Titles Escape Me, Friends Don’t

As much of a tech-minded, Twitter-using, blog-reading, RSS-feeding kind of guy I am, I still have trouble calling people I’ve connected with online “friends.” There needs to be a word (besides the giggle-inducing “tweeps”) for our net connections–this is my cue to all of you out there to tell me if there is one I’m not mentioning.  Titles aside, over the past year or so since I’ve been actively building my PLN, I have connected with many great educators around the country and quite a few outside of it. One in particular, Connecticut-based middle school history teacher Paul Bogush, has made an impact on me consistently first through his blog and then on Twitter.

As a pre-service teacher, I felt continually frustrated by being cut-off from the profession for which I was preparing to enter. Yes, there were practicum requirements that got me into a classroom for a few hours every other semester, but largely my only experiences were with college professors and my peers. My real “education” was developing through correspondence with teachers whom I had met along the way. Some of my older friends were already teaching; I could sense their collective fear, exasperation, and occasional joy through their emails and Facebook statuses. It was nice to have my ear to the hive even distantly, but I felt that something was missing.

I didn’t know what it meant to be a teacher. When I was a chemistry student, It only took one day of lab on my own to understand the substance of what being a chemist involved. Education was proving to be more nebulous. What did teachers really do all day–or all Summer for that matter? What did teachers talk about when they were unsure of their plans? What I was missing was the connection to a community. The Education corpus academia was not exactly cohesive at Missouri State. We were scattered singles rather than a connected collective. I wish I would have found out earlier that

Teaching is all about community.

I believe learning is, as I’ve written many times on this site before, socially constructed. It takes other people to help build knowledge. Making connections with other people, therefore, is a vital step to learning. In my classroom, I try to encourage a relationship-building atmosphere, but I also need to connect to other teachers just as students need one another. I have good rapport with my fellow teachers because we’ve shared stories of success and failure with each other. The more ways that teachers can find to build community, the more powerful their knowledge base will be.

What aspects of community I don’t get in my school building and district meetings, I can find online through my PLN. Not all teachers are comfortable with the concept–some mistakenly think of it as only a trendy excuse to use expensive toys or waste of time “looking busy” in the guise of productivity. Twitter is very popular right now. The name buzzes around in our ears from our television and radio speakers, it jumps out from web pages and profile sidebars. Tweet tweet TWEET! I’m sure many of you are users, but I know there are just as many reading this that don’t “get it” and don’t care–that’s okay.

The most important thing you non-tweeters need to understand is this: regardless of what athletes and celebrities “tweet” about (I don’t care what Shaq and MC Hammer ate for lunch either), you can be assured there is a community of educators online at your beck-and-call if you choose to join in. After you’ve connected with a few people, typing a question into Twitter becomes like shouting out a window over a field where a bunch of teachers are eating lunch and playing kickball: you never know what will fly your way!

tweet1

Sharing stories, commiserating, encouraging, suggesting new ideas, following conversation threads in new directions–these are all things you can do online through Twitter. Aren’t those all things you do with friends, colleagues? Titles escape me and I refuse to say “tweeps” out-loud, but I’ve read Paul‘s personal thoughts just about every day for nearly a year now and It sort of feels wrong to call him anything but “friend.”

Take a step out onto the ledge. Follow me. Find a friend.

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3 thoughts on “Titles Escape Me, Friends Don’t

  1. Earlier this morning I read someone’s blog in which they said “My friend Paul Bogush…” It caught me by surprise. I never considered that person my “friend.” But after reflecting I thought to myself that I have talked and shared many things with him, the same things I would have with any other friend. If he was standing next to me and someone walked up to us I would introduce him as “my friend.” The reality is that many people can become friends online and share a “virtual beer.” I think it takes some flexibility on the part of both parties to share emotions, and deep thoughts, and glimpses into their personal life, not just links and “re-tweets.” Some simply aren’t comfortable doing that virtually. Online communities are shifting our definition of friendship. I would have to say that there are now more people that I would totally trust with everything that I know who are online friends, than face-to-face friends. There must be some diagram of level of online friendship available…
    Level one-re-tweet
    Level two-share links
    Level three-respond to comment/tweet
    Level four-engage in online dialogue
    Level five-share and engage in personal life stuff
    Level six-finally comfortable enough to make fun of someone’s dog(sorry readers, private joke)
    Level seven-do all the above

    What freaked me out last year is that I went to a conference and people I had only known online came up and hugged me and gave me a kiss(the greeting kind!). I think at that moment I realized that online friends are just as real as face-to face friends.

    PS–if I meet you face-to-face you won’t have to worry about me kissing you, a handshake will do.

  2. I am more comfortable than either of you, it would appear, in calling people I’ve only met virtually my friends. What matters is whether we can connect on an emotional level. When my friend Deven hurt his knee and missed out on a week of teaching, I felt sorry for him and wanted to help him deal with the transition back in. Sounds like friendship to me. There are a few people I exchange private messages with about our lives, and that’s friendship, too, as far as I am concerned.

    And yes, I would definitely be hugging quite a few people I’ve met through Twitter. But if they only want to shake hands, that’s OK, too. I’ll admit I’ve not followed either of you (Steve or Paul) closely enough for a hug (yet). But you never know ;-).

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