This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Twitter Math Camp 2016, a conference organized by the collective known as MTBoS. As the name suggests, this set of social-media-connected math teachers created a conference where they could network, have deep conversations, and share ideas about pedagogy, curriculum, and content. Even though I’m technically part of this collective as a veteran math teacher who’s been on Twitter since June 2008, I’ve felt disconnected from this community for some time. I set aside my protractors and pocket protectors for raised fists and black wristbands.
Yet, the entire time, I thought if I held my breath long enough, the folks in that community would inch themselves over to my arena, even if just to take a peak.
The culmination of said efforts happened when they invited me to come speak. I take all speaking engagements seriously, but this one felt meaningful for two reasons:
- Minneapolis was already a site of civil unrest after the murder of Philando Castile.
- With 200 attendees, I was reminded on several occasions how excited people were to hear me speak.
I almost wanted to respond, “You know this is a package deal, right?” I’m going to speak on Black lives mattering. I’m going to speak on under-served to Native American / First Nations children across the state of Minnesota. I’m going to tell math people to do more than talk about math. I won’t swear, but I will call this conference and its participants white. White people feel some sort of way about being called white. I will not mistaken professionalism for conservatism, so my truth is my truth.
And these folks still said, “yes.”
And because I was the first keynote, because I am still a math teacher, because I needed them to do the work with me, I still said, “Thank you.”
Math teachers, contrary to our own beliefs, already have parts about us that allow us to engage in difficult work. Conversations about math and identity aren’t all that different if we establish principles:
- Math teachers ask critical questions of themselves and others. Depth matters here.
- Math teachers prepare for teachable moments. We need to be nimble when complicated questions come up.
- Math teachers expect non-closure. We won’t solve all of the problems all of the time, but, with the right approach, we can tackle it meaningfully.
- Math teachers stand on principles of inquiry and openness. If we keep asking and keep ourselves vulnerable to not having the right answer, we do better in these conversations.
- Math teachers allow for multiple pathways. We won’t all arrive at the same methods for how to tackle any one thing, but we can allow for multiple ways of getting to the ultimate goal, especially if other people can learn and understand these other methods.
I know I’m abstracting, and that’s purposeful. Often, when critical conversations arise, people shy away from them, hoping their friends have the answers, or that someone else is going to solve the problem. But if those of us who already solve complex math problems can’t use the same tools to solve complex world problems, then why do this work?
That’s my nervousness. I prompted the audience to ride with me on the ideas of cultural competence and social justice because I believe in their intention of bringing me there. For so many of our kids, none of this is adding up. We had a whole room of people who can push back and say, “Well, here’s a start.”