Where are all the great teachers?

Confession: I am not a great teacher.  I think I am a good teacher who aspires to be great.  Well, actually, a good teacher who would like to find  where the magic potion is that makes you a great teacher overnight.

I thought that magic potion would be at Twitter Math Camp.

As it turns out, so did everyone else.

Unfortunately, it was not.

I am dreading this upcoming school year.  Everything is changing, from admin to our department. Not necessarily bad, but change is scary.  I ended last year on a bad note and over the summer had my schedule switched so I lost classes that I was looking forward to teaching.  Back in February, I was excited about TMC because I was excited about where my teaching and career were going.  The last week of July, I was seeing if my hotel reservations were refundable.  What was I thinking going to a four-day conference where I don’t know anyone? I hate people!  Nobody tweets me! I don’t have a blog! Everyone is awesome, and I lecture 95% of the time.  I don’t even know how to pronounce “pedagogy.”

But I put on my big girl panties, packed up some cookies, and went.

After the first day, I went back to my hotel, called my husband and said, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m getting enough out of this.  I mean, I got some stuff that I want to use in my class and the keynote speaker (Steve Leinwand) made me want to change the entire way I teach, but I just don’t feel it yet.”  Yes, I said “change the entire way I teach” and “not getting enough” in the same breath.  I wanted that magic potion!  I wanted to be part of the club!  Tell me what to do, say, think, believe so I can have the power.  I also wanted someone with whom I could go to dinner.

But then something happened. I don’t know what it was, but I started getting into the groove.  I wondered down to the lobby and asked if I could join a crowd for dinner (I was so nervous, but did I really expect them to say no?  Actually, yes, I did. I think high school hormones must rub off on me).  Throughout the weekend, I was swept along by some fabulous outgoing people and I also sat next to people who were just as shy as me (or maybe I’m projecting. But it seemed every meal started with long awkward pauses and then all of a sudden two hours went by and I didn’t want the conversation to end.).  I gave a My Favorites presentation with the feeling, “Well, if I could help just one person…” and people actually applauded. (I hate giving presentations only slightly less than meeting new people. What the hell was I thinking when I tweeted Lisa to volunteer?  And that I needed “only 5 minutes, but probably more like 3”?)  I went to even more great sessions.  People invited me to do things with them (walking through the airport and hearing “MEG!” from the bar, I felt like Norm on Cheers.) As the days went by (too quickly), the best thing started to happen: I found out almost everyone thinks they suck.

Maybe it was Mr Kent’s “I am a fraud” post or Lisa Henry’s, but I fell into more and more conversations with people who felt like they weren’t doing everything they could be or should be.  And these were people who seemed like they had it going on.  What do you mean, [insert name here] doesn’t know an awesome way to teach [insert topic here]?  Oh my gosh, someone else had a lesson that was filling in the blanks about vocab, too, and the MTBoS police haven’t taken her away yet?  Or whenever I complimented someone on a presentation/thought/my favorite/blog, the reply was something like,  “Me? Really?” (which is also what I thought whenever someone said something about my “My Favorites”).   I also was shocked at how many people were first time TMCers and MTBoS lurkers like me, especially because I had the feeling that everyone else must be TMC three-peaters and BFFs by how calm, cool, and collected they were.

All that to say, judging by the amount of people who thought they weren’t great, there should have been a very limited number of great teachers at TMC.  But we were overwhelmed by greatness! That does not compute.  I think just by going to TMC puts you in at least the “pretty darn good” category.  But we (I) need to stop comparing and start doing.  Turns out TMC isn’t the magic potion. It’s laying the groundwork, it’s building up the structure, it’s getting support, it’s having so many thoughts going around your head that you can’t fall asleep at night.  It’s breaking bread with people in real life so you can reach out to them online when you need help.  It’s doing what you can with what you have.  It’s making the changes that’s right for you, even if it’s not the “correct” way to change. It’s being inspired, not intimidated.

I can’t change overnight, so I’m going to start with some low entry/high ceiling improvements. I’m going to focus on what I can control in my own classroom and try to worry less about what’s happening outside my four walls. I’m going to have more fun with math.   And I’m going to do what I’ve wanted to do for the past few years: stop lurking and start being a part of the most welcoming community of people on the planet.  I’m going to start tweeting more and try to be part of the conversation. I’m going to plan my own collaboration meeting even though that would probably involve both talking to new people and giving a presentation. I’m going to fill up my blog reader with math blogs again because even if it seems out of my league, there is a joy to reading someone that is passionate in his or her teaching.   I’m going to start sharing my fabulous crap that I’ve worked hard on, but have kept hidden because I feared it wasn’t “great enough” for the MTBoS.

Because maybe we’re all better than we think, including me.

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11 comments on “Where are all the great teachers?

  1. Ok, I felt as if I wrote much of this blog post. My favorites…

    ‘I don’t even know how to pronounce “pedagogy.” ‘ – I can never remember, even though I practice it. Sigh.

    ” it’s having so many thoughts going around your head that you can’t fall asleep at night.” – I wasn’t able to sleep well once the presentations had started, eps. Thur. and Fri. nights.

    “But it seemed every meal started with long awkward pauses and then all of a sudden two hours went by and I didn’t want the conversation to end.). ” – Yes, this is every meal for me as well at TMC unless I’m with old friends.

    I’m so sorry about your upcoming school year. I’m also so glad that TMC did turn out to be great for you. It has changed me forever. The first year I found the #MTBoS I only changed a few things. But, after five years, I’ve been able to change most things. It isn’t easy – in fact, it’s much harder to be this teacher. It takes time. I used to feel guilty I wasn’t that teacher immediately, but now I know better. Now I have to start over. I know this year, when I move from MS to HS, it will be tough. But each year will get better. Each year I will develop better lessons to replace traditional ones. I won’t be great this year, but I will be happy with what I can do.

    I hope that you join our blogging initiative. I think that you will LOVE week 1. Yes, teaser. 🙂

    I loved your Favorites and wish I could have gotten to know you at TMC14. Next year…

    • Thanks for the encouragement! There are so many people I’m sorry I missed connecting with; I guess that’s just a reason for tmc15!

      Looking forward to the blogging initiative. Is the first challenge to post a picture of a corgi?

  2. Meg,

    As long as you keep trying to get better at helping students learn, that is what makes you a great teacher.

    As long as I have been in the game, I’m still learning and trying to improve. I guess the year I am satisfied with everything I accomplished is the year I should get out.

    I don’t know if you’ve participated in the Global Math Department, but I highly recommend the Tuesday meetings. I have gotten a lot out of them this summer.

    Keep posting!

    • I’ve lurked on a few, but going to speak a little at the next one! Thanks for the suggestion and thoughtful comment.

  3. I could relate to this post. It’s always an enormous disappointment to rediscover each year that there is, in fact, no magic potion. There is, however, this community of practitioners who are hell-bent on getting better and on sharing their process.

    Suzuki Roshi said, “The world is its own magic.” This is something I keep learning over and over. Thank you for being courageous and joining us on this insane but amazing journey.

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    • Thank you so much for your comment. You were definitely one of the ones I thought had the magic potion! I’m definitely adding that quote to my QOTD, too!

  4. Meg,
    You didn’t seem near a nervous as I was at TMC! Keep up the desire to move forward! I look forward to seeing you at TMC 2015!

    • Thanks! I was just awed to be in the same room as the Conic Card lady! See you at TMC15!

  5. I laughed and cried reading your post! You did a great job of capturing your experience. I even imagined your voice reading it after hearing you present your favorites. And I have to say it again…LOVE your haircut.

    I hope that even though you aren’t excited about your schedule that you will find a few things to be passionate about throughout this year. Remember to be gentle with yourself and let your pile of good things grow. In a few years you will go to TMC19 and people will be coming up to you and telling you they love your blog and they just wanted to meet you. And you can think back about everything you’ve shared and written, the crappiness it was when you started, how far you’ve come over the years, and think ‘Yeah, I love my blog too!’

    • Aw, thanks for both the blog and haircut compliments! 🙂 I had a crafting blog and the same thing happened…I look at the first posts and think, seriously? You are so sweet and positive; I’m sad I was too starstruck to start a conversation with you!

      • I guess we’ll both just have to show up at tmc15!

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