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Providing public voice and leadership to support and advance high-quality teaching and learning of mathematics for all students.
Due to incoming weather on the last day of the conference, we skipped the closing statement at the end of the day. I have included my comments below.
Share Math Bravely
Thank you all so much for being here. These have been a wonderful two days. The sessions and speakers were so impressive. I hope you found it as fulfilling as I did. Again, thank you to our board members for creating this event. Thank you to Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball for her keynote address and breakout session. Thank you to the Detroit Public Schools Community District and to Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School for hosting us. Thank you to our vendors and sponsors for your support as well.
I will leave you with something to think about today.
We are all here because we share this love and appreciation for mathematics. We see something in mathematics that not everyone is fortunate enough to see. Some of you started seeing patterns, geometry, ratios, infinity, at a young age. For others, like me, it happened later. In fact, my love for math didn’t happen until I started teaching it.
I am not here to talk about us. I’m here to talk about change. Teachers work hard to inspire students and hope to have a lasting impact on their lives. We hope that something we have done will stay with our kids and maybe something will translate into impact on the world. We live for those little things. Thousands of small changes over the course of a career. After 24 years I am getting impatient. I wanted to see bigger changes by now. I wanted a world that loves mathematics and is interested in the work that math teachers do, because math is not only essential, but also amazing. Unfortunately there are perceptions and feelings that persist which we need to battle.
What are we battling?
It’s the countless people around us whose memories of math are filled with fear and anxiety, and who have no qualms about telling people how they feel about it.
It’s the overwhelming public perception that math is reserved for only some people (people who aren’t any fun).
It’s people saying they hated math when they were in school, and then following it up by asking ‘why don’t you just teach it the way I learned it?’
Did any of you get this recently: “What are you doing this summer?” “Oh, I’m going to a math conference.” “Yeesh, that sounds like a treat.” The sarcasm is thick in that response. My own friends, family, neighbors. I’m the president of this organization and the people around me feel perfectly comfortable sharing their distaste for a subject that I love. I can't blame them. It's their painful past.
There is a battle to let negative memories of math persist. For so many it was a negative obligation and all it did was cause pain. Now, I have no problem at all talking about my love for the beauty and wonder of mathematics with other teachers. But, and I think we have all been guilty of this next statement from time to time. I don’t often share that with people outside of the math community. The reaction above is very common, and to my shame, I almost always let it go. Rather than bravely sharing what I love and talking about the energy and excitement of the conference, I let that person continue to have those feelings about math. I allow them to continue thinking that attending a math conference would be anything other than inspiring and wonderful. Every teacher and parent should hear the keynote message we heard. Every adult who interacts with kids should see the energy and excitement we all shared. We shouldn’t hold back; we should be sharing.
How will the community around us understand true mathematical knowledge if we keep it to ourselves at the very moment they show us that they are filled with math anxiety?
When we hear about great math teachers, we hear from students who say he or she made them feel like they could be good at math; that they were a math person. It is our goal as teachers to help kids feel this way. If we want to see change on a larger scale, we need the community around us to feel the same way. We need math to be seen in a positive light, not as an obligation, or just a required steppingstone to your career. The world is mathematical; let’s show it to them. That will only come from us.
I challenge all of us to share math bravely with the people around us. Tell people, not other teachers, why we love math so much and why we like teaching it. Point it out when we see it in the world. Point out when those beautiful mathematical moments strike you, when you notice some pattern, or some symmetry in nature, or something in a song. Tell the people around you, and if you get the eyerolls, or “this isn’t math class”, don’t be surprised. That is your target audience. Tell them why you noticed it, or what makes it interesting, but don’t shy away from it. You’re not going to follow it up with a worksheet and a quiz, you’re just talking. Let them see that math is more than the anxiety inducing class they remember.
If you are passionate about it, don’t keep it to yourself. People tend to appreciate things that the people they respect are passionate about. Share your passion bravely so the people around you might appreciate it too. Help them see that math isn’t the scary thing they remember when they were young. Maybe we can influence the people around us, and maybe some of that will translate into changes in public perception, even if it is just in your small community of friends, family, and neighbors.
I think a community that isn’t afraid of math, but instead views it as a normal, essential, and maybe an amazing and interesting part of our world is an empowered community.
Thank you all for coming. I hope to see you again next year.
Today is announcement day! This year the MCTM conference will once again be an in-person event! It has been a few years, with cancellations and what I think is the best virtual events we could pull off. Well this year we are back, and I hope to see all of you there to make this a big welcome back celebration.
Join us in Detroit this July for three days. We will start with a pre-conference featuring half-day learning opportunities for math leaders. Then stay for the two-day conference featuring amazing keynote speakers and sessions. Check out our home page to see our first keynote speaker.
Registration is open now!