Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Value of Authenticity

First day of PDP, first lesson.  We teach who we are.  The first thing I was taught on my teaching journey was that how we teach and who we are in the classroom has to be authentic.  Anything less just won't do. This lesson set the tone of pretty much everything I have come to hold dear in education.

Over the course of my short-yet-eventuful career thus far, I have heard so many stories and strategies of how teachers have worked hard to separate their professional lives and personal lives.  Some go by different names in each domain of their existence.  Many choose to work a decent distance away from their homes.  Most have a story or two about the awkward run in with a parent or student while out buying a bottle of wine or box of tampons.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing to want a home life with a degree of privacy.  Privacy isn't my issue today.  But with twitter, tumblr, youtube, Facebook, flickr, iPhones, foursquare, geotagging and a never ending list of ways to which we have been willing to give up our privacy in a digital evolution, can we any long hide our heads in the sand and pretend this is possible?

With the rise of social media, the ability to create separate spheres of existence is coming to an end.  I mentioned it briefly in my last post - we are now in an era of life that is going to calls for teacher congruency.  This involves two aspects.  Firstly, teachers accepting that they are role models 24/7.  This was always true.  I knew this the minute I submitted my application to SFU.  I was choosing a calling that was going to require me to lead by example.  I CHOSE THIS.  I can't complain.  I wanted this.  I consider is a privilege and an honour to be a teacher and I am proud of the role I play.  And with it, I was ready and willing to make choices to live up to it.  If any teacher is unwilling to be that roll model 24/7, they may want to consider another profession.  The spotlight it on us, whether we are willing to accept it or not.  The second aspect that comes with this is the acceptance of teacher fallibility.  This means that parents, students, faculty, administrators, media and public at large may have to accept that teachers are human.  We make reasonable decisions.  We make good decisions.  We may even, gulp, make bad decisions.  We are real people.  This is a new and uncharted waters for the educating community.  I'm not going to pretend these are waters I know how to navigate.  But I am ready and willing.

If I was going to pick one thing that will make these waters EASIER to navigate, then I would have to say it is authenticity.  As individuals we now need to be one person.  Our teaching, inside and outside the classroom, the messages we share and the relationships we build, need to be true to who we are.  And as we continue to wade deeper into the murky waters that social media has exposed, my goal is to the lead the only way I know how - by modelling authenticity myself.  This can happen through consistency in our words and actions, transparency in our motives, and willingness to be vulnerable and honest with those around us.

If you know me, and you are reading this, I hope this rings true (if it doesn't, I ask you to call me on it).  If you are just getting to know me, I hope you grow to see that there is only one version of me to get to know.  And if you want to get to know me, I can assure you that the 'me' you will meet for coffee, in the classroom, on twitter (via @sullyteacher or @lysmekah - 2 handles, not for personal/professional separation, but for different audiences), curled up with a good book, backpacking through Europe, taking pictures of families or pitching a tent in the woods - she's all the same.  Of course this kind of authenticity is a work in progress.  It requires vulnerability and transparency.  But that is the journey I am on, and I hope to be better for it.

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