My Footprint – Digital and Otherwise

If you google me, this comes up…

There is a lot of other stuff that comes up when you google me, thanks to an unusual spelling of my first name. But my Rate My Teacher page from 2007 will not leave my front page.  And I’m pretty lucky.  My students anonymously posted comments that I am proud of*.  To be honest with you, I have no desire to have it removed. My digital footprint is safe.

But as we talk about our digital footprint and what it means to us as teachers, I was somewhat befuddled by everyone’s concern.  We are teachers. I believe that our footprint on this world is long-lasting and indelible, with or without technology.  Why does our digital footprint scare us so much when we leave lasting impressions on dozens of students each year?

My Rate My Teacher reviews got me thinking about what lasting impact I have had on students. So I sent out this note on Facebook to some of my former students** from Lee High School (government, DP History of Americas, DP 20th Century Topic, DP ToK) and Munich International School (MYP Geography/History, DP European History,and DP ToK)

I’m warning you now, I’m going to be straddling the line of bragging and refelcting…apologies if I go over to the bragging side too often. I will state this is not a scientific study. Students who friended me on Facebook*** and then who take the time to write me back are going to say nice things. And boy did they ever. If you ever feel like quitting teaching, do something similar.  I teared up with almost every letter and I’m saving them for when I’m having a rotten day. They reminded me that I am so very, very lucky to be a teacher.

Anyways, here is what some of what my students remember:

Sometimes students remember the content or skills I taught

That class spawned my fascination for the Cold War, so much so that I plan to one day have a dog named Ronny and a cat named Gorby, and together they will contribute to the end of the Soviet Union  – Nicole, Lee High School, Class of 2006

The course that you have lead has awakened my passion for geography and triggered the will to further study this course at university. It has become apparent to me, that with the large part of economics that is integrated into the subject, the knowledge produced may help me in future business decisions and efficiencies of any company that I wish to be head of one day. – Alexander, Munich International School, Class of 2012

I think part of this was the idea of the historiography. I love the idea of different people having differing viewpoints about history – Melinda, Lee High School,Class of 2008

I remember sitting in other classes and making nerdy references to something about Mao or Castro just because it was fitting. And just because I liked making nerdy references to something you taught us earlier that morning.-  Sabrina, Lee HS Class of 2008

Sometimes students remember how you assess them

I remember being really proud of some of the essays I wrote, and liked getting them back (again, major dork alert) because you were one of the teachers who wrote useful comments (negative or positive) about papers. – Kara, Lee HS, Class of 2006

I would like to state the obvious: Fluffy [my word for superficial], by far your most used word, yet also the one I think the least people understood for the longest time, but helped everyone in the end with all of their essay writing Jan, Munich International School, Class of 2010

You have a special way of treating students with respect, sarcasm, and honesty (although some students had difficulty distinguishing between the two latter ones ;) ). At the same time, however, you were also an authority, but one that gave constructive and not more or less depressing feedback/advice. Frederick, Munich International, Class of 2012

Sometimes students remember grades

I remember that my IB History score was the highest score I received out of all my IB classes. You did a wonderful job really preparing us to take that exam. I remember thinking that the test was a piece of cake! –  Harleen, Lee High School, 2006

Sometimes students remember the community in a classroom I tried to build

I still remember the first day when I entered the classroom, and looked around the room and saw little name tags for seating arrangements. I was mad. I tried to argue with you but I soon learned not to argue with Ms Madrid. I also remember your class to be a class where although education was key, so was laughter. I still have never had a class where the entire class could have a moment of relaxation and just laugh for a couple of seconds. – Tim, Munich International School, Class of 2012

For some reason, what I remember most was you asking about our weekends on Mondays. I always appreciated hearing a bit more about people that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. I think I told you this already, but I used this while I taught summer school and it did wonders for building relationships in the classroom. – Mike, Lee HS, Class of 2006

But overall, I guess the biggest thing I appreciate about you as a teacher is what a personal interest you took in us. You always made yourself available to us as a friend and a mentor. Alex, Lee HS Class of 2006

Sometimes students remember your expectations for them

As a current teacher myself, I think I definitely realize now how much work you did and how you believed in your students and loved your material. You definitely had high expectations for us and we internalized those expectations and worked our butts off to do well. – Rachael, Lee HS 2007

Mostly, I remember you pushing us to do more than expected. I also remember realizing that we were going above and beyond and being OK with that. You expected the best and in return, many of your students wanted to give you the best because of the rapport you established with students and the expectation of success you created within your classroom. Mike, Lee HS 2006

Sometimes students remember things you don’t

Probably my favorite day was when you let Zein, Younes and I leave class to bring Younes’ Wii in and play Super Smash! David, Lee HS 2007

You still owe me 15 minutes of x-moto. That was the game that distracted Tim and Jadd all the time – Alex, Munich International School, Class of 2012

The biggest debt that I owe to you was for giving me the book, “Wild Swans,” as you cleaned out your stuff.  I don’t remember why you gave it to me, but I remember that I was elated to have been ‘chosen’ (most likely I was just the first to raise my hand when you asked who wanted it) and I devoured that book. It was fascinating, and the concept of a matrilineal multi-generational memoir sparked my interest in feminist literature. Not to overstate anything, but that book pushed me towards feminism, which I consider an integral part of my identity today – Sam,Lee HS Class of 2008

And my students always remember me as their teacher

I think you’ve continued to teach us by going for your own dreams now. Your traveling is always fun for me to watch on facebook and inspires me to go off the main road and venture a beaten path… something that seems scary because school is such a regimented main road, but definitely something worthwhile.  Caroline, Lee HS, Class of 2008

The “And if you write me back, do be aware that I’ll probably quote you [in the FB message].” made me crack up and I could literally hear your voice in my head going on about -how important it is to quote correctly bla bla bla- 😉;)  – Imi, Munich International School Class of 2010

“Ms. Madrid” – about 50% of people who responded. Maybe one person called me “Rebekah”.  This includes military officers, grad school students, and teachers.

I guess the point of this is that we shouldn’t be afraid of our digital footprint.  And while I’m glad I don’t video and post every lesson (including the boring ones or the ones where I lose my temper), those are still moments my students may remember. They are more important than whoever may be reading this blog****. We should be used to thinking about how what we say and how we say it impacts our students and reflects on us as professionals. I hope my legacy in the classroom lasts longer than a silly picture on Facebook or a misspelled word on my blog. And there are thousands of moments each school year that can have an impact on my incredible, amazing students. So I hope that I can be as real online as I am in my classroom.  And conversely, I hope that I can continue to be as thoughtful in my real-life interactions with my students as I am online as I create my digital footprint.

Major thanks to any students who wrote.  Apologies for cherry-picking quotes.  I miss you!*****


*My favorite comment is “I think she has a fish named Steve.” I did.  Why did I tell them that and why did they feel the need to post it?

** My general policy regarding Facebook is that I only friend who students who ask me and then only if they have graduated. I have a few students from my last school in Munich who haven’t graduated yet and I broke that rule since I no longer teach there.

*** Not that you aren’t important, Reader.  Please come back and read some more.

**** One of the very best things about Facebook is being in contact with former students.  I couldn’t have done this post without Facebook and because of that I will forgive the ever changing privacy settings.

***** This was really hard post to write.  I sent out the FB note with just a general idea of what I wanted to say in this post.  And then I realized that it’s my blog with my name, so where else could I brag? The feedback I got was more than I was expecting. I wanted to include as many voices as possible, to be sincere, and not be obnoxious. So I cut out bits, but tried to maintain the sentiment behind the notes.

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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10 Responses to My Footprint – Digital and Otherwise

  1. Super reminder of the impact great teachers make – beyond test scores!

  2. Viviane says:

    Hi Rebekah,

    Thank you for your wonderful post!
    I really enjoyed reading your students comments about you! You are definitely a very special and talented teacher!
    You are absolutely right that as teachers, we leave and indelible mark on children and like you, I certainly hope we leave positive ones! Many students past and present value you and have written high praise…but what if that was not the case. Would you still feel the same way -would you feel comfortable with negative or perhaps even untrue comments posted about you, swirling around in cyberspace for the whole world to read?
    After our class discussion in COETAIL last Tuesday, the class conclusion seemed to be that we have to be sure to outweigh any possible negative online information by building a strong, positive digital footprint. This concerned me because the converse is probable too. If someone really wanted to destroy a person`s reputation, they could ensure that there was more negative than positive information online. It kind of reminds me of a recent saying that the truth doesn`t matter anymore, it`s about whose lawyer can argue better. Are we just all training to become digital spin-doctors?
    My point is that if the Internet just becomes a giant game of manipulation that what merit or worth will digital footprints have in end anyway?
    Cyberspace aside, what mattered most was the REAL time you gave as a REAL teacher to these REAL students. You did change lives for the good and the internet had really no bearing on this.
    Thank you again…it`s always great to read your posts!

    Viviane Van Esch

    • Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m really not worried about someone trying to smear me online. The cases of that are few and far between, in terms of all the words that are added to the internet. I take precautions (google alerts on my name, make sure my name is on things I’m proud of), but I don’t think about it otherwise. If there is someone is going to try to ruin me online, I think I would have a good sense of that possibility in real-life and deal with it in real-life. Of course it could happen, but so could a thousand other tragedies, and I can’t let it stop me from engaging online. And perhaps by building an online presence, I’m lining up evidence for my “defense” if I ever need one. But that is only one small benefit of why I am online.
      Thanks for stopping by and making me clarify my opinion on this.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I love this post! Wow. I mean, I suppose it’s expected that the kids who friend you on FB probably like you to begin with (otherwise why would they send you a friend request, right?) but still — this is marvelous. A little experiment like this would not have been possible a decade ago — or it would have been, but would have been much more difficult. I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who keeps in touch with students via FB. My “rules” are similar to yours in that I only friend students who send me the request, but I do allow current students– however, students who haven’t yet graduated HS go into my “limited profile” settings and they don’t get to see very much. However, they still interact with me via FB — more often than I expected, to be honest. And I’m so grateful, as I have seen them doing some amazingly beautiful things with their lives, which I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see outside of a “schooly” context. I daresay it’s my favorite thing about FB, is seeing my students shine there. It’s such a treat.

    … as I’m sure this little experiment was for you. 🙂 It’s clear you’ve made a lasting impression!

    • was great fun to do this experiment. Wasn’t sure at all what I would get back from people and it was humbling to hear so many nice things. And even better was it gave me a chance to have some one-on-one chats with people as I wrote thank you notes. It was a really great way to connect. And you’re right…this could only happen now. I lost contact with my first group of students (9 years and three schools ago) because FB didn’t exist. That makes me sad.
      As for my rule of only friend-ing ex-students, I do review it periodically. But I’m still okay with it. I understand your point and know I could set up limited profile and there is nothing that I’m ashamed of. But I still feel a little selfish with FB…it’s my one online space that I don’t share with them and I want to keep it that way. It’s a little haven, I guess.
      Thanks for commenting…I really appreciate it.

  4. Kim Cofino says:

    What a great experiment! Love Adrienne’s point above that this would be so much more difficult just a few years ago. So important to remember that we leave a footprint – in real life or digitally… That’s our job, right?

  5. Joy Seed says:

    Thanks for running the risk of bragging to post this most fascinating reflection on the lasting imprint teachers leave students’ lives. I don’t think that I’m in the boat of people who are scared about creating a digital footprint but thanks to your post, I am now very inspired to focus on the long term impact that my teaching will have on the lives of others. I hope that they can remember me as fondly as they have you. 🙂

  6. Chie Mizukoshi says:

    I like this post very much, and I totally agree with the points you made on this post. Teachers themselves are those of students forever, and footprints would remain in their heart forever whatsoever reasons. I think you must be the ‘unforgettable teacher’ for your students!

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