Marketing and branding are an important part of my world now that I have become a Technology Integration Specialist. Teachers in my district seem to have this perception that as soon as teachers leave the classroom, our days are filled with lazing about, sitting at our computers, shopping on Amazon and cruising Instagram and Pinterest to fill out our time. Because we are not front and center teaching students, we must have nothing to do.
I know that my district isn’t the only place that this prejudiced view of teachers out of the classroom or on special assignment persist. It is so prevalent, in fact, that there is a nice acronym for TOSA highlighting this glut of time available to us, Teachers Ordering Starbucks Again.
I would like to think that these stereotypes are from misinformed teachers who can’t imagine what life outside of a classroom must be like. Before I got this position, I couldn’t fathom what “those” teachers would do to fill the time, either. Now that I am inside the fishbowl instead of on the outside looking in, I wrote a blog post about my numbers for the year and how much more work this job is that I ever thought. More trainings and meetings and coordinating and scheduling trainings and learning about training teachers and practicing tech stuff and recording podcasts and blogging and reading and populating resources pages for teachers and curating the district LMS. . . it is a lot. But how can I spread the word about that work? How do I get that info out to break that stereotype? Well, I tell you what I have tried this year so far.
I have been out and about into classrooms this year, teaching lessons, troubleshooting problems, helping with PBL projects, and trying to get as many people as possible to see me doing my new TOSA thing. Our Educational Services Department has gone to great lengths to build a brand, to advertise our space the BIC (Bassett Innovation Center), to spread the word. We have SWAG to give away, workshops we put on for teachers in or new learning space, a ticketing system that allows teachers to request our help planning lessons, integrating technology, or lesson studies, to name a few. We have created a whole website based on the resources available to our teachers, with hundreds of pages with literally thousands of resources. Our office, with its dog-bone shaped desk is affectionately called “The Dogpound” by all who come to train and learn here. We had an open house for the BIC, with local Assembly members, Mayors from two cities, a Congresswoman, and other dignitaries present. It was a great event, and we were able to showcase the innovation and forward thinking that is driving instruction in our district. But still, we hear the constant questions “what exactly do you do,” and “you must have a lot of free time on your hands,” and my favorite “let me take a look at your calendar.” We smile and move on, and try to be as helpful as possible. But that doesn’t seem to be enough.
We have various public outreach avenues as well, the most popular being the TOSAs Talking Tech podcast. The open questioning of “what exactly do you do over there?” and “what are your hours again?” are constant reminders that we still need to be actively promoting and marketing ourselves to the teachers we are intended to serve. I think it is the familiarity that breeds the contempt that we see. We were colleagues in the classroom, and it is hard to see us in a new light or in a different role. Where teachers from other districts are readily open to our expertise, complimentary even of the work we are doing and the strides we have taken in such a short year’s work, at home we are questioned and looked at askance. Our own teachers, the teachers who we visit and help in their classrooms, the teachers who call us for help, place tech tickets in the system, and directly benefit from our help and contributions, these can at times be our biggest and loudest critics.
It must be the lot of the specialist to be unrecognized, scorned even, by those too close to see the greater good being accomplished. I’m not here to bemoan our place, just to show that despite the marketing and branding, the work and effort we put into this new position, sometimes a stone is just a stone, and a teacher without a classroom will always draw ire form those in the trenches.