This past week, on May 6th, 2015, my wife Crystal and I celebrated the third birthday of TeachingtheCore.com (update: On August 1, 2015, TeachingtheCore.com became DaveStuartJr.com — same blog, new name). It was a crazy party — she had a glass of wine, I had a glass of scotch, we reminisced, and we were yawning by 10 pm. Such is our wild, raucous life 🙂
But it really was a special time. When I look back on the past three years, I’m overwhelmed by gratitude. In this post, as part of an effort to pay forward the many kindnesses the Teaching the Core community has shown me, I want to be as transparent as possible about the work of the past three years, the rewards that have come from that work, and the opportunity that I think exists for future teacher bloggers — many of whom may be among you, the smart, passionate readers in the Teaching the Core community. At the end of the post, you’ll find a free, 5-day email course I’ve put together for those interested in learning more about smarter, saner teacher blogging.
If there’s anything I don’t cover in the post that you’d like to learn more about, feel free to hit me up in the comments.
I. The Work
One of my greatest wishes for my students is that they will become comfortable with hard work. I don’t want them to become submissive automatons or cogs in an outdated industrial machine; I do want them to be able to make a flourishing life, and I just don’t think that’s likely without a solid work ethic.
It’s also because I think joy can come when we get past the discomfort of doing hard things — just like joy comes to the runner who pushes past the inertia of the couch, puts on the running shoes, and gets far enough into the workout for the endorphins to kick in — the “runners high.”
Finally, I want them comfortable with hard work not just so they’ll be college and career ready, but so they’ll be ready for the hard work of being a spouse or a parent. The best relationships, the ones you can hang a life on, are the fruit of daily re-commitment and care.
So it was partially from these desires for my students that I decided I’d be a schmuck if I told them “Do hard things” while I was just kind of doing my job and picking away at it. At the time that I started Teaching the Core, I was finishing my fifth year of teaching. I was finding my groove. And I knew I needed to keep wrestling with things that challenged me, engaging daily in the struggle to balance life and work, to pursue both joy and excellence.
This pushed me over the edge; I decided that, even though I wasn’t ready, I was going to start a blog. I’m an English and history teacher who harps hard on literacy; a blog would force me to grow as a reader, writer, speaker, and thinker. The sections that follow detail the work that this blog forced/allowed me to do.
In the past three years, I’ve published roughly 250,000 words. Those words comprise:
- 161 articles on this blog — including this one;
- 1 traditionally published book;
- 1 self-published book; and
- Several ebooks and eguides.
Keeper point: it’s both the quantity of words written that matters and the fact that the “publish” button gets clicked regularly. Writing for publication — on the Internet, in a magazine or journal, at a coffeehouse reading hour — isn’t optional if you want your writing to go somewhere. There are no overnight writing successes.
So: production + publication = important.
Writing for publication is, in many ways, declaring war on oneself. It doesn’t magically whisk away my insecurities and failings, but it does increase the chances of internal victory against The Voices that tell me I’m too much of an idiot to be writing things I expect others to read.
In the past three years, I’ve:
- spoken at 10 conferences
- given 7 keynotes to large audiences
- led nearly 20 school-based workshops in 6 different states for all different kinds of teacher audiences
A few days ago my students and I took a field trip to a local business, and one of the speakers asked, “How many of you like to get up in front of people and speak?” Some of my students raised their hands, but I couldn’t.
At my most recent engagement (a gymnasium-based, 3-hour keynote/workshop on literacy for 540 K-12 teachers in Turlock, CA), I think I was just as nervous as I was at the first (a cafeteria-based, 2-hour keynote/workshop on the Common Core in Harrah, OK). Despite all of the speaking above, I can still say that leading a teacher workshop or giving a keynote scares me. My chief prayer prior to an event is always the same: just let me have fun while I’m up in front of these folks. (It’s much more enjoyable learning with someone who’s having fun than it is learning from someone who’s scared stiff.)
Anyway — that hard stuff is why they call it work.
Reading & Thinking
Teaching the Core has forced me to expand my reading and thinking all over the place. And you might think, “Oh, sure — he’s read a lot of books for teachers.” But you’d only be partially right.
These past three years haven’t just been about getting smarter as a teacher — they’ve also been about getting smarter as a blogger, as a full-time teacher trying to run a blog for teachers, as a speaker, as a businessman. Many of these were things I didn’t even think I’d need to know about when I started out three years ago. But necessity has forced me to seek information from sources as varied as the hilarious Fizzle community of online entrepreneurs to fitness/habit gurus like James Clear.
I can’t really quantify what I’ve read these past three years, but I can say that I’ve read more than ever before in my life and, most importantly, I’ve gained more from reading than ever before because it’s giving me so many different ways of thinking through problems and opportunities.
And then there’s the work that doesn’t fit neatly into a category. Work like booking travel arrangements and creating speaking contracts and deciding on how much to quote for an engagement and negotiating book contracts and working with copyeditors and sitting on the phone with tech support and trying to figure out Twitter and combatting workaholism and getting snubbed by big-wig teacher-authors and being embarrassed by the inevitable typo I missed at 11:30 pm when I finished a blog post and constantly coming to grips with the fact that I have ideas for posts and products and books that I’ll simply never have time to pursue because it’s not worth sacrificing my students or my family.
I am grateful for all this work, but there’s no sense hiding the fact that I’ve often not loved it 🙂
It’s paid off, though — let’s talk about that next.
II. The Rewards
When I began TeachingtheCore.com, I had hoped it would give me opportunities to increase my impact, my income, my career, and my life experiences. Here have been the results.
I wasn’t a super-networked guy when I started TeachingtheCore.com (I’m still not!), but I was aware enough of the world outside my school to know that plenty of teachers were more stressed than they needed to be. I hoped that my blog would get read so that it would help some of those teachers.
To date, TeachingtheCore.com has racked up the following statistics:
- Pageviews: 932,371
- Visitors: 401,423
Keep in mind that these don’t necessarily mean impact — in many ways, these are vanity metrics, and I don’t compulsively check them anymore like I used to because simply getting folks to your site doesn’t mean you’re giving them any value.
That’s why, in many ways, this stat matters more to me:
- Comments: 1,289
While comments aren’t a perfect indicator that my work has helped folks, each comment (and email) gives me a much clearer picture than a simple view or visit. So: if you’ve ever commented on the blog, thank you. You’ve written almost 91,000 words in the comments section of this blog.
It may be controversial to say this, but I insisted to myself that Teaching the Core be a professional endeavor — and part of being a professional is getting paid.
Why keep an eye on blogging income? A few reasons come to mind:
- As a married man and a dad, my time isn’t just my own. I need to be able to justify the extra effort and care that is running this blog. Crystal is so supportive of me, but it’s important to me that she and the girls benefit from the extra work I do.
- It’s one thing to have folks visit your blog — it’s another thing to see that they appreciate your work enough to purchase a product or invite you to their school or event for PD. In other words, income is another way of indicating impact.
- It’s fun.
So where are we? Last year (2014) was the first in which my blogging/writing/speaking income earned slightly more than I did as a teacher. In other words, TeachingtheCore.com has helped my single income family become a double income family. That is a huge deal for the Stuarts, and we are very thankful to you all for helping to make that dream a reality.
Finally, there are just those “too cool to categorize” opportunities that I owe to this blog.
- Two summers ago, I traveled to Germany with a group of teachers *for free* through the Transatlantic Outreach Program on a study tour too incredible to buy. It was my first trip overseas, and I doubt I would have made it through the selection committee had I not had this blog. Even better, the next summer I was able to see three friends of mine take the same trip. #rewarding
- Last fall at my first-ever trip to the annual NCTE conference, I happened to have an insane opportunity that basically stemmed from a book review blog post I wrote. It was an intimate cocktail party in a rooftop lounge with people like Jim Burke, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Bob Probst, Kylene Beers, Tom Romano, Barry Lane, Lisa Luedeke… I mean, calling these people giants doesn’t even cut it. All because of a blog post.
- As you know, I was recently blessed with a national research prize, and that’s an honor I largely attribute to this blog and the thinking it has forced me to do.
- Last summer, I was given an alumni achievement award from the American College of Education. I’ve always been the guy sitting in the audience watching people get these awards — it was an out-of-body experience to walk up to the mic and give a speech upon receiving the award.
- Finally — and this has only happened twice, but twice is enough for a lifetime — I’ve had two heroes of mine reach out to me via email and start genuine correspondences with me: Jerry Graff and Jim Burke. I didn’t seek these guys out, I didn’t cold call them or send letters. Nope — they took the time to reach out and offer me their mentorship.
III. The Opportunity
This post has gotten long; if you made it here, you are the definition of stalwart.
Let me cut to the chase: I think there are still way too few impactful teacher blogs out there. Even some of the most popular teacher blogs on the planet are, to me, really overwhelming or confusing.
If you love to write, dream of reaching more people through your work, or simply desire to force yourself to get better at communication and reflection, I’d like to help you start your blogging journey this month. In an effort to pay it forward, I’ve prepared a free, 5-day email course for anyone who wants to learn more about starting a blog. It hasn’t even been beta tested on folks, but it is the result of me sitting at a computer this past week or so and saying, “Okay — what would I tell someone who is trying to start a blog for teachers this summer; what things should they be thinking about?”
Sign up below:
Oh — and if you’re like, “Dude, I can’t start a blog — I need to get my M.Ed first!” Then here’s something for you:
I could have written this whole post in 18 words: Thank you, and I am here to help if you, too, want to start an adventure this May.