Tuesday night, President Barack Obama will give the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address. As a history and government teacher at Verona Area High School, I look forward to this event and usually spend two days on it in my classes. As an avid user of Twitter, however, I enjoy live-Tweeting events like the SOTU because it allows me to share my thoughts and see what others are thinking at the time. Imagine my surprise then when I received an email from the White House telling me that I was invited to attend the 2014 State of the Union Social.
According to the White House’s website, the Social is an opportunity for White House “social media followers to join in-person events, engage with administration officials, and share their experience with their friends.”
It’s going to be a quick trip — I flew out Monday and come back Wednesday — but it should be very rewarding. I am looking forward to live-tweeting the speech from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and participating in the post-speech panels with administration officials. I think this will be a great way to show my students that social media can be an effective tool and that it can lead to some really amazing opportunities. Of course, I will also try to see the sights, especially the White House and Capitol.
In applying for an invitation to the Social, I had to tell the White House in 140 characters (the maximum length for a Tweet) why I wanted to attend. My reason was something to the effect of, “To show my students how to effectively use social media to engage with our elected officials and representatives (and that dreams come true).” I also had to give them all of my social media accounts. My guess is that they wanted to make sure I actually used them to engage in the public sphere.
I actually started actively using Twitter because of the 2012 SOTU. One of the courses I teach is about government and politics, so the SOTU naturally fits into that curriculum. As I was gearing up for the SOTU, I noticed that the White House had a week’s worth of Twitter chats lined up, and I thought, “I have Twitter account, I should try it.”
Since the 2012 SOTU, I have become addicted to Twitter (I could quit tomorrow, though. Really, I could.). It allows me to connect with others with who share my interests and gives me a chance to voice my opinion or just share articles I find interesting. In that short period of time, I have been able to connect and exchange tweets with journalists, professors, think tankers and government officials from the U.S. and Europe. I’m not that concerned that I have only a few followers; I just enjoy reading other people’s thoughts and getting mine out there.
As a high school teacher, I’ve noticed that my students are quite adept at using social media. The White House Twitter chats provided a perfect opportunity for me to show them a productive way of using social media. Now, I bring Twitter into the classroom when I can to give them more examples of positive ways to use it. Many of my students are surprised that I have an account and a few quickly follow me. However, when they realize how, exactly, I use Twitter (as a professional tool and a news feed), they drop like the flies on my desk at the beginning of the school year.
If I am being completely honest, I have to admit that I am a bit nervous about live-tweeting from the White House. I feel like my Tweets during the SOTU will be under closer scrutiny than they usually are and that people will be judging me more so than they might already. I am honored to have been chosen to attend this prestigious event, and I don’t want White House staffers to feel like they made a poor choice in having me there. All of my hard work to use Twitter as a professional tool has led to this moment, and I don’t want to waste this opportunity.
I look forward to writing about my trip and tweeting, and I hope that it will lead to some great discussions and even more opportunities to put my passion for history, politics and social media to use.