ALY MARTINEZ

A CIRCLE IN A SQUARE HOLE: HOW DO WE REALLY KNOW WHEN WE BELONG TO A COMMUNITY?

I think we all remember a time when we felt like we didn’t belong. For me, it’s felt like that most of my life. A circle always trying to find my way in a world of square holes. Middle school was the worst. High school wasn’t much better.

I vividly remember my dad offering to drive a few of us on a field trip in 6th grade. I was so proud. Proud my dad was coming to our trip. Proud I was helping the class. And then, no one wanted to drive with me. And, when I saw all the kids piling into shiny SUVs, newly cleaned, not a ding in sight, I cringed when my dad pulled up in our beat up, rusted suburban. My teacher probably saw it in my eyes and asked me excitedly if she could go with us, maybe? I smiled sideways. We drove awkwardly to the zoo and I wondered the whole way, was she wondering why our car was so old? Did she wonder if I had enough to eat each night? Did she now know I was different too, just as all the other kids did?

I’ve had a lifetime to think about belonging. Recently Dan Meyer posed a question that struck a chord for me on his blog. He wondered if #mtbos, the math community (math twitter blogosphere) hashtag, was an unwelcoming one because of its obscurity as a name and an abbreviation. He noted people feel like it is an exclusive group where one must be invited and he got this idea not from nowhere.  In fact, there were tons of math teachers who applauded his boldness in saying what they’ve thought all along. His recommendation, let’s retire #mtbos and instead become #iteachmath.

It made a lot of sense to me. And then the tweets started coming. #mtbos is a family! #mtbos is just a google search away from understanding what it stands for. Fawn Nguyen posed a great counterargument here.

For those of you who don’t care or lose interest once someone says it has something to do with Twitter….hang in there. Here’s where I get back on track.

I am the hugest fan of Dan Meyer and Fawn Nguyen and tons of other people who are on BOTH sides of this argument. But I think everyone has missed the point on this one. This isn’t as much about the naming conventions. This has everything to do with what a community is and how we form a belief that we are also a part of it.

Take this example. Suppose I was advertising a party. Calling one “TBPITW” or “Party of the year”, I can’t say one is going to be more heavily attended over another, especially if a quick google search of the former would reveal it would be “the best party in the world”. The reality is people attend parties because they are invited. And then once the invitation is received, it’s up to the person to decide whether they want to go. Will it be fun? Do I have time to attend? Will I know anyone when I get there? Will I like the music they play?

In my first year of teaching I worked at a school that decided to change their math department grade level teams to PLCs. Do you think I joined a Professional Learning Community? Does changing the name of the group make it a community?

I’ve been a member of lots of PLCs. One’s that were effective, thoughtful, and transformed the way I teach and understand learning. I also was part of one’s that were effective, but thoughtless, and made me feel muffled and devoid of creativity. I attended meetings to both, but it was only in the ones where I felt seen and heard that I truly became a piece of the community. And in some meetings, it was harder and harder to speak up.

As a perpetual circle a square world, let me offer this advice to all communities searching for members and hoping to make change in the educational landscape at an individual level and a systems level:

  1. You, individual, I’m talking to you! You have a voice. Your opinion, thoughts, and ideas matter. A community will benefit from hearing about your experiences, your perspective and your take on how we teach students. Join a community and exercise that voice. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to agree or disagree out loud. Share your triumphs and laugh with your partners. Share your failures and lean on the shoulders of your community when it is hard to admit it didn’t work.
  2. You, community members, I’m talking to you! You aren’t a community if you are always going with the status quo. We are made of multiple voices, points of view and experiences. They all must be heard. Listening to opposing ideas is the crux of transformation and creating a space for all to be heard is a responsibility of each and every member. Reach out. Invite people to your PLC joyfully and with the same fervor, invite them to take the stage and hear their voice. Consider, how might their opinion or experience teach me.

Perhaps for #mtbos and #iteachmath, we need to ask ourselves, why do people feel like they can’t be apart of a bunch of teachers having fun talking about math? Are those teachers the same ones who are islands in their own teaching sites? Are they alone because they feel like they are circles in square holes? Who is listening to their voice? This is a party! If we want people to attend, we’ve got to send out invitations! And, TEACHERS, when you get that invite, don’t avoid the party because you feel like you won’t fit in. We’re teachers for God’s sake! We’re goofy, nerdy, and the most loving people on the face of the earth! Highlight what brings us together and find ways to grow with what divides us.

This life is…..teaching…..is far too hard to do alone. Buck up, teachers and listen!

Here is what I know:

  1. I got an invite to the party, and I’m going. And on Twitter, it turns out no invite is needed. The great @johnberray shared what #mtbos was when we first met and that was my “invitation”. So, #mtbos and #iteachmath, I’ll be at both parties! And when I get there, I’ve got lots of invites to send out.
  2. I want to attend a real party with Dan Meyer and Fawn Nguyen some day.
  3. If you want to be a better teacher, find a community and ask yourself, how do I honor the members of my network when we work together?

My Math Unicorn Call to Action is: 
Quite worrying about what you’ll say when you finally join Twitter. Just do it! Post something silly. Post a question you’ve been wondering. Join a chat. WHO CARE’s! Just exercise the wonderful circle voice you have in a world of squares. As it turns out, we’re actually all a bunch of circles. We just don’t spend enough time thinking about what we have in common. Rather we waste time worrying about what makes us different. Come to my party. It’s called #mtbos or #iteachmath or #beamathunicorn. You got this. Go find a party you want to attend!

Aly Martinez is a math teacher and induction mentor. She has a thousand children, loves donuts and math, and will always accept chocolate if you offer it. She believes she will sleep through the night one day again soon and is an avid fan of coffee, legos, and her induction candidates.