Making friends is easier when you are naked…

I received an email today with the following question about using social media: 

How do you balance the need to protect your “internalness” with sharing your thoughts with this abyss of strangers?

My rambling answer…which might be helpful to anyone who is hesitating about using social media…


What’s funny is that you might get a short answer from me…or maybe a long one that I cut and paste into a blog post…but either way when I saw your question two hours ago, I couldn’t answer it because it is “personal” and so I went and got bagels with the girls instead.  So thank you for getting me out of the house 🙂

Have you read the book Quiet?  A must read.
I have been thinking a lot lately about personal privacy.  I actually just started using a new web browser called startpage.  No personal information is ever collected.  But then I think what if we knew so much more about each person we meet?  That lady that was a jerk in the check-out the other day, if I knew she had forgotten her wallet at home instead of rummaging through her purse and being mean to me I could have offered her the $5 she needed.  The kid who walks in depressed this week.  If I knew her dad died three years ago I would know that when her mom was wrapping presents the night before spent the entire night crying because there was none under the tree for him and that is all the girl could think about during class.  What if the colleague who is unknowingly suffering through an experience with their child knew that I had gone through the same exact thing…
So been thinking about what the point of protecting my internalness is…where did that come from?  If we are just merely a collection of our past experiences…what past experiences made me want to protect myself.
Years ago when I started the kids blogging, I have a policy that they never do what I have never done, so I started blogging too. I wrote a lot of junk.  Then one day I started writing and forgot I was writing…you have to realize that I hated writing. I had NEVER written anything in my life before I started blogging, my blog posts were the first things I had done for something not connected to a grade…that day that I forgot I was writing I also hit publish without thinking or editing.  And then I panicked.  I had just posted something to the world that expressed “feelings.”  Ummm…I don’t have feelings, and if I did I certainly would not share them..but then the next day something happened.  People started leaving comments on the post, and sharing it.  Other people had the same exact feelings.  For the first time I felt connected.
From there I tried to stop planning to write, and only wrote when I felt I had to, and then slowly worked in a mix of posts.  Always….Always, the posts that I spent the most time on and worked hard to make them “sound good” received the fewest comments and tweets and hits –usually none (yes, back then I really tracked those things!).   There is a post that I just recently wrote that I thought was AWESOME and one of my favorites but has seen no re-tweets, or comments.  Not that I care, not that’s what makes a post successful, but I just think it is ironic that the posts that I plan out before writing no one cares about, and the posts that I let my internal guard down and just let pour out with no censorship hit a nerve with people.   It has made me realize how useless our writing instruction in school really is.  200 blogs posts later, I wrote something that was totally uncensored, and left me feeling totally naked.  Everything in my body said don’t hit that publish button…and below is what went out to the world:


A heart so empty…  <–link to original post

I pasted what is written below into this post…and then stared at the delete key for a long time.  I hope that this post does not resonate with many people…but if it does…I hope that you know you are not alone.

I am in my right work…my dirty little secret is that I find it very painful.  I am not a teacher who wakes up everyday eager to get to school.  On many days its hurts.  I love my job.  I love my career. I hate my job.  I hate my career.  I love being who I am.  I hate being who I am.  I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. Everyday I can think of a million places I would rather be.  I have the perfect placement, with the perfect kids, yet I feel like I am always in the wrong place.  I am a part of an institution which seems bent on destroying many kids, yet I cannot even dream of leaving it.  I am apart of an institution that I want to influence and find a niche, but the institution does not want people like me in it. Every year another rule, policy, law is passed adding tests, standardization, data. The only thing getting more rigorous is my heart.  I am one person at home, another with my students, another with the parents, various other personalities depending on which colleagues I am with, and even have a couple online personalities. All I want to do is stick my head out and make a difference, but I fear…I am just scared. Scared of perceptions, scared of repercussions.  I am locked into a institution in which I have made to feel ashamed of what I am doing.  We are blatantly teaching to the test. We are blatantly standardizing the kids and their experience.  We are blatantly standardizing teachers.  This is progress.  This is the future…this is my future. Am I a victim?  I feel like a victim but I am a fighter…but I stay in my corner.
How do I survive?  I hide.  At meetings I don’t bring up exactly what I do. When questions about kids are brought up I play a role that keeps my passions hidden.  I never answer or speak up with what I believe…I hide.  I can’t be me outside of my four walls…they keep me safe…they keep us safe.  I have forgotten what I am hiding from…who I am hiding from. I don’t have to hide from the kids.  The kids get me.  I get them.  Does the teaching profession get me?  Do I get them?  The kids and I connect with an open honesty.  They tell me like it is…and I tell them.  I rock…we rock in the classroom.  We stand tall, we smile, we laugh, we cry. We get excited, we dream big, we are unstoppable.  We are not rigorous, we are not standardized, we are individuals who collectively do things that were previously thought to be impossible.  The other day we were talking about rebels.  Talked about the characteristics of rebels and how it was funny that the list on the board were all qualities that the world tells children not to have.  They discussed that our entire history book was full of rebels.  Almost all positive change comes from rebels.  I asked, “Who in the world would want to have a group of kids with these qualities in their classroom?”  They answered, “You would Mr. Bogush.”  I am developing rebels, but I am afraid to join the rebellion.
I am not proud of what I have become.  I get kids to see themselves for who they really are.  I only hope that I can wipe off years of systematic abuse in a single grade.  Kids write to me at the end of the year with words such as “I now know who I am.”  “I now know what kind of person I want to be.”  Why do I still not know that about myself?  I feel destined to hide outside of my heart.  I am passionate, but do not follow my passions.  A leader who does not lead.  A teacher, who cannot teach himself.  Seemingly fearless in taking risks, but full of fear when in a situation in which those risks might be shared.
After 20 years of teaching I have never had a belly so full, and a heart so empty.
MLK once said “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Tomorrow I take the first step in re-framing my work.  I have allowed myself to be pushed into a corner, made to feel like an outsider.  No one made me feel this way.  No one has that power…I accepted…I imposed all sorts of labels upon myself.  I walked into the corner myself…now it is time to walk out.

That post received a lot of attention…realize that for me just a few comments and re-tweets is a lot of attention!  But it also prompted many emails to me.  A lot of people felt just like I did…do(?).  I continued to write without censorship and just nailing that publish button.  And more emails and comments kept coming.  I realized that it was not until I felt naked as a writer that I felt like I was actually making a difference and connecting with people…and I also found that to be true in the classroom.  

So  how do I balance the need to protect my “internalness” with sharing your thoughts with this abyss of strangers?

I don’t anymore.  I can no longer think of a good reason to protect myself anymore. But I am still not always honest.  My honest feelings about what we do as teachers would probably get me fired! (That last line is sooo loaded for me and I desperately want to delete it! It actually is making my stomach turn, but in the spirit of this post I will leave it.) The reality is that the more I have shared, the less I have have protected myself using social media, the less the abyss seemed to be filled with strangers. I have discovered that I have not much left to protect, only to reveal.  In this era in which the school relationships between teachers, or between teachers and students are becoming so sterile, we need a dose “realness” in our lives and especially school.  I cannot possibly count the number of times kids have talked about not being able to be who they “want to be,” or unable to “follow their heart.”  I think that comes from teachers holding back and protecting themselves from their kids. Some do it with assignments, some with class rules, some with their clothes, some with their words.  It took me ten years of teaching to figure out that when I stopped protecting my “internalness” with the kids, I made a bigger difference in their lives.  Five years of trying to do it, and eight years of doing it. The reality is each time I let down my guard and felt naked in the classroom I was doing something right.  The same is true with my use of social media.In the last couple of years I have been trying to force myself to share more of what I do in the classroom and my thought process behind things –that is really feeling naked for me! and it is still so hard to do.  Posting my video I show the kids at the beginning of the year makes me feel so scared!  I feel like I am really unprotected when people look into my class!”  <–go ahead…take a peek.  Brrr….I feel naked 🙂

In the end, dropping my protection allowed me to realize that the abyss of strangers is nothing more than a collection of friends I have not met yet.  And each time I share a bit of my heart, I find that I make another friend…most of whom I will never meet. 

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