When I woke up this morning, I went right to Twitter to see if I could find video footage of the keynotes from the California Math Conference. I watched Fawn Nguyen and I jotted down the things that made me think, “Yes! I want to do that!”.
Then, I watched Dan Meyer. He challenged me to turn a question into a story and put students at the center of it as the hero. I thought about that for a while. How do I draw a student into the narrative so she is the heroine – the owner of the learning? How do I give her the power?
Later in the day, I was exploring the geometry progression with a colleague. We were playing with triangles and parallelograms in order to understand the first and second grade geometry standards better. By accident, I created a small parallelogram and a large parallelogram. I wondered if they were proportionate. As we worked, I kept generating more questions about the situation. My favorite question was, is the area of proportionate figures related to the scale factor?
I remembered Dan’s keynote. I wanted to make myself the hero of this story. I didn’t want someone to tell me the answer to this question. I wanted to figure it out. My friend, who has taught high school math, was eager to help me make connections. I told her I wanted to “own” my understanding. I needed some think time. She respected my wishes.
While we were exploring, another colleague approached me.
“How long have you have been a math coach?”
“Oh. I noticed you were really excited about learning math. What is your background?”
“I taught K-8 in a one room school-house off the coast of Maine for 6 years. Then, I taught fourth grade for four 4 years.”
“What grades do you coach?”
“Well I started as a 3-8 math coach, then a K-5, now I am K-12. We have a really small district and my role has kind of changed and evolved over the years. We also have math specialists in all the buildings, including one in the high school.”
“I only ask because sometimes it is hard for generalists to become math coaches because they don’t have the content background. You work with high school teachers?”
“Well…. yes. We work together. I ask them questions about HS standards. Sometimes they ask me questions about the K-8 standards. My role is to be a conduit.”
My cheeks felt like they were getting red. I wondered if other people were listening. I quickly started packing up my things. I wanted to hide all the pieces of scrap paper with my notes on them.
I nodded and smiled. I said, “I just really enjoy learning math.”
Ouch. I tried not to feel it, but it seeped into me before I could stop it.
I don’t even like typing that word. It is the worst feeling and to feel it about a subject that I have finally grown to trust again…… It just sucks.
I wanted to shake it off. I wanted to forget about it. This person doesn’t know anything about me. Later, I thought about all of the things I could have said to this person. I thought about all the qualifications that make me a good fit for my K-12 coaching position. I almost started listing them here, but my qualifications aren’t what this story is about. This story is about how shame got in the way of me becoming the hero of my own math story.
If I wasn’t still feeling ashamed, I would probably describe my favorite question in more detail. I would stay up until 2:00 am pouring over my notes from today, in an attempt to articulate my current understanding of how area is and isn’t related to the scale factor of proportionate figures. I would share all the mistakes I had made. I would ask more questions. I would try to connect my thinking to all the standards.
I don’t really feel like doing any of that right now. The shame has gotten in the way.
When I was grappling with my questions about proportionate parallelograms, I felt empowered.
How did those words,
“You work with high school teachers?”
take me from feeling empowered to feeling ashamed in a matter of seconds?
Was it because I felt vulnerable? I thought vulnerability was a good thing. When I am vulnerable, I am open, unassuming, ready to learn. When I was exploring my favorite question with my colleague, my vulnerability pushed my thinking and fed my curiosity. It allowed me to take a risk, to explore something that I wasn’t totally sure of.
Suddenly, when confronted with a question about who I work with, vulnerability was not so good. It meant I was weak. I didn’t have the “right” experience.
It ignited shame.
I am not sure what I want to do with this experience. I am not even sure why I am sharing it. I guess maybe I hope that if I acknowledge the shame, I will take away its power. I can’t help but wonder, would this person have asked the same question to a high school teacher who told him that she was coaching elementary teachers?
I used to think that being vulnerable was my strength. It was at the heart of the relationships I have built over the last five years. It was where I tried to start every day. It was what allowed me to feel so comfortable, and even excited, about saying,
“I don’t know.”
Now, I am not sure.
Unfortunately, vulnerability doesn’t have a switch.
Fortunately, I will learn from this. I will think about the teachers and student I work with. I will continue to value and protect the space where being vulnerable can be empowering. I will encounter more situations like the one I just described.
Maybe, after some time, I can get myself to a place where I can say,
“Yes. I work with High School Teachers. And they work with me.”