Split Personality

The words that you are reading now are me. And yet they are not me. They are ‘me:edited’, if you like. Only a tiny handful of people know the ‘real’ me. The unedited version. My partner, my children, my family and my close friends. They don’t even know me by the same name as you do. As an author my publishers tell me that I have what is known as a ‘brand’. But the ‘Sue Cowley’ whose books you read is only a version of me, a professional one, it is not me. When you first become a teacher, you very quickly realise that you cannot present an unedited version of yourself to the class. This is not the pub on a Friday night. You are not there to crack jokes, to have a laugh and to swear at each other. You are ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’. A role model. A professional. You:edited.

I really enjoy reading some anonymous teacher blogs. They give an unedited picture of reality that is often funny and perceptive. I like creating a picture of the writer in my head, without knowing what they really look like. It is fun for the reader as well as for the writer. I completely understand why some teacher bloggers choose to remain anonymous. As well as it being the sensible thing to do professionally, they also get to say what they really think. To write anonymously must feel like a kind of creative liberation. I would prefer it if anonymity were never used as an excuse for rudeness or derison. I’m a big girl: I can take whatever words are chucked at me. But others may not be so confident. A virulent response could be enough to put them off and that is not really fair.

Where I do have concerns is with a kind of ‘semi-anonymity’ that is arising. Those anonymous bloggers who write about colleagues, or children, and it appears that quite a few people know who the anonymous blogger is in real life. If you refer to other people in an anonymous blog, these people deserve the utmost respect for their privacy. They did not ask you to write about them. You got to hide your identity: they have the same right. As soon as I know an anonymous writer’s identity, and particularly if I know the school where they work, then any descriptions of people can suddenly be attached to real live human beings. If you split up your personality into ‘anonymous me’ and ‘school me’, so you can lay down some truths about other people, then please don’t tell me if I ever meet the ‘real me’. One personality is all I can take at a time, thanks.

I keep my own personality in a cupboard under the stairs at home so that no one else can see it or nick it.‘ Dawn French

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10 Responses to Split Personality

  1. Susan says:

    I remember a lecturer years back at The Institute of Education who used to talk about the concept of how a teacher creates her identity. He was a truly fascinating man. Sounds like up in the clouds academia but he made it so directly about what you do as a teacher that he made a big difference to my teaching

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  2. I agree whole-heartedly that it is wrong to write blogs criticising or insulting people in a way that allows “insiders” (which may or may not include the victim) to work out who is being attacked but allowing the person making the attacks to avoid taking responsibility for what they’ve written. However, I’m just not convinced that “semi-anonymous” bloggers are the worst culprits for this. People can do this under their own name, just as easily. Plenty of examples can be found of this where anonymity it not an issue.

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    • suecowley says:

      When you write with your name attached, you do it with your ‘edit’ button switched on. The things you might say are tempered by the knowledge that you have put your name on a published piece. Anonymity allows for complete honesty, but any colleagues a person refers to have no chance for a right of reply. I’m uncomfortable when anonymity is used to allow people to say exactly what they want if those writers are not actually anonymous in reality. It’s a very fine line to tread and those new to teaching should understand that their identity could accidentally be revealed. Tempering what you say and who you say it to is part of your duty when you take on the professional role of a teacher.

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      • Well yes, that’s an explanation of how a semi-anonymous blogger might criticise individuals in ways that only insiders understand. However, that does not actually show us that semi-anonymous bloggers actually do that sort of thing, or that non-anonymous bloggers don’t. Of course it’s hard to judge this as you don’t clearly identify who in particular you are criticising. Which is odd when that is the very thing you are criticising others for.

        Perhaps I should just ask directly, do you actually have any evidence that semi-anonymous bloggers actually do this more often than non-anonymous bloggers? Or are you expecting that insiders will already know who it is you are criticising?

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  3. suecowley says:

    It’s not about the extent to which people do this, but the dangers inherent in them doing it from a position of anonymity. I’ll give the example that inspired me to write this blog post, but I’m not going to name the person to provide you with ‘evidence’ because that would put the person concerned in an awkward position professionally. Right now, I am in a position where I know the real name and school of an anonymous blogger, because the person concerned inadvertently linked their anonymous and actual identities online. The anonymous identity that had been established was not, shall we say, as ‘professional’ as is appropriate for a teacher. As soon as I saw what had happened, I contacted the person to ask whether they had intended to link their two identities in this way, i.e. to ‘give up’ their anonymity. (By the way, the person did this in a blog post that was immediately reblogged on the Echo Chamber site, apparently without thought for the dangers for this individual.) As soon as we had spoken, the person concerned immediately retracted the blog post and established a completely separate identity for their ‘teacher’ persona. Where anyone is aware of both the real and anonymous identity of a teacher blogger, this creates a professional dilemma for the reader which is, for me, very difficult to come to terms with. I cannot ‘hold’ both identities in my mind simultaneously.

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  4. Susan says:

    oops. I appear to have not taken up the main point of the blog. apologies.

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  5. suecowley says:

    Please don’t apologise, it was lovely to hear your thoughts and ‘teacher persona’ is a really fascinating subject.

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  6. Pingback: ORRsome blog posts from the week that was! Week 3 | high heels and high notes

  7. Susan says:

    thanks Sue

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