TMC13: The State of Things (for Me)

I recently went to TMC13. If you don’t know what that is… there is a community of math teacher bloggers and twitterers who met up at a conference called “twitter math camp 2013.” It was a conference “for us, by us.” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our community in the past two years. Here’s my current iteration of my thoughts, after this conference.

I want to be clear that this is my experience and thoughts. I know I am not everyman, and I know my musings maybe (probably) do not match everyone’s experiences out there.

***

The day I came back from TMC13, I was scheduled to give a talk to about twenty peeps about to enter their first year of teaching in New York City. My goal was to show them that the mathtwitterblogosphere is a place that can help them – if they put in some initial legwork, and keep an open mind. I did my schtick for around 90 minutes, and then I left, feeling like I had failed.

It wasn’t that I actually had failed. I asked them to fill out notecards at the end with their honest opinions/thoughts/questions, and I had gotten really uplifting feedback.

But here’s the thing. I wasn’t able to package what we were, and how insanely perfect a community this is, and how insane it would be for someone in their shoes to not take advantage. And that’s because I don’t know how to bottle up that kind of fire and passion. All I can do are pale shadows of pale shadows. I showed them a bunch of things, I had them read tweets from others, I let them explore (in an open-ended but guided way) resources that I thought would be especially helpful to them. But I left knowing I could have done much better.

We’re inspirational. But how the hell do you get that across without sounding like a zealot? Maybe sounding like a zealot is the answer.

Because coming on the heels of TMC13, I have nothing but the most amazing feelings about MTBoS. Last year I left TMC12 grateful that I could now call my tweeps “friends” and mean it in the entire sense of the word. They got me – to the core – because who I am at the core is a math teacher. It defines me. And the  people at TMC12, with their “unnatural obsession with teaching math,” reveled in being with others of our own kind. We’re a rare breed.

This year, I had all those feelings – yes – but the main takeaway of the conference was new. It was that we are a powerful force. We are not a loosely connected network of professionals, but we are a growing, tightly-connected network of professionals engaged in something unbelievably awesome. Through this community, we are all – in our own ways – becoming teacher leaders [1].

Here’s what I mean. I have been teaching for only six years. I took a total of 5 classes on education in college during my senior year. And the honest truth is: I’m not amazing in the classroom. I will repeat that because it is crucial for this post. I’m not amazing in the classroom. Conclusion: I am not – by anyone’s criteria – an expert.

But I’ve learned through this community that I have value. And this, here, is precisely it. This is what I tried to make clear when talking about our community and TMC13, but kinda failed, to those about to embark in their first year in the classroom. Every single math teacher out there who cares about their students and their student’s learning has value. I don’t care if you’ve been teaching one year or one month. And that value could be confined to your classroom, or to your school. But what the mathtwitterblogosphere does is it allows us to have value for each other too. And that means suddenly that have value beyond our own local neighborhood. [2] By having our little cabal of math teachers connect online, things like age, years of experience, the type of school we are at… those things begin to matter less. It’s the personalities, the way we interact with each other, the ideas that we share and the resources we freely give, the emotional support that we provide… those things matter more.

I want to unpack the “tightly-connected” adjective used above, because I think this is actually what TMC13 is helping cultivate. The good things about the community that have made us tightly connected: compassion and empathy, encouragement, inspiration, generosity, and most importantly, a willingness to help each other out at any costs.

What aren’t we willing to do for each other? I’ve fielded midnight phonecalls from tweeps in distress, and written pick-me-up emails to people who are feeling down. I’ve shared a whole year’s worth of calculus materials I’ve created with people teaching calculus for the first time. I’ve had people share their entire precalculus course materials with me, when I said I was teaching it for the first time last year.  I’ve had chocolates sent to me and my department from a tweep, just because. I wanted to make a mathtwitterblogosphere website, and I had so many people immediately volunteer to make videos for me. I’ve been mistreated by (you name it and it’s probably happened) and have gone home in tears, where I felt listened to and supported by people in our tribe. I’ve written letters of recommendation for tweeps looking for new jobs, and I’ve had tweeps write a collective letter of recommendation for a summer program I was applying to. We’ve moved past just being a way to give and receive amazing resources and ideas for the classroom.

We’re invested in each other’s success. We’re invested in each other’s happiness. We’re invested in each other.

That’s why we’re tightly connected.

Another word to describe this? After TMC12, I argued that we could now call each other “friends.” Now, with another year under our belts, I kinda think we can call ourselves a “family.”

How do you bottle that feeling when you realize you, only a sixth year teacher, are valued by others outside of your school? That you are significant to a whole bunch of someones out there in the world? The confidence you get about your own teaching when someone comments saying kids in their classroom loved an activity you created?

How you share that phone call your tweep fielded when you were ready to give up and quit, because you felt like you sucked? And you left that phone call not only feeling better but en energized?

How do you share the rolling, side-splitting laughter that you get when you read a tweet about Air Bud?

How do you share the transformation that the community can give you in your outlook? When you felt like there were so much on your plate and so many obstacles that felt insurmountable – that all you had was a pit in your stomach and only anxiety about returning to school next year… and then you go to TMC13 and you suddenly began to see all the hurdles as opportunities, and you suddenly get excited about attacking them?  

I know this is a schmaltzy post. I know that different people are at different levels of familiarity with those in the community. But I have only love — with recognition that there are real people behind the words on a blogpost and behind the tweets, just trying to do their best, suck a little bit less at teaching, and being generous as much as they can. I have much love for that.

I learned a lot about TMC13 about teaching and learning. And I was going to make a blogpost recap all about those things. But this seemed like a better investment of my time.

(Dedicated to Lisa Henry, Shelli Temple, Max Ray, Anthony Rossetti, James Cleveland, and Jessica  Bogie.)

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[1] That’s something I’m coming to realize recently. This community not only puts glass walls around our classrooms, so we can constantly be peering into multiple teaching laboratories and see best practices, but many people are peering into our own classrooms via our online presences. Being a part of this community allows us to grow professionally, and allows us smooth ways to become teacher leaders. We can offer to lead a session at TMC13. We can host a Global Math Department. We can compile a comprehensive set of resources that others can use to align with the Common Core. We can lead online initiatives or start online collaborations that result in something bigger than ourselves and our classrooms. And it’s all done in our safe, encouraging, accepting, helpful, generous community . We can begin to spread our wings as we emerge into professional leaders.

[2] We can have value by sharing windows into our classrooms. Sharing activities and lessons and worksheets. And experiences and ideas. And notes on what didn’t work. We have value by freely giving our experiences and work products to each other.

On the flip side, we can have value by using someone else’s ideas/lessons/activity in our classrooms. It may seem backwards, because we are consumers – freely taking from others. But when someone posts a comment on my blog saying they totally used something I did, I feel uplifted. I feel valued. I feel like my opinion and thoughts matter. So anyone who has ever used any of the things I’ve put out there have so much value to me.

You have value whether you are a consumer, a producer, or a consumer-producer… a lurker, an occasional pop-in-er.

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21 thoughts on “TMC13: The State of Things (for Me)

  1. Because of a scheduling conflict (I went to Edward Tufte’s one-day seminar), I was unable to go to #TMC13, but watch out for me next year! Last year was DIFFICULT, but connecting with other math teachers on Twitter (the bookchats and advice) has given me a brighter outlook. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts about #TMC13.

    • Oh! I almost went to Tufte’s seminar, but I didn’t get funding from my school. How was it? I am insanely jealous.

      Thank you for your thoughts. I feel like so many people I’ve talked to said that last year was one of the most difficult years they have had in the classroom… I too had a truly challenging year. Weird!

      • I’ve been to one of Tufte’s seminars (because the price was about the price of buying all the books). They’re not bad if like being lectured at for 6 hours straight (no questions allowed). The books are much better than the lectures—get the books and read them, and don’t worry that you’ve missed the lectures.

  2. I already had my family vacation scheduled but I have been following all the blogs and tweets about #TMC13. I wish I could have gone. But, I tell you, I can feel the energy – even not being there or knowing any of you in person – I can feel the excitement, I can feel that energized feeling you are all having as your brain is full and trying to sift through everything you learned. I started to look through the wiki and it looks amazing! After vacation, I will be spending more time with it because I have to prep for a new common core Algebra II this fall and I am looking forward to it because of all the great ideas out there! Thanks and thanks to everyone for their recaps – it really does help. We are reading them all and appreciated them all and getting ready to try them out!

    • Yay! Next year!!! I have to say I wonder what it must be like to be reading all the recaps and not be there… so I’m glad to hear that you can feel the excitement! Next year?!?!?! (Also, I love the recaps because I got to hear about all the sessions I didn’t get a chance to go to!)

  3. You captured exactly how I feel about the members of this community and my TMC experiences. I feel so blessed to have you all to help re-energize me when my passion wanes. Every member of this community inspires me to greater things.

  4. WOW! Thank you, thank you! Even as a lurker fairly new to this community, I have already sensed that “tightly-connectedness” and I love it. I continue to learn something new everyday from MTBoS and actually joined Twitter, just so I could stay more connected with the community. I love what you all have formed and am so privileged to be a part of it, even if it is just a small part as a lurker for now. hehe! I may even be inspired to start my own blog some day. As the only math teacher in my district, I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have other math teachers to glean from and turn to who just understand. Thanks!

    • Yay! I can’t tell you how many people I have met who said that they are physically isolated as being one of a very few math teachers in their districts — and so this community works for them. I am so so so happy to hear you feel a part of it — instead of being disparaging about being a lurker. That totally works (I sometimes will disappear and lurk for a month!). Thank you so much for commenting and making me feel good!!!

      • Sam

        In addition to the physical isolation, what many of us feel (and we fight that feeling by reading blogs, by commenting on them, by (finally!) starting our own or by diving into the tweeting world (not there yet)) is an isolation even from our building colleagues. Too few of us in this profession want to/feel they have the time to get engaged in the larger teacher world this way. I share and share with my department and mostly get appreciative thanks but I also get the inevitable snarky questions asking (1) Where do you find the time? (2) Don’t you have a life? (3) How can I find the time to do these things in my class?

        Just got back from the EdCamp STEAM and I am all energized and ready for the upcoming year now that it’s AUGUST again. Missed out on TMC since I was in FLA with my little girl and wasn’t sure I’d make the cut since I don’t engage in the T part of TMC.

        Anyways, thanks as always for your energy. It comes through the web, honest it does.

      • @mrdardy, totally yes, i used to feel that from building colleagues — but less so now. and yes personally i think you SHOULD come next year if you’re interested – the name twittermathcamp just happened to sort of get chosen without too much thought and i think it is slightly a misnomer.
        Sam

  5. Sam,
    Absolutely brilliantly stated and echoes the experiences I’ve had in the MTBoS as a pre-service teacher. TMC13 was a huge leap for me in that I didn’t/don’t feel that I had much to offer the community that has given me so much. As I start my first teaching job this fall, I will definitely looking for ways to contribute and interact more with my friends, and hope that by TMC14 y’all are part of my family, and I yours! Thanks again for all of your encouragement and support!

  6. Sam, you sloppy sentimentalist you, It’s a good job you’re a boy, since you completely fail to adhere to the stereotype of the uncaring, unyielding math teacher. Not only do you have value as a teacher, leader, and molder of minds, you have inspired and motivated many of us who want to disrupt the cycle of failure.
    Rock on, one of my heros.

  7. Sam, do you know if there is an active community of MBToS peeps in the DC area? I teach in Northern VA and would enjoy connecting with others. I don’t have my own blog, but I comment actively on some other people’s.

  8. Sam,
    Your post is straight from the heart and so well-said. TMC13 was my first experience meeting all of you and the experience was everything that you said…and more. I’m at the other end of my career, but still am passionate about doing what I can to encourage others to adopt the “unnatural obsession with teaching math” that all of us in the MTBoS share. Teaching is by nature a lonely profession. We teach solo, often behind closed doors, and the scheduling of most schools does not allow us to richly collaborate nor commiserate with colleagues. The MTBoS has torn down the walls and thrown out the schedule. It is there for us anywhere, anytime, at our convenience and allows us to be deeply involved or merely a quiet observer. What is wonderful about TMC 20xx is that is allows the players, who already “know” each other, to meet and play and obsess about math in the flesh, deepening the bonds that were already there. However, those that can’t attend still can be part of the community, which is generously open to all at no cost. Teachers can take part in scheduled online chats, presentations such as the Global Math Department, and make comments on blogs. Your post captures the essence of the phenomenon that we call the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere), a name that will have to suffice until someone comes up with something better. Thanks for summarizing it so well.

    • Elaine, I’m interested in how many people “at the other end” of their careers attended. It’s something I’m very interested in coming to, but I am also getting within 12 years of retirement (not that I’m counting). From the tweets I was reading, there seemed to be a lot of singing and other things going on that old (or is it shy and reserved) people like me don’t do. Did you feel out of place at all or were there other older people in attendance?

      • John,
        The group was a good mix of 20-somethings to 60-somethings…definitely more representing the younger decades. However, there were plenty of people within 12 years of retirement. I never felt out of place, but then, I enjoy a good party…and, yes, I danced and sang karaoke. But there were plenty of people, young and old, who did not dance nor sing karaoke. The MTBoS is an extremely welcoming community and you can participate as much or as little as you want. There is no pressure either way, so if you choose to stay on the sidelines, which I did some of the time, that’s fine. I hope to meet you at TMC2014!

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