#TMC16 Day 3: Learning is hard

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.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “#TMC16 Day 3: Learning is hard

  1. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your honesty about how it felt to know you could have been better. I think it’s a struggle a lot of us have and don’t admit publicly. So we never know it’s actually normal to find it hard. So thanks.

  2. Mattie, I connect with so much of what you shared here. Many folks were open and vulnerable about their own challenges – either in the classroom or finding a place in the MTBoS community – during this TMC, but this post hits closer to some of where my own thoughts have been.

    I see the skills many in our community have in public speaking, or facilitating a room full of adults, and I find myself immediately making comparisons to try to determine how I “stack up.” It’s a whole new frontier of ways to imagine myself lacking! (Comparing myself as a teacher in the classroom, and a contributor to this community are well-worn territories for me at this point, but not in a sad way!… I have mostly come to terms with owning my growth in these areas while still recognizing that EVERYONE is different and some things that are hard for me are easy for others, but the reverse is also true.)

    This section of your post really hit home for me:

    “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.”

    I know you aren’t looking for encouragement, and specifically didn’t ask for it, but as someone who was in your session and learned so much, I want to offer a different way of thinking about your experience facilitating a 3-day morning session (SUCH a big undertaking) and the ways that was a gift to our community that was uniquely YOU, outside of the specific activity/structure you were sharing.

    By choosing to take that risk, you make it possible for others to do so in the future. Truly. I watched you and Chris work together, and I saw a partnership that allowed for a perfect meshing of someone who has, as you said, been leading PD for years – with someone who is developing that skill set as well. It made me realize it’s something I can learn! It made me antsy to do so! I don’t know you well enough to know how much about your role as facilitator came naturally and how much you’ve worked hard to develop (because you really aren’t giving yourself enough credit – you did a fantastic job), but suffice it to say I looked at you and saw inspiration to try. When I stopped you on Monday to tell you I enjoyed the morning session, and THANK YOU for the work you put in, this is what was on my mind.

    “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…).”

    Thank you for the leadership and courage on this front. Sharing your learnings like this, I have no doubt, will help me (and others) feel invited to begin developing our own skill set in facilitating PD. That’s amazing!

    Would love to talk more about this.
    Humbly,
    rachel ❤

  3. I just read your post and felt the need to provide a different lens to what you wrote. Thanks for being venerable. I know in your post you re-framed your initial insecurities, but I have 3 additional thoughts for you as one of the participants of your session.
    1) Despite speaking a lot less than Chris – what you said was valuable. Valuable to me and others. Your repeated message (there is such power in repeated messages) about giving shout out to students as well as other tidbits where invaluable. Talking less is not less. I personally struggle talking too much. The math mentors I’ve admired the most in my career are my coworkers who would say one or two quietly profound statements that caused me to think days/weeks later.
    2) I said this at our session, but always be OK with wherever you are in your learning. Give yourself permission to do only one thing well despite wanting to do everything well. Most young teachers never put themselves out there to be leaders to do anything well. You did several things well. The only way you become a powerful leader is to start somewhere and practice. This is what we tell our students but we, the adults, myself included, struggle to be OK with it in our own profession. What you named out loud in your post of how you felt was not how the participants viewed you. Really.
    3) Do not underestimate your strongest quality in PD sessions, your ability to build community with participants. This happens in the minutes before a session, during breaks, after sessions, during meals…etc – You have the unique ability to invite everyone into a learning environment. Relationships are key to student learning AND adult learning. Everything you did at TMC contributes to the leader you are now and the leader you will be in the future.
    As I look back at my last 25 years in education, everything I’ve done has prepared me for where I am now. My past experiences were the right set of experiences for what I needed to be great at in my future experiences. I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey, “I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” We prepare ourselves to be leaders in math through practice. You and everybody I met at TMC are the present and future of Mathematics Education in America. TMC is one way we are preparing ourselves to lead the way so all students in our nation see themselves as successful mathematicians.

  4. Oh Matt!
    •First, I want to give you a hug.

    •Second, having worked really closely with Chris for a year now and presented with him a few times now, it’s easy to feel inadequate next to his energy. I can also safely say that you are under-estimating what it would look like if you now lead that session on your own somewhere else.

    •Third, thanks for your humility and honesty about your own places for growth. When you say… “While I think honesty is important with the kids, sometimes my face is too honest. Sometimes I get too annoyed with them.” … I identify with this and it took me a very long time to not show it and to have teacher moves on those rough days and to know when/how to use that and when to squash it.

    Have a great rest of your summer!

  5. Inust wanted to tell you that I have enjoyed following your journey. You ability to self-reflect is an amazing teaching tool. Don’t ever lose it.

  6. Hi Matt,

    It’s taken me some time to figure out what to say, but this post has been on my mind . I wasn’t in your session, though I’ve heard awesome things about it and the hashtag keeps popping up on Twitter, which is pretty cool. But I don’t want to convince you you did a great job leading your session, other folks are doing that above.

    Instead, I’m excited because we are (I think) the same age, and I’m really excited that you went out on a limb to lead a morning session because next year at TMC, or at NCTM, or somewhere else you will be even better than you were this summer. People learned a ton from you at TMC, and they’ll learn even more in the future. When you’re as reflective as what I read above, you undoubtedly learned a ton. The MTBoS has a ton of people who are great at tweeting and writing about math, and you are one of them. But we also need people who are great at sharing their ideas and their passion in person. You are one of those people too, and your voice will become more powerful and more influential the more you try things and reflect on them. I hope you’ll continue to do so, and I look forward to learning from you in the future.

    Keep it real.

    Dylan

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