Chelsi's Educational Musings

Digital Identity VS Real Life Identity

Posted on: October 22, 2011

A Friday night gab session with a friend turned into fodder for a new blog post.  Most productive phone call ever!  It seems that no matter what the topic is and who I am talking to, somehow conversation always ends up being about Facebook.  Tonight, we were discussing the act of “creeping” – our friends who lay low, never post anything, but are very vigilant as to what everyone around them is doing on Facebook.  We were discussing how some of our mutual friends are always on Facebook, yet never make their presence known until every once in a while, they will say something like, “Yeah, I saw that you posted about that on Facebook.”  When that happens, we both said we’re caught off guard because we forget these people are even viewing what we are posting, and we wondered why they choose to view, but not share or participate.  Personally, I said that I simply have more fun on Facebook when I comment, engage in discussion, and post pictures.  My friend, on the other hand, said that she viewed the “creepers” as judgemental, silently forming opinions about what she posted.  Having been thinking about online identity since our Tuesday night class, I asked her if she thinks that her digital identity is similar to her real life identity.  She said that she was definitely more herself in real life and that she felt that online, she had to be guarded and felt that she could only share part of who she is.   I feel, however, that she is a very guarded person in real life as well, and that this spills over into her online persona even more.

I have been thinking quite a lot about how I portray my identity online, and I came to the realization that I am very open and very much myself through my digital identity.  Unlike my friend, I do not feel the need to be guarded, nor do I feel like others are judging what I say and do.  I post my opinions and feelings on Facebook, Twitter, and in my blogs, I share a plethora of pictures and articles, and I comment often on other peoples’ postings.  Do I feel the need to filter myself online?  No, for I have come to the realization that I do not filter what I share, but I filter who I share it with.  Moreover, I realized that in many aspects, I feel that I can be MORE of myself online than in real life BECAUSE of my control over who gets to know the real me.

Since kindergarten, I have witnessed what it was like to be somewhat guarded.  I attended the same elementary school where my mom taught, so we lived in the same community where she worked.  It was an unwritten rule that my brother and I should behave our best, even outside of school, because everyone in the community would know if we were in trouble, and it would reflect poorly on my mom as a teacher at the school.  Not to worry – we did not grow up in some rigid, uber-strict household, and my elementary school days were extremely positive.  I was even fortunate enough to have been in my mom’s class, and it was one of my favourite years ever.  Throughout school, however, I was aware that if I misbehaved, my teachers would tell my mom, and as I grew older, I realized that it would be embarrassing for her.  It was interesting for me to find out this weekend that a colleague of mine attended the school where her dad was principal and her mom was a teacher, and she said she felt the exact same way while growing up.

Coincidentally, I am now teaching at the same elementary school that I attended and that my mom taught at for 23 years.  I feel the exact same need to be guarded as I’m sure my mom once felt, and I do not even have the addition of my own children attending the school.  I feel that as a teacher, I must constantly be a “good role model,” even when outside of the school.  Many of the parents at my school are highly involved in the lives of their children to the point of being dubbed “helicopter parents”, as they are constantly “hovering” around the teachers and their children.  Some are excellent parents, while others literally will watch in your windows while you teach.  Our school is actually developing a reputation of being one where the parents are overly difficult to deal with, and I have found this to be true on numerous occasions.  *Warning – this post is about to enter ‘teacher-rant’ territory.*  Quite honestly, some of the parents at my school are far too involved in the business of the teachers’ personal lives.  Here are a few examples in which I wish I had a “block this user” option in real life for dealing with parents:

Exhibit A:  In past years, many of the parents on the school council spent much of the meeting talking about the teachers.  We have new parents on the council this year, and I am hoping that they are more concerned about the school than they are about gossiping.  At one meeting that a colleague of mine attended, she informed me that the parents were discussing which teachers were taking their Masters or second degrees.  They were speaking negatively about this and how this would mean that we would have less time to spend working on our jobs.  Little do they know how much we are using FROM our classes to benefit our teaching.  One parent once complained to the principal that our VICE PRINCIPAL, who was taking her Masters and doing training to be a teacher leader, was jeopardizing the students’ learning because she was spending six half days receiving leadership training.  Ridiculous.

Exhibit B:  After I had gotten engaged, a parent of a child whom I had never even taught said to me, “Congratulations!  We heard you just got engaged!”  I thanked her, to which she said, “So your fiancé is from Seattle?  Is he moving here?”  I replied that no, he was not from Seattle, nor had he ever lived there.  She said, “Oh, really?  That’s what everyone is saying.  Has he been there recently?”  Everyone is saying that?  Why?  How did they even come up with that information?  Why do they even care?

Exhibit C:  After my wedding, I took my pictures to Walmart to get them developed, not knowing that a parent (again, of a student whom I had never taught) was working in the photo developing centre.  When I came to pick up my photos, she had actually looked through all of my photos and commented to me about which teachers were at the wedding, how they were partying, and other comments that angered me simply due to the fact that she had looked through my photos without my permission.  Had this been Facebook, I could have had control over who had seen these photos, and it would not have been a parent.  I do not even know why I was so mad.  There was nothing that I needed to hide, as I was very proud of these pictures and was showing them to everyone.  However, I could show them to WHOM I wanted, and I would not have chosen a parent who has no business going through my photos.

Exhibit D:  My coworker was driving in the same area where we teach, and she had flowery decals on her car, making her car easy to identify as hers.  That day, she turned left on a yellow light to avoid being stuck in the intersection.  The next day, her middle years student said to the class, “My mom said that she saw you driving yesterday.  You turned left on a yellow light and that’s really dangerous.  My mom said that you could have hit someone or caused an accident.”  She promptly took the decals off of her car so that it would look less conspicuous.

I feel that as a teacher, I must always be aware as to who is “watching” me.  I love that online, I can filter to whom I present myself.  I CAN post my wedding pictures and state my opinions without worrying that they will be taken the wrong way.  I am fully comfortable on Facebook, my blog, and Twitter because I do not have to filter myself because I have chosen not to have parents, students, or anyone under the age of eighteen as my friends.  Yes, I know that there are ways for others who are not my friends to view my content, but I do not post anything that I feel that I will regret.  I find it interesting that when I first started using the internet and engaging in message boards and chat rooms, the big precaution was how easy it was for one to assume a false identity.  Who would know if you were faking to be someone else?  Nowadays, I rarely even think about that at all.  I recall Danah Boyd discussing in her presentation that people use Facebook to connect with friends, not to meet new people.  There is no need to pretend to be someone we are not when on Facebook – everyone knows everyone’s business already so it would be pretty difficult to pretend to be someone else!

My friend and I had such differing opinions about how we present our identity online.  I am interested to know if your online identity and real life identity differ, or if you are relatively the same person in both aspects of your life.


12 Responses to "Digital Identity VS Real Life Identity"

Awesome thoughts. I too was a teachers kid and my dad was the prinicipal of my school and my homeroom grade 8 teacher. I felt the smae types of things that you did about behavouring myself and we knew as kids that what was discussed around the dining room table did not leave the table. I do think that it made me see things through the eyes of a teacher. I remember when some of the kids were complaining about my dad and the homework he had given us and I stood up for him and said “you know he has a curriculum to get through”. Yup, I was a bit of nerd.

I do find myself more guarded in my life “out there” in the last few years or so. Probably even more since I have become an administrator. I prefere house parties where you can let your hair down more than going to a public place. I am always feeling like somone is watching. Although, like you, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

I have a sisiter who lives out in Vancouver and I always tell her how liberating it is to go and hang out and not worry about anyone knowing me. Just being able to go to the mall and no one saying Hi. To do whatever you want to do.

Haha – I love the curriculum comment!
It’s so neat that you can completely relate. I remember that unspoken rule that NOTHING that was said at home about the students or staff was ever repeated at school. Anything happening at staff parties was also definitely off limits!

Isn’t it weird to be in a different city where you won’t run into students? It sounds like something a celebrity would say or feel! I imagine it must be much more difficult as an administrator to let your guard down. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Hey Chelsi, great post and oh so true! As teachers I’m sure most of have these types of stories and are as equally as frustrated as you are. Alec had an interesting thought in last week’s class about public and private selves. As I understood him he explained that at one time we were private by default and public by effort and in today’s world we are public by default and private by effort. Have a great week!

Yes! I was trying to remember the exact wording to that quote! Thanks for that – totally applicable and very true. Thanks for the comment, and have a great week yourself!

Very interesting post Chelsi. It is so true that we seem to have to live by a different set of standards than many other professionals do. Recently, I had taken the afternoon off for one of my many doctor’s appointments and I had a couple errands to do. I went to my doctor’s appointment and then went to get some groceries for supper. While I was at the store, I ran into one of the students from my morning Kindergarten class. I was immediately questioned as to why I had taken the afternoon off. I felt as if I was being judged for taking the time off for the appointment and that I had the nerve to get some food for my supper. I find it interesting that people expect us to give our all to their children but that we shouldn’t do anything for ourselves or our families.
I completely understand what you are saying also about being a teacher’s child. I lived the same experiences as a child. I now fear what I will be putting my children through. Both my husband and I are teachers and even though we teach in a larger centre than I grew up in, we are both French Immersion teachers so our children are well known to our colleagues. I sometimes find myself wishing my children would be better behaved in public only to remind myself that they are young children and sometimes they do misbehave.

I COMPLETELY relate, Honni! I had a very similar experience a few weeks ago when leaving the doctor and ran into a parent. Even though I was exiting the doctor’s office, I felt like she was thinking, “Oh, you can’t make an appointment on your own time?” Like you said, it’s so frustrating how the public often views our job as one that serves others and that taking time for ourselves is selfish. It’s sad that you even had to justify why you were getting groceries and were questions about it.

It’s so interesting to see how many teachers are the children of teachers! I’m sure that (or definitely hope that) your colleagues understand that your children are simply behaving the way that children naturally do!
Thanks for the reply! I enjoyed your posts this week as well!

Hey Chelsi,

I love the post. I feel however that I am guarded in all aspects of my life. I always feel like I have to watch what I say or do, not that I am doing anything inappropriate, because I am a teacher. I do believe however that it is also part of my personality. I have never been one who just acts before thinking. But sometimes it would be nice to be able to just act and not worry about what students, parents and community members might think. The sentence ” once a teacher, always a teacher” comes back to me time and time again.

When it comes to family and their actions, I too worry about my kids. We live in the same area where I work. My co-workers have heard countless stories about my kids but when they are in school, I am hoping that the boys act appropriately at all times. I often also find it necessary to remind my husband that even though he is not a teacher, he is married to one and therefore has to watch what he says and does. He hates being married to a teacher. He is much more of an act first person and would really rather not filter anything!

Thanks for the reply! I understand what you are saying about always watching your actions. Even after I had posted this, I had a moment of panic over whether any parents would end up finding it lol. Maybe I’m not as free as I think I am online!

I feel for you with your kids, as my mom must have felt the same way. I had to laugh about your husband because my dad definitely does not filter anything either, and I remember certain incidents where my mom ended up reminding him that he’s married to a teacher! That must be really hard at times!

The whole idea of an online identity is an interesting one – what we reveal and to whom is something one needs to seriously consider…especially in our jobs. Your background experience maybe has prepared you better for this than most.

I really think that as social media becomes more a part of my life I have become more cognizant of what I share – not that it was ever bad before (I hope).

Your rant made me laugh as an aside.

Thanks Mick! It’s so ridiculous that it IS kind of funny.

Yeah, I agree, I think as social media is a more prominent part of our lives, we’re just naturally more aware of what we share. I sometimes worry when friends post about going on long vacations or being away from home. I just hope that their profiles aren’t open to friends of friends, because it’s like alerting the world that you are not at home and your house is free to be robbed.

Chelsi, I hear you – I grew up in a small town, taught in a small town, and foolishly thought when I moved to the big city of Regina, I would finally regain my anonymity. WRONG! What have discovered is that the world is a very small place and getting smaller as result of technology.You raise some interesting points – one the notion that social media such as Facebook are really communication tools and for the most part the users expect that communication to be two way. However, your silent observers offer little back. If you apply this to education, think of our silent students sitting in the classroom. They don’t raise a hand, nor offer anything to discussion. I used to call these kids, hitchhikers. What excites me about social media, is that by making the same discussion question available on a blog, maybe these silent students will find a voice. The other question you raise is does silence mean there is nothing being learned? Your silent learners are learning the truths as presented by you. You are part of their learning network they just aren’t giving you anything back at the moment. Think of it as the blogs you read but do not comment on – does your silence mean you are judging or dismissing? Does it matter?

Chelsi, with the growth of the socialnet, we are becoming less a bunch of little “selves” that we share at particular times, revealing to others particulars that we want/hope to be acceptable/ed. Alecs comment about being public by default/private by effort is reinforced as we see more and more people sharing their lives, from birth (sometimes conception) onward. As we adapt to this new socialnet experience, there are many things with which we will struggle/question – how much we reveal and what is the impact and why. What you describe growing up has always been a part of our social fabric – I grew up on the wrong side of the street/tracks/yard – guess what people said? And it didn’t matter how I acted, all it took was one misstep. Now, as an administrator, it helps me to see the world from a different vantage point. The world is very small but our potential in it is not. Too often, we see things not as they are but through a filter that is of our own construct. Hopefully, through the merging/mashing of the separate parts, we are better able to grow our whole selves, not just particular “selves” and develop the filters through which we look.

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