrew W.K. I frequented punk shows and became closely tied to Omaha’s music scene. I spent many school nights at The Ranch Bowl, The Cog Factory, and small, house shows all over town. I was always a bit of a rebel, but I tried to use my rebel powers for good, not evil. I had my mind made up that I would go to school to study public relations and I was going to work in the music industry.
I graduated, (not at the top of my class – way too many weeknight concerts for that!) with the respect of my peers and teachers and was provided with the opportunity to give a commencement speech. In that speech, I foreshadowed the success of many of my peers. I had a unique class made up of actors, comedians, musicians, and political activists – people would go on to have an impact on our world. I never felt disconnected from this group, in fact, I knew I’d make my presence known by helping people, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity. I was so exposed to media and entertainment that I assumed, surely that was the industry where I’d leave my mark.
Fast-forward several years into my college career and I finally began to see my future unfolding. It took me a while to get my footing in college. I didn’t have a clear path laid out in front of me and my goals weren’t entirely in focus yet but two things started to become clear with the help of some fantastic professors: 1. I could write. 2. With the help of social media, I could get people to listen to me. This was a quality that I always knew I possessed, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to harness this power until I became an adult.
Through my studies of public relations and advertising at UNO, I became actively involved in a group called PRSSA and found myself serving in leadership roles and co-directing our student-run, PR firm. I was a natural when it came to pitching. I could pitch to media, I could pitch to clients, I could pitch to people who didn’t even want what I was selling. I was convincing. This skill would later be vital in the classroom.
In my work with non-profit organizations and clients we served in our student-run firm, I worked on many activist projects. I fought for every cause my heart desired and every cause that my clients needed me to fight for and I fought loudly (but with tact). I knew that my teenage desire to work in music had evolved into something different, altogether. I still loved media and entertainment, but my heart desired different work. My heart desired working with the public and affecting change like I’d been inspired to do during my coverage of the 2008 presidential election. After graduation, I landed a position at a wedding planning magazine, working as an Advertising Coordinator. While the work was creative and engaging, I knew that long-term, I would pursue different work and, inspired by the many great professors who taught me, I knew that work would eventually be in education.
Eventually, I worked toward my first master’s degree while simultaneously earning my teaching certificate. In a whirlwind of events, I entered the high school classroom teaching primarily 9th grade Language Arts. In time, I took my love for EdTech and media to the district level where I now work to educate students, teachers, parents, and community members on the importance of digital citizenship.
With election season in full swing, I have been greatly wrestling with the reality that as a public figure in education, it is much more difficult to portray my activist self to the world. I used to be able to loudly have an opinion about my politics, my beliefs, and my ideas without fear of judgment or criticism from the community. I’ve worked so hard in my new role as an educator to quiet my activist self that I’m embarrassed to say, it’s made me less involved in politics than ever before. Educators have a fear of using their voice because they don’t want to make waves. They don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t want to be seen as disruptive.
Unfortunately, what I am seeing disrupt learning in our schools right now has nothing to do with my ideas or politics. What is disrupting learning in our schools right now are the tough neighborhoods our students live in, where they fear for their lives because of extreme gun violence. What is disrupting our schools right now is hunger and poverty. What is disrupting our schools right now are attention seeking behaviors of children who desperately want a positive relationship with an adult, but are still learning how to show it in an appropriate way. My responsibility is NOT to not have an opinion on how to change these things. My responsibility, and the responsibility of all educators is to teach their students how to harness their power for good, not evil, and how to become activists themselves. We must teach the children of this community that they too can be activists. They can use social media and 21st century skills to create positive change in the world. So teachers, kids, community…this is my call to all of you to raise hell and to get out there and make change happen.