There are some very good things about Halloween on a school day, but a mandatory classroom "party" in advisory last period of the day on a Thursday is not one of them.
When I had finished complaining to myself about the state of my classroom and cleaning up the last of what the 13-year-olds had left behind that really bothered me, I packed up my stuff and got into my car.
And I remembered that I had an Infinite Tangents podcast all cued up for myself — one I'd been saving for a moment when I needed it most. A moment like now.
So I got to spend the drive home with Ashli and Lisa Henry. Part 1. A glorious triumph of delayed gratification.
I feel lucky to have gotten to know Lisa first through Twitter and blogs and then in person at the first Twitter Math Camp in 2012. Lisa has a gift for teaching through community-building, and she has brought this gift to bear on Twitter Math Camp. I admire and appreciate her respectful and inclusive community-building, and it inspires me in my own classroom and in my life.
Now, like most teachers, I come from a family of storytellers, so it's probably no surprise that I love hearing other people tell the stories of events I participated in. I love the prismatic contrasts of perspective and memory – the way something that struck you as essential to an event gets bumped down or deflected sideways in another person's memory due to proximity or overtaking or whatever. So I love hearing Ashli and her guests telling stories of events I remember because that process invokes the same pleasure twice – the memory of the event itself and the joy in the retelling.
My mood lifted considerably as I gained distance from school and lost myself in the conversation and the memories they were weaving on my car stereo.
It was fun to hear about and remember the great Facebook "befriending" moment in 2011 or so—that moment over Christmas Break when a bunch of individuals who'd been nothing more than virtual colleagues on Twitter (but who were still basically strangers) decided to take the seemingly insane step of "friending" each other on Facebook.
It was a moment of enormous risk.
It's one thing to share teaching ideas or goof around on Twitter, but crossing that line between virtual and IRL felt profound. What if these people turned out to be crazy? unpleasant? dangerous? Or even worse — what if they turned out to have different political beliefs than I did?
The risk felt very real at the time, and sometimes it still does. I don't pretend to be something I am not. I am a liberal. I live in San Francisco. I am a practicing Buddhist and a Democrat. My representative in Congress is Nancy Pelosi. I believe in a lot of things I know that a lot of other people in other parts of the country do not.
But the one thing I know in my feet is that I am a teacher — and a learner.
And I knew that all of these other teachers all over the continent who had become my tentative friends and virtual colleagues on Twitter in exploring what it means to teach and learn math were every bit as committed to what that means as I am. So I guess I trusted it. I was willing to go with it, and to push myself beyond my comfort zone for the sake of connecting with a community of like-minded math teachers who want the same things for our kids and for our communities and for our countries — regardless of what we may believe at the grassroots personal level.
And with all of that as background, I have to admit — it was one of the best and most profound decisions I have ever made.
I was one of those crazy ten or fifteen people who was hellbent on attending Twitter Math Camp even if we had to hold it in a yurt outside a garbage dump. I knew that these were people I wanted to be connected to and spend time with and get to know, even if we seem like we'd be completely incompatible based on what you can see from examining our surfaces.
There was a (now-hilarious) period of several months when it seemed as though what my new friends most wanted us to do was to go on a cruise together and do Exeter or PCMI problem sets together. I remember that Julie looked into costs and group rates and I thought to myself, what in the name of everything sacred have I gotten myself into? I hate situations like cruises. I get seasick. I could imagine nothing worse than being trapped on the open ocean for days with people I don't know.
But there was something about the energy of the group that I innately trusted.
I kept my cruise-hating thoughts to myself, but I hung in there because I knew I did not want to miss out on what appeared to be happening. These were people I wanted to spend time with, and I supposed that if that meant I would HAVE to spend time on a cruise ship, I could probably get a prescription for some kind of anti-anxiety medication to have on hand in case I completely freaked out.
And I just hung in there.
Eventually, the cruise ship idea fell apart, thank God, and the math camp idea came together. And nothing has been the same in my life ever since. And it's been good. Very good.
By the time I went through the toll plaza at the city end of the Golden Gate Bridge, I was not only not crabby any more, I was actually happy.
I felt connected to something much larger than my own daily grumbles, and that was enough to wash all the grouchiness away.
By the time I had parked the car, walked the dog, and poured myself a beer, I realized I needed to blog about my drive as a way of remembering what was good and sane and life-affirming about this experience I am having of being part of a worldwide community of math teachers who see teaching as something much larger than what is happening just in our classrooms.
So this is my "One Good Thing" for the day. Thank you, MathTwitterBlogoSphere, for being there on the other end of the Twitter line whenever I need to feel connected.