For Us, By Us: 5 Tips for An Authentic Educator Voice

Someone on Twitter asked me what advice I have for blog writing as a teacher. I replied quickly:

But there’s more than that. In an age where education overlords explicitly tell corporate- and government-friendly educators to not speak about the conversations you often see here on this blog. Race, class, gender, intersectionality, and other uncomfortable topics sit in the corner while more profitable topics like 1-to-1 laptop classrooms, grit, and whatever new-fangled edu-tool was tossed to them at a tech exhibit. Equally potent is the teacher activist circles where tweets about Common Core, assessment, and Bill Gates. It’s fun to quote [insert favorite edu-pundit here], but after a while, you wonder whether the breadth of educational experiences ever enters their vernacular or if they too are hyped up at the chance of growing a few thousand followers on a social media platform.

Which brings us to this list. Here’s a set of 5 tips I keep in my back pocket that have helped me get to where I am as a full-time classroom teacher / advocate. Hope it helps you find your educator voice:

1. Read All Of The Blogs

This might seem impossible because it damn near is. Some folks are quick to point out that everybody writes blogs but nobody reads. I contend that people do read blogs, but folks like me have become discerning about what we read. If you’re just starting though, you want to read a thick set of blogs that span the dialogues. You’ll want Chris Lehmann’s, Rafranz Davis’, Renee Moore’s, and Christina Torres’ blogs on your list since they have educator perspectives. I’ll also add in Audrey Watters, Melinda Anderson, NYC Educator, EduShyster, Curmudgucation, and Dan Meyer because they can actually write.

(I have a lot more, but these are just ten that come to mind. Do add a few more in the comments, please.)

2. Hone Your Style

Feel free to emulate styles until you find your own. This goes along the lines of Austin Kleon’s rendition of stealing like an artist. [You’ll want to read that blog post and the book, too. See? All of the things.] Akin to a rookie teacher visiting every teacher in their department and incorporating the moves they saw into their repertoire, writers read a lot so they can eventually hone their style. It’s going to take a few months (check #3), but eventually when you find that voice, everyone will be able to tell who you are without even reading the title. That’s a voice.

3. Write A Ton

The more you write intentionally, the better. If you only write once a week, it’s harder to find your voice. If you write three or four times a week, then you can experiment as much as you like until you find your audience. That’s critical. If you write on a consistent basis for about six months, you can find your educator voice. Writing a lot doesn’t mean writing the same thing, either. Oftentimes, people equate writing in volume with writing with purpose. If you’re not moved to write something down, don’t, unless you’re not going to publish it. If you are going to write something on a blog, then respect the reader by holding it until it’s ready. The idea usually comes to the fore the next day. Writing just to write doesn’t help in the way that just throwing up basketballs to the hoop doesn’t help you become a better player. Aim and precision matter, too.

4. Find Your Boundaries

Believe it or not, I have boundaries for what I write. I don’t write about my own administrators and I rarely talk about any one student or colleague specifically (except in my book). Before you can go deep into a topic, you have to consider the items that might be off-limits. Unfortunately, in many school districts, this does include intersectional topics, but if it is this, then …

5. Go. In.

Once you find your boundaries, you’ll be able to go more in depth with the things you’re most passionate about. Don’t be shallow about analyses, either. If you find yourself inclined for any reason to stop short of saying something for any other reason besides #4, then say it. Writing like this tests your mettle. If you need to name names, go for it. As one of the founders of Black Lives Matter told me, this is a perfect time to go for the jugular because politeness has only gotten social justice so far.

The idea isn’t to write for the sake of shaming or hurting, but to elicit truth in the midst of niceties. What plagues too much of education discourse isn’t the need for “better” conversation. It’s that soundbites and jargon masquerade as substance too frequently. The greatest writers I’ve seen don’t skirt the issue. They swirl around it and come to a finite, central point, spanning the breadth of the topic at hand. Educators deserve a bigger voice, and those of us who can do it ought to exercise those voices.

Oh, and keep students in mind when you write. That’s what differentiates educator voices from other voices who are just kinda into education.

Hope this was helpful. Do you have an educator voice? What questions do you have about educator voice?