Intent vs. Impact

So, last week I wrote a tweet that I regret, and I’m going to try to talk through why I regret it without sounding too much like a stupid white man.

At the end of the last full day of #TMC18, I was driving a few people back to the hotel. They all happened to be white folks (which is statistically likely given how many white folks were at TMC18). Three of them asked me to stop at the gas station next to the hotel and let them out so they could buy wine. The whole spectacle was ridiculous, and we were all joking about it. And because the jokes were funny at the time, I tweeted something like “Nothing says success quite like letting three blond white women out of the car at a gas station to buy booze.” It was tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic, pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation. I realize how cliche it is to say “anyone who knows me knows…” but that’s what I was thinking at the time. The tweet got some likes, some people laughed about it at game night, and I didn’t think anything more of it.

A couple days ago, as we’re all coming off the post-TMC buzz, one of the people in the car at the time reached out and said that while they thought it was funny at the time in an isolated space surrounded by dear friends, it was cringe-worthy when posted to the whole online Twitter-verse. That the tweet, read by someone new to TMC or new to the MTBoS or that has never met me in person, could be off-putting and offensive.So I deleted the tweet. But that feels kind of “Sweep-under-the-rug”ish, so hence this post.

I don’t understand how I currently have over 1600 followers. That is insane. I’ve only been teaching for 5 years. Then, recently, a couple people have described me as a “leader” in the MTBoS, whatever the hell that means. But all that does mean something, and my words absolutely mean something. I can’t keep tweeting as if I’m this little newbie teacher with just personal friends on my timeline that know me and know my sense of humor and my values (assuming of course that my sense of humor and values aren’t problematic in a variety of ways). I absolutely see how someone that followed me but didn’t know me personally could read my words and think “Wow, this guy is kind of an asshole” and then feel unwelcome in a space I very actively try to make more welcoming. They could get the idea that I value having white friends in my car over just having friends in my car. They could interpret that I am not sensitive to issues of race. And they would be perfectly justified in wondering why I even brought up race in the first place. I’ve done enough self-reflection the last few days that I don’t have a good answer for that.

If someone read those words and felt unwelcome or put-off or somehow othered, then I was an asshole, and I’m sorry. I could easily play it off as just sarcasm, just a joke. That was certainly my intent. But if the impact is bad, then none of that matters.

Maybe nobody took offense. I don’t know. I prefer to believe half of you just mute me on Twitter during TMC. But apologizing and learning to avoid this sort of stupidity in the only costs me some very uncomfortable self-reflection, which seems like a very privileged price to pay.

If there are places where my apology is inadequate or could be improved, please reach out. Otherwise I’m going to disable comments for this post.

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#MfASummerThink 2018 Reflections

For the second year in a row, I was a part of planning the Math for America Summer Think conference in New York. Meeting for three days in early July, it gave teachers in the MfA community a chance to spend some dedicated time together without the pressure or time constraints we sometimes feel when we show up to a workshop at the end of a busy day of teaching.

This year I did a little less of the overall conference planning, but instead chose to lead a Deep Dive session. For those of you that go to Twitter Math Camp, it’s similar to the morning session: ~6 hours spread out over three days, giving participants a chance to really, well, dive into some topic of interest. My session was on Debate and Discussion in the STEM classroom. It’s a variation on the mini-course I do during the year, which is itself a variation on the morning session that Chris and I do at TMC. Now that I’ve done it several times, some of the nerves have gone away, but then like 75% of the Summer Think planning committee decided to attend which brought them back. But I think overall it was a really successful session. They made this really cool board for the Deep Dive Exhibition on the last day:

DD board

The rest of the conference was kind of a blur. I know I attended support sessions on Mastery Based grading, identity in the classroom, and focusing on incorporating the SMPs into our classroom. The last one was led by Mat Sullivan, and was actually my favorite because I finally got to see some of the Contemplate then Calculate routine, which I’ve heard so much about.

I really appreciated MfA’s constant focus on teacher-led activities this year. Both Anoopa and I got to retell our stories from the Story Collider’s event earlier this year, which led to some really great reflection time with the other teachers. On the second day everyone went around and shared one word about why they’re still a teacher, and it was so powerful.

Every teacher I spoke with during that time remarked on how appreciative they were of having time to connect with others, while still having some time to decompress over the summer. For some reason I wasn’t able to sleep at night during the conferences, so by the time the afternoon events started I was completely exhausted and not such a great participant. I still don’t know why that happened, but I think it might have been stress over presenting? I don’t know.

summerthink group Overall I had a great experience, and I hope that MfA continues to support it’s teachers with local, high-quality conferences like this.

Pride

I have been out in my private life since I was 19. I was madly in love with my boyfriend at the time and I wanted everyone to know. I sat my family down for a horribly awkward coming out over Christmas break from college. I told my friends from home over AIM. My friends in college all knew.

But I was lucky that I could hide when I needed to. Partly through luck and mostly through years of internalized homophobia, I could pass as a straight guy. I laughed off  or evaded questions about a girlfriend from my extended family or an old boss.

When I decided to go into teaching, I wasn’t sure if I should be out. On the one hand, I wanted to be myself in front of the kids. How could I create authentic relationships if I wasn’t authentically myself? And I figured I could be a role model by being visible. But I was also scared. What if kids shut down because they had a gay teacher? Or their parents complained? I’d seen news stories of teachers getting fired just because they were gay, and while I work in a public school in a very liberal city, I was afraid that could also happen to me. Not to mention being gay brings with it a number of easily accessible slurs and names that can get thrown at you. How do you even respond if a kid calls you the f-word?

I remember a conversation with my first principal where I expressed all of these nerves, and she basically laughed it off as no big deal and told me I was worrying for nothing. But as a first year teacher, I didn’t know how to handle it when kids started shouting homophobic taunts at each other across the room. One day a kid flat-out asked me, in a rather antagonistic way,  if I liked guys, and while I don’t remember my exact response I do remember deflecting, and then feeling ashamed of myself that I had been intimidated by a 15 year old.

My current school is a much different place, and after my first year from hell I was a much different teacher. I started small. When kids would ask about my weekend, I’d mention my boyfriend in passing. I remember the first couple times I did it I held my breath for a second as kids reacted. But it was ok. And as I got to know that class I started to open up more. They find it endlessly amusing that my boyfriend works in a bakery. (“What, is his last name ‘Mathteacher’?”). I brought him to graduation last year and introduced him to a few of my students.  This year I even hung a Pride flag up in my classroom.

Our school has a tradition of declamation. In their humanities classes students will memorize some written work, and then stand in front of their classmates and recite the piece. Four times throughout the year a small group of students declaim a piece publicly for the whole school. For the last public declamation of the year, a faculty member is selected to declaim a piece. This year I was chosen, and I decided to recite excerpts of Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech.

Turns out telling the whole school you’re gay is exponentially more terrifying than telling one class at a time. But so many kids came up afterward and thanked me for doing it. Kids I taught, kids I’ve never met. Even some of the amazing kids that are more out and proud at 16 than I will ever be. I don’t think I did a good job of telling them how they inspired me to be as open as I am.

I still hold my breath when I come out to a new group. I probably always will. Even in the heart of New York City, there are people that will respond poorly. But I am less nervous about it than I once was. And in this current political climate, I think the only way we make things better is by being visible. Even if it’s terrifying.