#iteachmath... but not like you do

"So, what do you do?"

It seems like a simple question. When I was in the classroom, "I'm a teacher" covered it, and sometimes, that's still my answer. My official title in my role at the county office of education is "Mathematics Project Coordinator." Other titles that get thrown around are "Math Consultant", "Math Specialist", "Math Lady"... my daughter describes me as a "teacher teacher" which is probably the most accurate. From time to time, someone will refer to me as a "Math Expert" which simultaneously makes me feel super important and totally inadequate. Being called an expert implies that I have some sort of overarching authoritative knowledge of this world of elementary mathematics, but I'm as much a learner as I am an expert... the two seem mutually exclusive.

With the introduction of the #iteachmath hashtag in the last few weeks, I have been reflecting more than usual on my role and my title. From time to time there are teachers on twitter who lament that too many of the visible members of the online math community aren't classroom teachers. The implication is sometimes that this somehow diminishes their (our) contributions because they (we) "don't know" the realities of day to day classroom life. This makes me feel lots of things. Usually defensiveness comes first. My knee jerk reaction is to defend what I do and why I left the classroom. My passion is mathematics, and leaving the classroom afforded me the privilege of focusing my practice and working with children AND adults as learners. I always try to acknowledge and use the expertise of teachers in the room when I facilitate and never pretend that I have all the answers. The relationships I've built with teachers I have supported have been some of the most meaningful of my career.

Next comes a little bit of sadness. Making the decision to leave the classroom was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I questioned whether I was "ready", whether I knew enough to go into a specialist role, whether teachers would think I had enough experience to be teaching them anything. I also knew that I would miss the relationships I built with my students and colleagues and I do - every day. This time of year makes me especially wistful. So many of my friends are setting up their classrooms and preparing to meet their new students for the year. I miss that. I'm constantly plotting my return to the classroom in some capacity. I know that at some point, that will feel urgent to me and I hope to be able to have the flexibility to return at some point.

The final emotion I usually have is a mix of resolve and validation. I love my job. I love the people I work with and the wonderful opportunities that my role affords me. Teachers need teachers too, and they deserve someone who loves math and embraces the learner stance alongside them - I feel like I fit this bill. I know I'm doing important work -  I get to dig into some of the deep, messy math work that elementary teachers don't have time for, and I bring them the highlights. I get to be a voice for teachers at the county, state, and national level, and I feel qualified to do that because I've been in hundreds of classrooms, & worked with hundreds of teachers and students. I am passionate about the work I do.

Many things have changed since I left the classroom. My students. My physical space. My focus. My challenges. My successes. My sphere of influence.

But my love for teaching and learning hasn't. I'm still a teacher.

Comments

  1. From time to time there are teachers on twitter who lament that too many of the visible members of the online math community aren't classroom teachers. The implication is sometimes that this somehow diminishes their (our) contributions because they (we) "don't know" the realities of day to day classroom life.

    (No idea if the html tags I added will actually work! Here's hoping...)

    Thank you so much for this post. For what it's worth, I think it's so important to have lots of different voices in online communities, and I love that I'm part of a community where I can talk to people in lots of different teaching or leadership situations.

    At the same time, I'm someone who has publicly noted the way our community has shifted in this way. Your post made me want to distinguish my concern from the concern that leaders don't know the reality of the classroom. (And these aren't really "concerns" as much as "hypotheses about how this shift changes the community." It is what it is, I'm not sure what's good or bad.)

    My thought is about the output of the community. I think it's true that people make stuff that they think others are going to like, and they look to popular members of the community for a sense of what people are going to like. When some of the most popular members of the community are teachers who primarily share worksheets (as once was the case, I think) then that's going to result in a lot of other people sharing worksheets. And when someone gets a lot of response to sharing video-based math problems, that's going to have an impact on what others share too.

    So, what happens when the most visable members of the community aren't in the classroom? What do they share? And can classroom teachers hope to share similar things?

    I'm not sure. For example, in a world where the most highly visible members of the community are sharing curricula, books, research articles, keynotes, etc., I don't know what sort of a model this provides for everyone else. And I worry that this creates two levels of participation in the community: consumers and producers of original content. (Or, more fairly, primary and secondary producers; the same sort of relationship exists between Sherlock Holmes and denizens of fans who write stories based on the Doyle's original characters.)

    Maybe I'm overthinking all of this (probably) but that's sort of what I see happening. I don't know if it's bad, but I think it might be unhealthy for the community. Anyway, I'm not sure if it's bad, but more importantly it's hard to figure out if this is actually what is happening.

    None of this has to do with non-classroomers not belonging in the community. I apologize for sometimes talking in a glib way that might make you or other non-classroomers not feel welcome.

    Thanks again for the great post!

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