I attended TMC 17. Many people writing their first blog post are doing so after their first ever TMC. This was my second. I loved TMC 16. It was a monumental moment in my teaching career. I attended session after session where I was blown away. The presenters were knowledgeable, but so was every single person in attendance. I was overwhelmed. How the heck did they let me slip through the cracks and be a part of this magic. I brought back a wealth of information to my classroom and remained on the MTBoS sidelines; absorbing as much information as I could get my hands on. It was wonderful and I was thrilled to be invited to TMC 17. Another chance for me to learn from a group of amazing educators and advocates.
From the get go, TMC 17 was a brand new experience. I couldn’t stay at my house, I didn’t have a safety net to run to when meeting new people got overwhelming; I was all in this time and I was terrified. Interacting with large groups of people has never been my thing. Communication and introductions are things I fear the most, I’ve never been great at small talk and I’ve never felt I can rely on my ability to converse with other people. I’ve found my usefulness in groups through actions. Since I can remember I’ve played sports. Being on a team and being a part of a group is everything I need and want, but when I am unable to rely on actions I falter. I can integrate into a team with ease. You show up, work hard, and do everything you can to help the team be successful. I am lucky enough to have some skills that make me useful to a team. And if I find I am not at a skill level that benefits the team I go home and I practice. I breakdown each and every skill and work for hours. It’s my safe space; with enough practice I can improve and develop a muscle memory that makes things feel natural, but I cannot do that with conversation. There’s no gym where you can go and practice meeting new people, where you can practice developing relationships, so when you’re finally meeting someone new you can seamlessly integrate yourself into a conversation. Every new person is the game and the practice and it’s intimidating. Sorry for that extended side bar, let’s get back to it. Here I am at TMC 17, and it’s game time. This adorkably shy kid is in the game, and it’s not minor league action, it’s professional. I’m a middle school basketball team up against the dream team. Everyone is talking and interacting and it seems so natural; I can’t help but wondering how anyone ever got to this level of confidence, it’s hard to believe. TMC 16 Emma would’ve finished her session and quickly biked home to her safety net, but TMC 17 Emma is stuck, so I stay off to the side and avoid making eye contact with anyone.
I was uncomfortable and uneasy but I was there, and that was a huge step for me. And I continued to be there. The thing about being there is people eventually notice you, and as awkward and weird as I felt in every interaction I was still there and that was something. I met new people and I learned. I learned about math, and equity, and people’s lives. I also learned how to interact with people. I’m still not fully comfortable in situations that require me to rely on my voice and not my actions, but this was a step in the growth direction for me.
As I have been reflecting on this experience I realized something. I teach math, a class where a fair number of my students enter feeling uncomfortable. Some may feel like they don’t have the skills to engage with the material. Some may feel that they are so far behind everyone else that it isn’t worth trying. Some might feel that math ability is a thing you are born with and they missed that gene. Some may feel so overwhelmed by everything that walking out of the room might be the best option for them. And as a reflect on situations where I have felt uncomfortable and out of my element I am learning to empathize more. Jenise Sexton had a great session about context. Her lesson was about her daughter wanting to have hair just like her, and as students in this class we had to develop a plan to help her with that. Had she put a learning target on the board saying that by the end of class I would know the procedure for starting locks I might have walked right out of the classroom. I was immediately brought back to sleepover horror stories where everyone else was busy doing each other’s hair and I was that weird kid who could hardly braid. Even with the context I still felt overwhelmed and nervous, but her introduction at least kept me in the room. Students have many emotions related to math and these aren’t arbitrary. These are connected to experiences that have been engrained within them and a great Desmos lesson won’t overcome that, just like me having one good conversation with a new person at TMC 17 won’t immediately remove years of inadequacy I have built up. That is okay. I’ve got nothing but time for my students and the MTBoS community has nothing but time for me. Showing up and trying is the first step for me and my students. But showing up and trying is a lot easier in an environment that feels safe and loving. I’m grateful to every individual at TMC 17 for creating a wonderful environment for me to step into. This blog is step 2 for me. My hope is that I can create a classroom that feels as safe and welcoming to my students as the TMC 17 experience felt for me. Thank you everyone. And thanks if you made it through some misplaced commas and semicolons to get to this point!