Recently, I’ve started a new project. I know I originally created my classroom blog to chronicle my own experiences as I seek to encourage opportunities for students to find their own voice and their own “dot” on the connective map of the world, but I’ve struggled with how to bridge my own experiences with the daily lives of my students’ worlds.
Admittedly, there is a bit of hesitation on my part. Connecting my life with my students’ lives has a potential to disrupt so called “norms” of teaching. I can’t recall a single textbook with the words, “Be their teacher, not their friend,” yet those words resound clearly in my mind of what it means to be a stable, rule-abiding teacher. It is almost as if the carefully constructed identity of “teacher” has been artificially created to serve the purpose of 8-3 school responsibilities, but unless you coach an approved sport or mentor students in the marching band, your boundaries are seemingly etched in the time clock (which I might add is seemingly yet another artificial construction).
More explicitly on the subject of social media, I remember a former school leader, whom I respect immensely, stating in a faculty meeting, “You can’t be friends with your students on Facebook.” This discussion was connected to a series of case studies where liability issues where connected to student and teacher interactions made visible in online spaces. For the first few years of my teaching career, I adopted this policy as my own “norm” of teaching. I told my students that I could not be friends with them on Facebook until they graduated from high school. This stance became complicated, however, when my husband became a youth minister in the same school district where he and I both interacted with students by traveling on the weekends to out-of-town conferences, hosting youth events at our house, and yes, *shocker*, befriending students on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook.
While I never encountered an issue during those years of my early teaching career, I now find myself questioning my old policy as a lot has changed in the last few years since I left to finish my doctoral degree. First, I hear students talking about Snap Chat, Instagram, and Twitter on a daily basis, including students who traditionally may have been labeled as “disadvantaged” from their participation in the school’s free or reduced lunch program. Not only has student access to these tools seemed to have increased, but also there seems to be a more relaxed stance toward online interactions in general. Although our school district still has a “no communicative device” policy, I hear conversations of respected teachers say, “We know they have cellphones everyday, but unless they make it visible, we aren’t going to go searching for them.” I have even heard a school leader mention his connection to his students by the number of followers he received one night after tweeting about the time and location of a school event that was subsequently retweeted to other students.
With all of these changes, you would think that I would have no problem befriending students online, promoting opportunities online to my students, or collaboratively working with students to curate online learning experiences together. I suppose some of my hesitation stems from fear. Recently, a proposal from some of my dissertation research was accepted at a national conference, and subsequently, I had to miss several days of school to present my work. It wasn’t until after I had returned to school that it came to my attention that my absence was noted in a less-than-flattering means in an online space by students. I was shocked. I was disappointed. I was upset, and I was hurt. Attending the conference to share and learn more about my profession was not only a great opportunity for me personally in my career, but it was also a great opportunity for my school to benefit from my experiences. Being a part of that conference gave me hope for the direction of education and validation for my own career choices, but as I returned to school, I was faced with criticism.
In some ways, facing this experience helped me to understand that perhaps a portion of the problem stemmed from my own identity as a teacher/researcher being so fragmented and unknowable to my students. My students had no way of knowing my intentions or purposes behind my absence. They had no way of seeing “the big picture” because I had not communicated it to them. Now I have finally reached the full circle as I am ready to explain my new project. This semester I am connecting my own quest for visibility, honesty, transparency in my digital identity to an online project called “Walk My World.” Although the participants bring a variety of experiences to the “digital” table, I share with them the quest of representing a digital identity to the world.
In an attempt to capture my own frustration and resolution to cultivate my online identity, I have created a presentation through Haiku Deck. The link can be found at https://www.haikudeck.com/p/CbiYwp8zuD/me-trying-to-figure-out-this-selfie-thing (I hope to continue to try a new “tool” on this project each week to build my own knowledge and help to share options for my students in the future.)
To me, the duality of my online life and my own personal life is still a bit befuddling. What I “create” of my self is only a representation of what I perceive of myself or perhaps what I want others to perceive as myself. At times it is hard to sort through what is truly the essence of me, the reality, and what my own mind has created, the dream of me. I’m still not entirely certain of where I fall within this duality, although my presentation seeks to connect some rough observations from nature to aid in my own understanding of my “two” selves.