Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Love Letter to TMC

Seven years ago, I did something impulsive that changed the trajectory of my life forever. At the very last minute, I reached out to see if it was too late to register for Twitter Math Camp. I cancelled my plans to travel to Florida for my 20th high school reunion and I hopped in the car with a group of strangers and headed to St. Louis to a hotel room with another stranger. It is not hyperbole to say that I mark my professional life by that trip...the years before...and the years after. I was forever changed. I learned that year that I was not alone. That there were others out there so passionate about math and teaching that we would gather at a pizza restaurant named after Pi to engage in discussions about teaching long after the "conference" had ended for the day. I was smitten. Head over heels in love. I had found my teaching family.

In 2013, I arrived in Philadelphia after the most difficult personal year of my life. Professionally I had found myself in the cross hair of organizational drama and was in desperate need of inspiration. I met people that year who came into the conference burnt out, considering leaving teaching. We ate together, we learned together, we serenaded people together. I learned that year that sometimes we all need put the spark back in the work we do. And I learned that the spark often happens in community and that surrounding myself with those that uplift, encourage, inspire isn't an optional part of this work.

The following summer, it was back to my old stomping grounds in Oklahoma where I had gone to college. I took my boyfriend with me for that conference and it was fascinating to see the experience through someone else's eyes. One of my favorite TMC moments that year was a hotel lobby conversation with some friends who will always have a part of my heart after we talked late into the night about the stuff that mattered, the challenges we face as educators, the things that shake us. My boyfriend wrote his first blog post during that conference that put to words what I was beginning to feel as I immersed myself in this world of amazing awe-inspiring folks. He was struggling with that feeling of being not good enough. The response he received back from the community was so overwhelming. I learned that year that this is a job that challenges all of our egos and that every one of us feels not good enough sometimes...a theme that would resurface four years later as I sobbed at Julie Reulbach's keynote speech and her reminder that I am not an imposter. I am enough.

In 2015, my simultaneous journey into the past and future continued when we headed out to California where I had gone to seminary. Each morning we would walk past the apartments where I once lived a lifetime ago at the foothills of those beautiful mountains. My trip to TMC Claremont was bookended with time with my ex-husbands family so the entire experience was a bit surreal and magical. My morning sessions were spent escaping from zombies, my afternoons listening to the thoughts of a Mathemagician, and my evenings gathered together under the California moon connecting with old friends or singing along at a Dueling Piano bar. I learned that year that this work could sometimes just!

Minneapolis was an interesting year for me. I was struggling to figure out my place in the MTBoS community. I was being pushed in many directions...learning to utilize and fine-tune routines within my class structure, challenged to be an evangelist for math teaching, encouraged to reach out to teachers at different programmatic levels and engage in the conversations that would take me out of my comfort zone. I learned that year that growth comes in the spaces of discomfort...a lesson that I think was preparing me for the days ahead.

Because the next year it hit. In Atlanta, I think many of us were still feeling very raw from the election and the impact it was having on our communities. But the honeymoon of young love eventually gives way to the tough stuff and it was time to begin confronting some tough stuff. Before the conference even began, we were forced to wrestle with issues of inclusivity...and whether or not we were doing all that we could to make others feel welcome...whether or not we were living up to the ideals that we believed in. For me, that conference closed with a flex session on equity and a frank discussion on whether or not we had created a community that was truly welcoming and engaging to everyone. These weren't new conversations. These were conversations that had been happening in the background of every TMC and in every planning conversation I'd every been a part of. But that year, they moved center stage as we were forced to confront all of the shortcomings that we had ignored for so long. The young head-over-heels love affair that had begun in 2012 gave way to the reality of any lasting relationship... I learned that year that there was work to be done.

Cleveland was a year of rest for me in so, so many ways. Even the location was nothing more than an afternoon drive. I stayed off site for the first time in an Air BnB where every evening offered a calm haven from the chaotic whirlwind that is usually TMC. Mornings spent in the Geometric Design were so zen and evenings at a local neighborhood creamery was the perfect way to cap my days. I learned that year that self-care matters and that there must be moments of respite in the midst of the hard, hard work that we do.

The hard work that we do...

And that brings us to...Equity.

I haven't learned yet. I am learning. I am trying to learn. I have so, so much to learn. I am listening. I am making mistakes. I am trying to figure it all out. Or understand it better. And it seems like TMC is too. Trying to dive into the tumultuous waters and make some progress. I know that this TMC experience for me has been a journey. And "sometimes God draws straight with crooked lines." But safe haven and staying on the shore isn't okay here. It was time to push. And I am so proud of the leadership of TMC for being willing to push into these very hard to navigate waters because they know it is time.

Throughout all of these TMC experiences the one thing that I learned the most about my classroom instruction is that you can't just play it safe if you want to grow. You have to take risks in your teaching. And that  means you are going to screw up. A lot. And often. But making mistakes is part of growing. And if I wasn't going to take those risks, I would forever be the teacher I was in 2012 before I hopped into that car...

Much love to every member of the TMC Committee and Board...past and present! I would not be the teacher I am if it wasn't for the work that you have done. And I am so eager to continue learning beside all of you even if it takes me far from shore into waters that are sometimes a bit frightening. #presssend

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