Growing up I had a very difficult time figuring out who I was and the type of person I wanted to be. I wanted to be one of the “popular” kids, yet I also wanted to talk about movies and draft my own fantasy team in the latest video games, things a “popular” kid just could not do. Growing up in the 90s was different than it is now. In the 90s, your identity was molded around what you brought to the conversation in person, because we did not have cellular devices until later on in my high school years (early 2000s). Now, teenagers have their face to face interactions, as well as their digital interactions to help mold their identity with the self and the people around them.
Sherry Turkle discusses these curated identities as avatars “that express aspects of yourself.” As I reflect back to the person I was as a teenager I vividly remember watching my favorite television and movie characters, saying to myself “Man, I would love to be that guy.” We, humans, tend to take what we admire in others and mold these characteristics into what we want to become. My favorite sport to play growing up was basketball, and I can remember everyday dribbling and shooting in the driveway, thinking I was Michael Jordan, sticking my stock out on every shot, winning on last second buzzer beaters as I counted down until the sun went down.
It is my belief that in our lives we have several avatars: ones that we can see and touch, our physical self in the workplace and the one we use in our personal lives , and the other being our digital self, the one that we create online. Turkle mentions in “Alone Together” the story about Joel, who has created his avatar in Second Life, offering him the chance to create a virtual youth version of himself. Isn’t this what we do with our online identities? As educators, we have to carefully pick and choose what content we put out there on the Internet. We read and follow respected educators and leaders in our field and worldwide communities, adopting the values shared by these leaders to become someone we aspire to be.
I compare our in-person and digital avatars to that of my favorite cartoon growing up, Transformers. These aliens came to Earth to escape the war that was taking place on their own planet, Cybertron. In order to fit in with the human race, they had to disguise themselves as moving objects such as cars, trucks, airplanes, and other moving vehicles.
Are we human transformers, humans in disguise? Is the person I am now the person I want to be? How did I mold who I am now, and will I continue to want to be this person?
I feel these are questions we ask ourselves when we create our avatar. During the school day, I wear a button down shirt and tie with dress slacks with the idea that this is what a professional should look like. Someone once said to me that teaching is “50% looking like you know what the hell you are talking about.” I have lived by this saying the last few years, and it has truly molded the person I have become. The avatar I have created of myself is real, because that is who I wanted to become. But the avatar outside of the normal school day is a laid back guy who loves to watch football with his wife and obsess about his fantasy football team.
When we create these avatars of ourselves, are we taking away our credibility or faking who we really are? There can be so many interpretations on this issue, and I feel that in the world we live in today, you have to fake it in order to make it. You have to fake it until you become it. What I mean by this is that as a teacher, I cannot be my goofy or sarcastic self in school in comparison to the level I am when I am at home and with my friends and family if I want my students’ respect. I had to fake being someone else in order to be the teacher that I wanted to be, pretty much a remixed version of myself.
Now, with years of practicing the act of faking being me, I have learned to mix my personal avatar with my work avatar. This has had a huge impact on my experience as an educator, mainly because going to work is so much more joyful and fulfilling because I have learned the best version of myself for both me and my students.
I leave you with one of my favorite examples of avatars and aspiring to be someone others will admire. Below is a clip from another one of my favorite shows growing up, where Steve Urkle, everyone’s favorite “geek,” becomes Stefan Urkle, every young girl’s dream.