Early in 2013, some tragic news prompted me to send a tweet of condolence to my old year group; it was the best way to reach my students who, from ex-colleagues, had been asking if I had heard. I was devastated by the loss of a pupil as I knew his friends would be.
Living and teaching in Bangkok meant I was no longer bound by the advice given to all UK teachers about social networking and quite frankly I didn’t care, my message contained support, love and empathy for all 365 of them and I needed them to know I cared and cried with them. Within minutes the tweet had been re-tweeted and favourited and I had picked up 200 plus followers. This was back in February 2013 and since then, I have had the most beautiful moments of my career.
I have been privy to the secret online lives of the teenager, they are a funny, humorous and caring lot who tweet about everything and anything, from everywhere and anytime. And yes, even from their classrooms and about us teachers. When I asked one if she ever tweeted from my class, her response “LOL Miss, no we just text each other’. Cheeky!
I rarely respond to tweets on my timeline unless they are specifically @ me; the Tweets are a mixture of loves lost and found, song lyrics and school pressures combined with the usual anxieties of teenagedom. As a Head of Year, I would be speaking to parents, police officers and social care almost hourly if some of this stuff had come my way but it didn’t. I can now be objective and caring from a very privileged position. I can also talk to them frankly and about things which would be off limits for any normal teacher.
As a virtual Head of Year, I have been able to carry on the relationship I had spent four years building- I can offer encouragement, support and reason. They message me with questions like which sixth form to attend, what to do about friendships and the ones who worried me when I went home at night, keep me posted with their success stories. It’s nice to be thanked for the job I loved to do and it is nice to hear from home. They make me cry and laugh in equal message but as I know my boundaries they do too. They DM private messages and rarely comment on my tweets ; In our social networking partnership we know the rules and never break them. The ‘unfollow’ button is at our mutual disposal and I am happy to be unfollowed or followed. They also know that if I thought them to be in danger’s way, I wouldn’t hesitate to act.
We are not friends on Facebook, that is strictly for my family and friends- I have some followers but rarely post publicly preferring my Facebook page to be personal. I see Twitter as a great way for those pupils who want to say hello to do so. As grown-ups, we should choose the social media that fits our lifestyle, including our work and we should benefit from it.
I have definitely benefited, I have learnt so much and it reinforced that young people are instinctively honest and they never say things such as ‘thank you’ without meaning it, they wouldn’t take the time to unless they meant it. Neither do they say negative stuff.
The virtual world would be a much better place if we all got online.