Community, Learning, and the Profession of Teaching

I just returned from Twitter Math Camp, and my mind is busy reflecting on a wonderful week of learning and building community with great math teachers. I’m fascinated by our little community. I’m also fascinated by my passion for it and my feeling that it has made such a difference in my career. And I feel particularly grateful; I was weaned on #MTBoS. The hashtag was first used while I was student teaching, and I was reading 30 blogs and following many of you before I stepped foot in my own classroom.

In sessions and conversations at TMC this year, I feel like I understand more and more how this community has helped me to become a better teacher. From my first day in the classroom, I had a rich and ambitious idea of what great teaching looks like. Of student engagement, of what it can mean to do math, of worthwhile tasks, of teaching that is responsive to students, and more. That ideal kept me pushing myself, trying to get better, trying new things, adding new tools to my toolbox. It was a mirror to hold up to my teaching, to keep me humble and wanting more.

Equally important was the support from the community. Even before I was blogging or engaging on Twitter, this community modeled what it means to work hard to improve, to look failures in the eye and try to do a little better tomorrow, to wrestle with the big challenges of teaching and know that we’ll never solve them, just get a little better every day.

Another idea that came up at TMC was “the profession”. I’ve felt myself become more invested in the profession the last few years. Which is tricky; the profession is a big, amorphous thing. And I don’t know what’s good for the profession. I know I want more great teachers to stick around. I want more high-quality curriculum allowing teachers to focus on their practice in the classroom. I want opportunities for more teachers to engage in meaningful, sustained collaboration working on their practice, with time and support from their administrators. I want teachers and teaching to be viewed as essential to learners and learning.

But I think most of all what I want for more teachers are what I found at Twitter Math Camp. I want them to have experiences that continually enrich their vision of what mathematics and mathematics teaching can be. And I want them to have the support they need to recognize that no one is perfect but it’s worth working to get better.

This has me reflecting on the ways I talk about this little community. It’s not about Twitter, or Notice/Wonder, or Desmos activities. It’s not about visual patterns or card sorts or exploratory talk. Those are means to the end. Instead, it’s about constantly expanding my view of what great teaching and learning can be, and constantly adding new tools to my toolbox for getting my own practice there. And it’s about the support I need to sustain that work over time. I love this community because it gives me purpose in my professional life, it points me in the direction I want to go, it gives me tools to get moving, and it gives me support when I want to give up. That’s what I want for teachers. And it doesn’t have to happen in my medium or in my community; that same thing is happening in many schools and local communities around the country and the world, and in online communities beyond the boundaries of the #MTBoS. But I think it’s essential that more teachers have experiences like these, and that the profession is supported and enriched, every day, every year, for every teacher.

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