NY Teacher of the Year Talks Digital Citizenship, Teacher Shortage

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — New York recognizes one extraordinary educator each year. Rachel Murat, social studies teacher from Maine-Endwell high school, was named New York’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. Murat sat down with WSKG’s Sarah Gager.

[TRANSCRIPT]

Sarah Gager: Thank you for joining me in the studio today.

Rachel Murat: Well, thank you for having me.

Rachel Murat, 2020 NYS Teacher of the Year. Sarah Gager/WSKG News

SG: So, I have heard you are dedicated and that you are adored by your students, and now you’ve been recognized by the state as Teacher of the Year. So, how are you feeling about it?

RM: It is very overwhelming. The recognition for all that teachers do is something that we need to be focusing on because the teachers in this state don’t get enough credit for what they do, and it’s a tough job, but I would love anybody to come into, ya know, my classroom for the day, and kind of hang out with the kids, and see why this is such an amazing job.

SG: You’re actually nationally recognized as a leader of the digital citizenship movement in schools. Can you just briefly explain what digital citizenship is.

RM: Digital Citizenship is the way that you represent yourself online. We need to recognize the fact that kids have devices as an extension of themselves, and this was six-or-seven years ago, and it’s a whole new level now. But they weren’t really realizing the permanence of what they were putting out there, and the fact that it would have long-term repercussions. And so, I wanted to start getting them to be mindful of that. That they’re representing themselves online like they would not online. And I don’t like to say real life and online, because online is real life.

SG: And what’s your approach teaching it in schools?

RM: Well the first thing I do is I have the kids Google themselves, and I get to hear 40 minutes of, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that was out there” and ‘Where’d that picture come from?’ Because they don’t realize, with all of the metadata out there, that it just automatically tags you or you have friends that put pictures and didn’t ask permission before and they tag you. And so, we have a discussion about that, because before I even have them Google themselves, I ask, ‘What do you think someone would think about you if they met you online for the first time?’ And so they all, you know, usually think, ‘Oh, well, I always represent myself well,’ and things, but they don’t necessarily know what’s out there. So, I think that Googling yourself is always a good thing. I do it all the time, plus I also set up Google Alerts. Which I talk to the kids about, because that way, any time your name is represented out in the internet, you get an email. So you can know what’s out there.

So after we do that and talk about it, then I say, then I ask them to Google me, because they think they’re going to find all this awesome stuff, and you know, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, Mrs. Murat did this,’ or, ‘Mrs. Murat did that,’ and then they’re like, ‘There’s nothing bad out there’.

And so we talk about the fact that I am a very conscious poster. A very heavy user of social media, but I am conscious about what I put out there. So then, that leads me into one of the mottos of my life, which is, ‘Never make a permanent post on a temporary emotion.’ Because we’ve all been there. I mean every single one of us has had a gut instinct to react to something, but you have to walk away. You don’t want that one post for someone to be the only interaction that they have with you, and that’s what leaves an impression on them.

So, I think it’s really important that they are thinking about their future selves. And are they doing something to help build their future self up, instead of maybe take away a possibility that could be maybe down the road because of something they did today.

SG: One concern that we hear a lot about is about the teacher shortage.

RM: So, the teacher shortage is a reflection of a couple different things. First of all, I think it’s a reflection of the fact that this is a hard job. No one said it’s going to be easy, but, you know, everyone thinks they know how to do our job because they went to school. And I understand that because, you know, I’ve been in situations where I’m like, ‘Oh I know how to do that job,’ but then I really don’t.

That’s one of the things, this job is much more consuming then I think a lot of people think of, and then also there isn’t always a positive spin out in the world about being a teacher. And I don’t think that we are out there trying to pump up the profession as much as we should be. We should be cheerleaders for the teachers.

And I also think if you pile in there some mindfulness. We need to be mindful of the fact that you have to take care of yourself, but you can take care of the kids.

SG: If there’s one thing that you’d want listeners to know about schools and the current state of education. What would that be?

RM: There is no doubt that the kids that are in school today are our future. They will be making decisions for us. They will be representing us. They will be what carries on our legacy, and if we don’t do anything to cultivate that, and to protect that, and to encourage the students to develop their voice, to honor their voice, to become leaders, then we aren’t setting ourselves up for a better future.