You know, out of all the people who ever read this blog, probably only about six or seven have seen me teach, and of that handful, maybe only two that I can think of have objectively observed me teaching ESOL.
This is interesting because for the vast majority of the people who read this, my reputation as an ESOL teacher rests entirely, absolutely 100% on my self promotion.
And the thing is, all of the comments and the lesson descriptions, the criticisms, reflections and observations, any reference at all to classroom practice could be a big bunch of lies. I could be very carefully constructing a particular professional image based on a few minor aspects of my professional life. I’m not, or at least, I’m not lying when I write here. I have occasionally obscured the truth behind verbal hedges, particularly where individual or institutional reputations are at stake. There’s not really a lot to be gained from making it personal, except where it concerns me, and an awful lot to lose. Most institutions have a “bringing the name of the college into disrepute” type clause somewhere, and that is always there at the back of my mind, even when I am nudging at the edge of the envelope a little.
Most people who blog, tweet, post Facebook updates, all the rest, are managing a particular online presence. I know I am. I’m certainly more cantankerous and shirty online than I ever am in the flesh. Face to face? Big slightly shy pussy cat. Scrub that. Horribly, excruciatingly, agonisingly shy. I suffer from a massive fear of telephone calls, so much so that I have been known, for crucially important phone calls, to write a script to read from to get me started. That bit, by the way, is absolutely true.
Or is it? That’s sort of the point about online personas. I could manage my online persona to be a super-positive techno bubbler who thinks everything is AWESOME, breathlessly excited about some new app or gizmo (Wow! This app can actually make your head disappear up your own rear end, and allows you to reflect on it while you do it!), hyper jolly about all things methodological (Woo! Blooms new digital e-taxonomy revised – second edition!) mega-super-pro-college (Yay! Go Team College!), and it would all be very exciting and would look awfully good on the CV. Or I could work very hard to anonymise my posts and post long, savage, sour and unfair criticisms of the government, my employer, everything.
To be fair, both versions are pretty dull: I want a human when I read a blog, but I don’t want three hundred posts about how pants everything is. I know, at least as well, if not better than you do, how pants it is, and wallowing in your interpretation of that is not my idea of fun. I once had to listen to someone whinge vaguely and incoherently about how they hated setting SMART targets (using such tried and tested arguments as “I’ve been teaching for twenty years…”) and resisting the urge to grab then by the lapels and scream “shut up!” The super excited babbler is also pretty tedious: people with such a low excitement threshold are useful in this world, because they test out everything before the rest of us do, but I’d rather not hear about it straightaway, thanks. (For the record, by nature, I’m whatever the stage is after early adopter. Such people are usually time and money rich, where I’m not, so I let someone else spend their money and effort working out something new before I start to play with it.
In reality, I think most of my online presence is somewhere in the middle. I’m quite careful not to implicate my employer in what I do online, although I may have slipped once or twice. It’s partly because I want to avoid pointless slagging off, of course, but also, and this is quite important, this isn’t college me. The work here is all my own work, both good and bad, and I get full credit both ways, thanks.
Of course, it could all be a complete fabrication, and thus we are back at point the first.