cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Saturday, August 22, 2015

TMC15 reflection: The Story Of TMC or, How We Didn't Get Lucky

We had our first week with students this week and boy, am I tired.

But all week long, I feel like I've been carried along on the current of good energy I have forged over the years with my TMC (Twitter Math Camp) math teacher tribe.

I was thinking about how other people keep telling me, Oh wow, you're so lucky you've got that.

And I finally realized I've been wanting to say, "No — we didn't get lucky."

A little over four years ago, a bunch of us who had met on Twitter and blogs decided we wanted to get together in real life. In December of 2011, over winter break, there was what is now known as The Great Facebook Friending of 2011. One night during a rampage of funny, crazy, meaningful tweeting among math teacher tweeps, we made the decision to "Facebook-friend" each other.

At the time, that felt like a HUGE risk — letting other people into our real, personal lives.

I was worried that the next morning I would wake up and discover that it had all been an enormous mistake and I would need to go into internet witness protection to get away from these crazies. I was worried that I was going to have such a hangover.

But no. I discovered that these really WERE the people I wanted to be connected with. And other people did too.

So even though Julie Reulbach still wanted us to go on a cruise together, we all decided it would be safer — and saner — to meet on land somewhere. The Mary Institute and Country Day School in St. Louis was gracious enough to offer us a free space to have our math teacher jamboree, and we all traveled from remote parts of North America on our own dimes to get there.

And as I like to remind people who say how lucky we were this year to have TMC at Harvey Mudd College in Southern California — remember that at the first TMC in St. Louis, I was the only person from California who showed up.

We didn't get lucky. We took small, incremental risks with our teaching and with our professional development until we felt safe enough and ready enough to form something larger.

And as the great psychoanalyst and cantadora Clarissa Pinkola Estes has said, when you step forward and truly embrace your whole life with your whole life, other like-minded people will "mysteriously show up, announcing that this is exactly what they have been looking for all along."

In other words, there are rewards for courage.

So my biggest TMC15 reflection is a reminder to myself that we did NOT in any way just "get lucky" with TMC. We stepped forward and showed up in our professional development lives — over and over and over. We stepped over the negative chatter of people all around us saying "there's no such thing as good PD" and we pushed past people who asked negative questions like "Why would you want to use part of your summer vacation time to travel to ______ [fill in the blank with St. Louis/Philadelphia/Jenks, OK/Pasadena] in the summer for professional development?" and we ignored the negativity of anybody in our home districts dumping on "Common Core math" or "all that fancy-schmancy group work nonsense."

We took a deep reflective breath and said a holy "yes" to being deliberate about our teaching practice and taking the risk of investing our whole selves into it. And THAT, as I constantly remind my students, is the essence of "luck."


  1. Elizabeth, there is no way I could agree more. I have had similar discussions over the last few years. I never tell anyone "good luck" because luck is about hard work and putting yourself in good positions by trying things. Thank you for posting this.

  2. This is--as far as I know--unrelated to this blog post, which I haven't read yet--this is just the only way I know to contact you (except twitter--and our school has social-media-firewall-wifi that prevents me from using twitter) ...
    We are just finishing up Talking Points ... how do you most encourage students to follow the "No Comment" structure? Today I was just trying to compliment them for telling each other about it ... I don't know if there's a way to reward them for actually following the structure--obviously the community it might build would be its own reward, but to what degree might they actually see that?

    1. OK I just read the post and, yes, my comment is unrelated to it. I'm glad, though, to have benefitted from the work you do--I remember you were moderating the very first session I showed up to at TMC ... it was TMC 13 in Philadelphia and you and k8nowak were giving out some Exeter problems ... And I got to be the guy who was like, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

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