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 .
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.  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.)
 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.
 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.