As I’m sitting in my hotel room in Madison, WI the day after Twitter Math Camp ended, I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase what I want to say. Because I think this post is going to come off as self-pitying to some, or whiny to others. But I’ve been processing some stuff about this conference and I need to put it down in words to help continue my learning process. And it starts a little bit meandering, so thank you if you sit through it, but no pressure. Just bear with me until the end where I promise it does get positive again.
I’m still new to teaching. I just finished my third year, but any reasonable person wouldn’t consider my first year as teaching experience so much as “How to survive feelings of constant failure and abuse while having no power to say anything about it.” So I’m still figuring a lot of shit out. While I think honesty is important with the kids, sometimes my face is too honest. Sometimes I get too annoyed with them. Sometimes a lesson that I think is going to be awesome is just a complete shitshow, and as soon as it’s over I see all of the places I should have known better if I hadn’t been blinded by my excitement. But I keep trucking on, because I want to be awesome at this. I didn’t get my teaching degree until I was 30, and I had a lot of life experiences that got me here. I know this is the job for me, and I know I can be better, so I keep working at it.
The MTBoS, and especially Twitter Math Camp, helps me to be better at it. These people all have these amazing ideas, and I learn so much. And I want to give back to the community. I want to present on things that I’m working on so people get ideas. And I will totally own the fact that I am selfish and like the feeling I get when someone says “Hey, I used this idea you had and it was great.” It’s why I signed up to present about Socratic Seminars last year and it’s why I joined Chris to do the morning session this year. I want to help everyone be better. And since I was Chris’ student teacher and had also attended his workshop at MfA New York, we do a lot of the same stuff in our classes already, so this was something I thought I could contribute a lot.
And the session went great! Everyone that I saw said either “oh my god, I got so much out of your presentation!” or “I’ve heard so much good feedback about your morning session. Great work!” We started our own hashtag that is blowing up. I feel confident that the session will at the very least get a lot of people thinking about how to add more discussion to their classrooms. Which is amazing.
Yet I was in such a shitty, shitty place Monday afternoon after our session finished. I was distracted and awkward and just wanted to go back to my room and lay down and not talk to anyone. I even wound up skipping any flex sessions (which was incredibly, incredibly difficult for me to do) because I just couldn’t be around people. And lying down was good, and I felt better, then we had a great dinner, and a great meander catching pokemon, and we watched the Bachelor and I had great conversations with Tracy and Michelle and Sheri. Things were good and I loved TMC and I was so sad it was ending.
The truth is I was embarrassed by how I contributed to the session. If you’ve ever heard Chris talk he’s engaging and funny and outgoing and knowledgeable. He leads a great PD, and I strongly recommend everyone listen to him talk. He’s also been giving similar PDs for five or six years now. He knows what he wants to say and he knows of good ways to say it and he has lots of ideas and it was really interesting to work with him on it. I’ve learned so much from working and talking with him.
None of that is me. I’m funny and maybe knowledgeable, but I’m new. New to teaching and new to speaking to a group of professionals. I can fake it a bit for short bursts but two hours a day for three days? I’m a mess. And I can hear Sam and Chris and Julie and more all saying “No, none of that is true.” Maybe, but it’s how I feel when I get up there, and I haven’t figured out how to quash it yet.
That all came to a head when I had to talk about Socratic Seminars in Math. This was the one thing that was mine. That I knew and that I had done before both at TMC and in my class, and that I wanted to talk about. And I think I kind of forced it into the session because I wanted to have something there that was mine, that I came up with and I contributed (how fucking childish is that?). The group would have been far better served to have that 15 minutes to work on adapting their own debate structures and then being given time to share out at the end. Seminar is a difficult thing that can’t be rushed.
And also, despite what people say, my talk was terrible. I pride myself on being able to read a room, and the way that I presented information was awkward and clunky. Everyone saw that what I was doing was interesting, but they didn’t quite get it and I was disjointed and jumping back and forth between slides. I picked a seminar that I created that I’ve never used in an actual classroom, instead of the one I did with kids TWO MONTHS AGO. I felt terrible and wanted to just run away.
But it’s TMC, and these are my people, and I didn’t want to waste the short time I have with them. And really I didn’t want to run away, I just wanted a time-turner to go back and redo everything. I was being selfish and wanted people to come up and say “Hey, your seminar sounds so cool, tell me more!” (and maybe they were thinking it, who knows. Again, I’m just explaining how I felt at the time).
I say all of this not looking for pity or encouragement. I’m good now. I talked it through with some people, I had time to gather my thoughts, I know that I did contribute things and I was a big part of the session and I am valuable and blah blah blah. I actually really DON’T want reassurance at this point, because I know I would just see it as perfunctory, so please don’t.
I say all of this because it’s a reminder to myself that learning is hard. I took a big step by doing a morning session, something I’ve never done before. And it was hard. And in my head I can see all of the places that I perceived that I failed (whether or not I actually did is immaterial). I’ve learned from them: Work time is important; Sometimes it’s better to cut things than to force them; Let your audience decide the flow rather than forcing your own agenda; Be more selfless.
I’m itching to try again, especially next year (and not just because I’m paranoid that if I don’t present I won’t get a spot…).
At the end of the day, I had a great TMC. Halfway through I was worried I wouldn’t get to say that, but I’ve come out the other side. I learned so much about myself and about teaching, like always, but this year it just felt different. In a good way, but still different. Learning is hard, and hard things are scary*. But they’re so important.
Thank you to everyone that made TMC amazing this year. From all the conversations I had to all of the new people I met to everyone that sucked at Trivia so we could win. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to talk to you, I promise that I am friendly, but very shy. Just awkwardly sit next to me next year and we can force our way through introductions. Beer helps. I love you all and hope you have a great end of summer.
*That’s what he said.