Safe Spaces at #TMC15

We talk a lot about creating safe spaces for students, but it’s important to acknowledge that teachers need those safe spaces as well.  In many ways Twitter Math Camp IS that safe space where math educators can explore their ideas without judgement and overall be themselves.  But I realized this time around that as inviting as #MTBoS is, it’s ok to seek out further safety nets.

Based on my own experience and what I’m reading on Twitter today, it seems as though there are many of us that need a safety net from the safety.  An example:  everything from Twitter Math Camp ends up on Twitter. There was a presenter who purposefully refrained from using pithy comments simply so they couldn’t be taken out of context on social media.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced a tweet interpreted differently than we intended.

It’s not a secret that I deal with alcoholism.  But this post isn’t about my issue in particular.  It’s about our need, no matter the issue, for a safe space.  And there needs to be safety within the safe places.  Anne Schwartz talks about this in her recent blog post where she talks about surrounding herself with the people she needed after being apprehensive about attending TMC this year.   For Julie, the safe place was the Piano Bar where she could break away and be free to dance with close friends like she loves.

It took me until Saturday to recognize what that safe space looked like for me.  And once I realized it, it was so crystal clear, I can’t believe it took me 2 TMC’s to figure it out.  I don’t mind being around the alcohol one bit, and I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable drinking around me.  In fact, the silliness at the end of the night is usually something I enjoy (sorry not sorry, you guys are hilarious after a few drinks).   BUT at some point in the night, I need a safe place a deep conversation with someone who isn’t drunk.    At TMC14, that person was Justin Aion who walked 1.5 miles with me to get club soda and spent a good deal of Saturday night listening to me.  In Claremont, the sobriety of my pregnant roommate, Teresa, was more important than I realized pre-TMC.  Thank you, Teresa, for just being in the right place at the perfect time.

The patio on Saturday was delightful.  So many people, so much joy, so much community.

But all I could see was the alcohol.  It literally was suffocating me.

I know there were probably lots of you that weren’t drinking.  But the addicted mind sees what it wants, and my imagination had created a courtyard drowning in liquor.  So I returned to my room, texted a friend and called my husband.  This was a powerful realization for me because although those safe places presented themselves organically in previous TMC gatherings, it’s vital that I proactively ensure that safety exists from the get-go.  And that’s what I will do from now on before heading in unprepared.

I know a similar story can be told for a lot of us regarding our interactions in large groups of semi-familiar people.  I would encourage you to look deeply inside and identify the source of your discomfort and examine what can be done to alleviate it.


  1. I think that at an event where we are celebrating and continuing to grow a community, and where people are so inclusive, there’s some discomfort in carving out space separate from the group. It feels cliquish or rejecting.

    But actually, in a group that includes many introverts as well as people with other needs (like the need to talk to sober people), it’s pretty clear that we need separate spaces sometimes. That’s why I was thinking there might be a way to put out a signal on Twitter to invite people to a smaller or different space (still inclusive). If we knew it was a no-guilt option ahead of time and why, those tweets wouldn’t feel like a rejection of the main group activit(y)(ies).

    I had a great time doing the “main group thing” most of the weekend, but at one point I spent quite a bit of time pretending to enjoy what we were doing (so as not to seem snotty or rejecting anyone else’s fun) when it actually wasn’t really my thing and I was feeling disappointed that it was too loud to talk to other MTBoSers, which was what I really wanted to be doing. Meanwhile other people who wanted to be in the same space were, I found out later, shut out for lack of room. So what I was doing was silly and counterproductive. If I’d felt comfortable sending out a small-space-conversation request and not worried about hurting feelings, maybe somebody would have taken me up on it.

    Also, if presented with the choice of you or a drink, I’d pick you, as I bet lots of people would. I know it would be uncomfortable to ask that directly of all but a few individuals, but if we had a sober space set up and people were known to be in it, it would be an available choice.

    Hope somebody will remember all this next year!

  2. Pingback: The Anxiety of Influence: PCMI, TMC15, and [Trying to keep] Moving Forward | Her Mathness

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