Recently, this blog hit a cool mark: 500 blog posts. I remember, years ago, reading a blog post from a friend of mine named Corbett Barr, on the day that he had reached 500 blog posts. At the time I was at about 200, and I was like, “Dang. That's cool.”
So, here we are: 500 posts, 528,993 words, published for free on the Internet. There are other cool stats that I've not kept good track of, like:
- number of typos that readers have emailed me about (a large enough number that some time ago I hired Rachael to help with proofing — you're welcome, dear reader)
- number of times I've run into someone who's told me that they are still teaching today because of my blog (a small but precious number)
And actually, that last pair of stats lead in to what I want to write about. Lately, we've been looking at resilience, the first two pillars of which are acceptance of reality and a deep sense of purpose. We've examined how these pillars affect our expectations, our teams, and our lives.
So here are two things I've learned about blogging during the first 500 posts of the adventure, sprinkled liberally with connections to teaching.
Thing 1: Hard feedback is guaranteed
As soon as you start putting words out in public, you open yourself to public examination. The harder you think about this, the scarier it can be. Hence, I try not to think of it much at all.
The easiest feedback you can get is that you've got a moronic typo in the post you published. This is easy because you didn't deeply offend somebody — well, except for a few fellow English teachers who may be a bit more militant about the perfect use of the language than you are. But even though this kind of feedback doesn't need to be personal or hard, let me tell you: it doesn't feel great. It feels like you are dumb.
But such is the cost of getting into the ring. You're inviting people to critique even the smallest bits of your work. You're asking to be judged.
And this should come as quite a normal thing to the classroom educator, who every day submits to constant judgment. After all, we know our kids judge us. The research on teacher credibility makes this clear as day. Once we work into our hearts the idea that teaching is not about us at all, this constant judgment becomes a fairly easy thing to bear. In fact, I even find it quite a joyful and human thing to be with young people who are daily assessing the degree to which I am caring, competent, and passionate. What a gift! What a delightful and humbling job.
Of course, sometimes the feedback is much harsher and harder. It's an attack on my character or my competence. This hasn't happened frequently through the blog work, but it has happened — just as it has also happened in my teaching. As I write this, I picture some of the angry faces I've encountered, the damning or passive-aggressive language levied against my work. You've had it, too.
But in a world of hurting people, as someone teaching from a mind and heart that are only part-way developed, is it so surprising that these very hard moments come? Is it so shocking that once in a while a blog post or a product meant to help actually ends up hurting?
It is not.
And here's good news: the purpose behind the work — long-term flourishing of students through my classroom, long-term flourishing of colleagues through this blog — makes it so, so much easier to accept these realities. Part of doing work like this in a world like ours is that hard and harsh feedback will come.
In the words of an old friend of mine, Vale la pena.
It is worth the pain.
Thing 2: Impact will probably be humbler than you want, and it will tend to come way later
When my former students ask me how this year is going, I tell them, “Ask me in twenty years.” I won't know just what I've done in the classroom for about that long.
It's the same with writing blog posts. If you aim to be useful — every post, trying to encourage, trying to equip — and keep doing the work, you'll end up impacting someone. You might not be the next teacher who “gets” to quit their job to start blogging full time (no, thank you), and your book might not be the next NYT bestseller about teaching.
But my friend, we've been over this: the superstar versions of success aren't the point. The teaching awards are a distraction. The riches and fame are little solace when you're on your deathbed.
Schools exist to promote the long-term flourishing of young people. This blog exists to promote the long-term flourishing of people who work in schools. Staying rooted in this transforms how we experience the work.
[Bonus] Thing 3: Simple is best
There is so much advice and complexity about doing online work well. What I would say to an aspiring teacher-blogger is to ignore 98% of it. I've lived by a few rules since starting the blog in 2012:
- Publish consistently. It took me a couple years to figure this out, but once I started publishing blog posts two times a week, my output as a writer improved dramatically. In times of plenty, I've got blog posts scheduled as far as three months out. In times of want, I'm writing today's blog post the day it publishes. But the rule of publishing two times a week has served me well. I pray it has served you well, too.
- Focus on the content and craft of great writers and thinkers. (Said differently: Read.) Read a few bloggers whose work is useful to you. I would recommend reading mostly people outside of education — this is where you'll get some of your best insights about teaching, and it'll also protect you from soul-killing comparison. And read all kinds of books, strategically. When you sit down with a book, start by asking yourself, “If I had to take as much as possible from this book in one hour, what would that look like?” This will teach you to read and retain much more.
- Earn an income. I think that it's important for teachers to be compensated well for their work. Unfortunately this does not happen in many places due to an array of factors that dizzy my simple mind. But with blogging, there are any number of ways to earn a modest extra income. You can self-publish an ebook, seek sponsorships, offer professional development/consulting services, provide online courses, or get a book contract with a traditional publisher. I've dabbled in all of these, doing most of the work during the summers. (This blog started as my summer job.) The point isn't to get rich quickly (definitely not doing that here). The point is that a laborer is worth their wages, and this kind of work deserves a wage. Don't feel bad about getting paid for being useful.
- Don't sacrifice your life on the altar of success. There were times in the early life of this blog where I deeply struggled with workaholism. That has been a very important journey for me. The parable of the tortoise and the hare has been very useful.
A small case study in resilience
One of my favorite things about the life of this blog so far is that much of the work has been boring and quiet and frustrating and thankless. I like this because it's a lot like much of teaching. But it has taught me a great deal about accepting reality, rooting in purpose, and adapting to change. That last part — adapting to change — is where we'll go next.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about this post, I'd love to hear them below.