I was on yard duty on Tuesday and a Year 3 student came up to me.
“I saw you on the internet last night.”
I smiled. “That’s not hard. I have plenty of stuff on the internet. How did you find me?”
“I typed in the school’s name and your name came up in Google.”
Writing in this blog means I think about the potential readers scattered around the globe who might find my posts interesting or useful. But I forget about the people closer to home who might also be also reading – parents, students, even my teacher colleagues. My reputation as an educator goes beyond my words and actions within the school environment.
Reputation is a funny thing. At my previous school, I had developed a reputation as one of the better teachers in the school. I taught the older kids – the Year Sixes and Sevens who other teachers openly shied away from teaching. I had parents who requested that their child be placed in my class, that I keep their child for an additional year and the vibe I got back in general from the parent community was one of respect. Students were happy when they found that I was to be their teacher, and saw that the opportunities that Lindsay, my team teaching partner, and I offered meant they would be in a challenging and interesting classroom. I had eased into that position over the previous eight years after moving back to Adelaide from country South Australia.
But I didn’t start at the upper primary level. I arrived as a young country teacher and was given a Year 4/5 class in a squashed up space in the middle of an open space unit. I had no reputation to speak of at my new school. But it didn’t seem to matter that much back in 1995. After all, I wasn’t teaching the big kids. So, after a few years, the reputation built up and I slotted into the Year 6/7 arena comfortably with content parents and engaged students. Reputation was what smoothed the path in 2001 towards Lindsay’s and my most innovative and ambitious two years teaching together. We moved into the old library at the school which was a strange building and not built for two traditional classes at all. We had the Year 6/7 classes and we had this weird space that had a large teaching area, a former librarian’s office and a low ceilinged area for the bags. Upstairs was a L shaped area which could squeeze in a class for instruction – just. We had to design how our classes would interact, what the various nooks and spaces could be used for and challenge the students with the notion of how a primary school classroom could operate. But our reputation meant that no parents queried our approach or the suitability of the space for learning.
But when I won my current job and moved into a Year 6/7 class with a new offsider, I forgot that my reputation didn’t automatically travel with me. The parents were suspicious of ideas and programs that a year earlier had been been given a supportive tick of approval by a different community. I had forgotten that over a long period of time in a school, students develop a strong notion of who you are, what you will and won’t tolerate, what your expectations are like and that forges together into a reputation that goes some way to dictating how they respond to you when they come under your care. And I also forgot that adolescents are a tough audience to crack. They like reputation because they have some sense of how they will be treated, the sort of learning that will be valued. But you have no worthwhile reputation when you are new to the school and most importantly, new to them. Younger kids are less judgmental and more easily enthused.
But the silver lining in my first year as a coordinator was that I did have another aspect to my role in the school. I was “the computer guy”, the teacher who would come into their classroom and help their teacher get logged on, or show them some new ways to use their computers or interactive whiteboards. Now, it is just as important that my reputation with my colleagues is solid, that they trust that my ideas for using technology in their classrooms, with their students. As I encourage them to make their way online, my reputation is built on the posts I write, how respectfully I describe my interactions with them to the wider connections of the online educator network, how tactfully I re-tell anecdotes from the classroom and as well, the connections I recommend that they make. The choices I make matter.
That means your reputation is important, too. Because as my little friend on the play equipment pointed out, it’s easy to find me on the internet. Some of you guys are even easier to find – and your reputation spreads wider, too.