Note: I debated whether to #pushend or not. Hopefully this helps anyone curious about why I’m stepping aside from TMC.
I posted this tweet yesterday:
I’ve been on the organizing committee for Twitter Math Camp for the last three TMCs and also for this upcoming one in Berkeley, CA. It was initially a surprise — and also upon reflection not as much of a surprise — to me that board member Marian D. stepped down from the board of TMC a few days ago. When I called Tina C., also a board member, to talk about possible next steps, she told me she was ready to step down also.
I will let Marian and Tina talk about their reasons themselves if they wish. But without much information out there, I figure people in the TMC community are confused and filling in the empty space with their own conclusions. I mean three people leaving organizing TMC in the span of a few days? That is a message encoded in an action, right?
Here’s what I want to share about that, from my perspective. I love TMC. I love the people who put on TMC. If I had to point to one thing in my teaching career that has grown me the most as an educator, it would be MTBoS generally and TMC specifically. I don’t have adequate words for my love and appreciation for it.
And mostly, I worry that because of these departures, people are going to vilify TMC. I don’t want TMC to be vilified. And in my opinion, it doesn’t deserve to be vilified.
It was born out of desire and necessity, to have math teachers who knew each other on twitter to meet in person. It provided a space for teacher voice to have value, and a place of emotional support for many who didn’t have any locally. It created one pathway for classroom teachers to become teacher leaders. I can’t say it enough. I love TMC, I love TMC, I love TMC, I love TMC, I love TMC, I love TMC. And for many, many, many people who have attended and have had amazing experiences, they too have a special place in their hearts for TMC.
So know that although I am not going to be a committee member, I am not anti-TMC.
So why, then, would I leave? Before that, I need to say it was a terrifying decision to make. I had committed to helping out, and shirking on something I committed to is a huge sin in my book. The good news is that the work that I commit to doing every year is quite simple logistically and not a huge time suck (organize a new-attendee/supporter mentorship, plan a new-attendee dinner, design some buttons, organize a homespun photobooth). And we’re five months before the conference and I told the committee that I’d work with someone on helping them learn to do these things with all my documentation. I wanted to leave as responsibly as I could.
But yes, why did I leave? As much as I love TMC, I didn’t enjoy the process of planning TMC. I’ve been in so many awesome collaborations where we have the opportunity to plan something awesome (whether it be a lesson or a workshop or whatever). And TMC is one of those. I mean, imagine you got a bunch of dedicated, passionate, awesome, thoughtful math teacher friends together (the committee/board is full of people I call friends!) and you get to put on this awesome event. I mean can you even imagine how fun and exciting that would be? Brainstorming, debating, revising, throwing things out, having a genius moment, outlining, revising? Simultaneously intellectually draining and intellectually invigorating. All the good! But the reality is that the process of planning TMC was broken, and over the years, it has remained so. It shouldn’t be so, and I tried to help change things, but without going into specifics, it never became unbroken. TMC, for me, was amazing. But planning TMC is a different story.
I was on the phone talking with Tina about Marian’s sudden departure, and Tina told me she was thinking of stepping down too. For the past few years, but more so in the last year, I’ve been working alongside Tina on a number of projects. We worked on creating a TMC mission statement with core values (engaging with the community in multiple ways to do this), we worked on improving communication and defining roles in the TMC leadership (beforehand, everything was haphazard and no one knew what everyone else was doing), we worked on figuring out where TMC needed to improve (diversity) and putting together a plan to address that, we worked on spearheading the first TMC fundraiser, and we were working on implementing ideas from the diversity proposal that the TMC committee and board had approved. My earlier work — things like calling a few restaurants and sending out emails pairing up new attendees and supporters — started to feel less important to me. I was excited about working alongside Tina with professionalizing TMC and addressing our deficits. That was the work that felt difficult and juicy but so much more important. Working with Tina on all this was that exhilarating collaboration that I had talked about above. So when Tina told me she was leaving, I sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote nonstop 40 minutes just trying to figure where my head was at with all of this.
What I realized I was losing my mentor-leader who brought meaning to my work. And she was my rock when trying to navigate our dysfunctional planning process. I tried to imagine doing our work without her and thinking about the frustration level of planning with the committee. I couldn’t imagine it. And that’s when I realized I had to leave with her. I thought: better all at once, a little less than half a year before the conference, so the committee/board can regroup.
I was excited about the directions we were taking this year in terms of diversity and equity. Marian reached out to educators of color to present and attend. In the program, a strand of sessions throughout the conference was focused on equity. Affinity spaces for educators of color and LGBTQ+ folk were built into the schedule. Marian kept the idea of “safety” for educators of color on our minds and we were explicitly thinking about people with mobility problems, deafness, etc. In other words, we as a conference knew we were generally inviting, but we were working on being specifically inviting.
The people organizing TMC are friends. They might not create a synergistic working group, but they are doing selfless work which has helped so many. There are still people organizing TMC who are hoping to try to make these things listed above a reality. Any one of these things — well-crafted affinity spaces, a strand of strong equity sessions, thinking deeply on small and big ways to put on a conference where marginalized groups are valued and welcome and feel safe — would have pushed TMC forward leaps and bounds. It is a fair statement to say the committee is not strong at thinking about equity and diversity as a whole yet (I’m honestly very far below where I know I need to be at this point, but I’m learning from every conversation I have and pushback I am given). There is a steep learning curve and it’s not always easy to see through these lenses. Mistakes are par for the course. (We’re math teachers, we know this!) But there are those who are invested in this work and they are going to continue pushing TMC forward. They deserve all our gratitude and thanks. And support. If they ask for help, I hope many of you who want to see TMC do better on these fronts charge in and give them an assist. Help make TMC the place you want it to be. This is what TMC has always been to me: a space for passionate people to do good things together.