TMC16 Reflections

So I’ve been putting this off for a while.  But I’ve had good reasons.  Well…at least one good reason.

I returned to Nashville from TMC16 early last week.  I drove from the airport straight to the opening dinner for EdCo and spent the next three afternoons immersed in some local Nashville professional development.  Suffice to say that my head is spinning with new ideas not just about math education but education in general.

But this post is supposed to be about TMC reflections.  And there’s a reason I’ve been delaying it besides just being busy.  It’s because I know some of my reflections are going to be difficult to come to grips with, difficult to type, and difficult to press “PUBLISH” on.  But deep down I know I need to do it.  There’s not going to be any particular order here — just scattered thoughts, reflections, and observations about myself, math education, Twitter Math Camp, and more.

  •  Shame on me for letting my higher math skills wilt so egregiously over the past decade or so.  I decided (last minute) to attend Bruce Cohen’s (@mathcohen) Calculus morning session.  I wanted to stretch myself during TMC and thought finding ways to take what he said about calculus and figure out how to apply it to my own Pre-Algebra classroom would be a great challenge.  Of course, I was the only non-AP teacher in there during the first day.  And OF COURSE I found it a big enough challenge just to remember all the Calculus I’ve forgotten since 1998 (Advanced Calculus class my senior year at Belhaven) let alone devote any brain power to integrating it into my own class.   I’m glad I did this course.  And I’m thankful for the patience of Bruce and the 9 others in the room.  This was a humbling (humiliating?) reminder of “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it”.  I’m gonna keep finding ways to use it.  Any Middle School teachers interested in a problem solving collaborative to keep each other accountable for the higher math we’re liable to forget if we don’t keep it sharp?
  • It was kind of surreal to see in person all of the people I’ve interacted with (or stalked) on Twitter over the past couple of years.  It’s like some new, weird level of meeting “famous people”.  Except, unlike almost every encounter with an actual famous person I’ve ever had, the interactions with these famous people didn’t leave me disappointed.  These MTBoS superstars are even better in person.  All of them.
  • This is my first TMC, and I appreciated the ways that the “inner circle” tried to find ways to reach out to us newbies and make us feel included.  That is going to become harder and harder the bigger this thing gets (and I have a feeling it’s gonna keep getting bigger) but I’d encourage the 4- or 5-time attendees to keep reaching out.  You all should want to spend most of your time together and keep building those strong friendships that are now half a decade old.  Thanks for the outreach to the rest of us to make us feel a part of it.
  • The counterpoint to the above statement is that my own pride wants ME to be included in that “inner circle” automatically and there’s just no reason for that.  I want my ideas and my personality and my resources to be popular among the TMC community.  And what I have to remind myself is that if they’re good enough they will be.  I want a “pass” directly into the club just because I think I’m good enough.  Where does this pride come from?!  It’s amazing how I have to squash my competitive nature in a setting of math ed superstars when I should just be grateful to soak in as much as I can from the brilliant people in the room.  I learned as much about my own personality and shortcomings during this experience as I did anything else.  Which is good — but I wish those shortcomings were taken care of already.  I have a lot of work to do.
  • My school spends a lot of time thinking about equity, diversity, culture, etc.  Probably more than you would expect from any “elite” private school that doesn’t have to think about those things if they don’t want to.  So I’m curious as to why the experiences at TMC16 have helped refined my focus in this area more than anything else I’ve done over my past 13 years at USN (@USN_PDS).   Was it meeting Jose (@theJLV) in person and hearing the message directly from him?  Was it simply ideas shared with other math teachers (Annie — @anniekperkins —  and Megan — @veganmathbeagle — and the like) over Twitter mentions?   I have no idea, but that’s a troubling realization about myself that needs addressing.  This should have been a focus of mine for years and I was given plenty of opportunity by my school for that to be the case.   This is my #1TMCthing for this year, using a quote from Jose:  “”You can still keep love, compassion, and empathy in mind when teaching math.”
  • There are a lot more people I need to thank.  But Kevin (@PythagoreanCult) deserves special mention for being an excellent travel buddy and room mate.  He’s just out of his first year of teaching and is going to be a superstar teacher.  Those of you who met him would agree with me I’m sure.

 

Lots of those bullet points sound negative — but the reality is that I had a BLAST at TMC16.  I made some excellent friends in Hedge (@approx_normal), Jonathan (@jschool0218), Fouss (@Fouss), Meg (@mathymeg07),  Jim (@mrdardy), Edmund (@Gelada), Tom (@trigoTOMetry) and more. I’m thrilled for TMC17 — I can’t wait, and I’ve already begun recruiting teachers to join me:

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.48.25 AM

TMC16 was a humbling experience though — I get a LOT of positive feedback about my job from colleagues, administrators, parents and students.  What TMC16 reminded me is that there are a ton of other great math teachers (both abroad and even in my own school building!), that I still have plenty of areas for growth, and that I have let my own math skills erode to the point of embarrassment.  You can’t remain stagnant in this job.  You just can’t.  Always be improving.

I’m so thankful for this experience and this reminder.

————

Thanks also to Glenn (@gwaddellnvhs) for recording my presentation.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here ya go:

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