An Ode to @hazeymath

It’s easy to get attached to co-workers. (Heck, it’s easy for me to get attached to all kinds of people but that’s a story for another blog).  But teacher coworkers are special. You spend an obscene amount of your waking hours with them. They celebrate with you when you experience classroom success, and they talk you through times when lessons become a dumpster fire of failure. That co-worker/friend relationship becomes even more special when you teach a class together. Especially when it’s new. And difficult. Like AP Stats. This was my first year (and our district’s first year) taking on the challenge of 120 AP Stats students. There were many people who helped me when I reached out. Many have been where I am and were more than willing to give advice even when that advice wasn’t very well recieved. (What do you mean you can’t​ use 2 instead of 1.96 as a critical value for a 95% confidence interval!?)

But no one was more supportive and encouraging and helpful than my co-teacher Dianna Hazelton. We muddled through the AP Stats training together even though half of it might as well have taught in Windows wingdings for all I know. We poured over the textbook for hours on end, making sure we knew what we were teaching at least 5 minutes before the kids arrived. We reflected on every test and quiz together, worked through hundreds of problems to make sure the kids had teachers equiped to prepare them for that exam in May. And after the instructional days were done, we still seem to reglarly engage in AP Stats discussions. And through this grueling process of preparing dozens of kids for this exam, our teaching lives became intertwined working toward similar goals with all of our students. And the co-worker/friend relationship becomes more just a friend/friend relationship because in teaching, you become deeply attached to the work you do and to those who share the emotional experience it means to teach an AP class. And I’m more than grateful to have gotten to share this experience with Dianna Hazelton. 

But then something unexpected happens and that co-worker, now friend, is leaving. Greener pastures? Not really. Just different for the different grass up in Northern Minnesota. And after the shock wears off, you look around and realize that after working for so hard and so long at something together, it isn’t going to be the same without her there. Yes, someone else hard-working and energetic will take over where Dianna left off and we’ll do more great things with this class together. But there’s truly something special about the relationship you build with that person who was there with you at the beginning. When the formula sheet gave you anxiety because you couldn’t comprehend anything on it even though you were currently teaching it. When the terms “p-value” and “null hypothesis” had meanings unrelated to mathematics and were more like punchlines to a bad joke. 

So I want to use this blog post to say thank you to Dianna. Thank you for believing in us, in our students, and in our curriculum. Thank you for sharing yourself, your time and your knowledge so that we both could become better teachers having taken on this challenge. Thank you for endless copies, and countless examples, and never-ending activities to support every student they wanted to give AP stats was shot. There will be a hole in our department when you step out those doors for the last time this June. A hole that can’t be filled with a new teacher and a shiny new ID badge.  It’s a hole that was created by the amazing experience we had together building this class so that all of our students have access to college level courses. 

I’m not going to read over this blog to fix any errors. I wrote this straight from my heart to Dianna’s and want it to as authentic as possible. So thank you Dianna. I’m a better teacher than I was before I met you because you cultivated an environment in St Francis High School’s AP stats classes that allows students to really stretch what they are capable of doing in math class. And my warmest well wishes on this next exciting chapter of your life that lies before you.

We Are Powerless #NCTMAnnual

On Friday, at the NCTM Annual Meeting in San Antonio, I was lucky enough to deliver an Ignite with 9 other amazing classroom teachers.  Each had their own special take on education.  Here is mine: (I will link the video once it is posted to NCTM’s website)

I’ve only got 5 minutes, so strap in for a shock right out of the gate.  Hi.  I’m Megan. I’m a wife, daughter, mother, vegan, dog-lover, and math teacher.

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I am also an alcoholic.  This past March marked 5 years of sobriety for me.  But it took me a while to figure out that the principles that keep me sober, also made me a good teacher.  No matter what arena I enter, the 12 steps that helped me put down that first drink pretty much drive every decision I make, both in and out of the classroom.

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People often say that the first step is admitting you have a problem.  But there’s more to it than that.  Freedom comes first from admitting something else:  WE ARE POWERLESS.

What do you feel powerless over as an educator?  You can probably easily answer that, but how do we actually rid ourselves of the resentment that comes as a result of that powerlessness?  Ignite - NCTM 2016(15) - Copy

With the help of a Twitter colleague, David Coffey, I have developed 12 steps for educators, so that we can accept the things we cannot change and develop the courage the change the things we can.

Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over the elements of education that we could not control.

Step 2:  We came to believe that the positive powers in our lives could help restore us to sanity.

Step 3:  We dedicated ourselves to continuous contact with these positive influences on a regular basis.Ignite - NCTM 2016(7) - CopyStep 4:  We took a fearless and exhaustive inventory of our daily routines as an educator and identified what is in our control and what is not.

Step 5:  We admitted our shortcomings to another human being who can support us on this journey.

Step 6:  We are entirely ready to do the work to change what we can control and let go of what we cannot.

Step 7:  We humbly admit that no matter how hard we work in this profession, we will always have shortcomings.

Step 8:  We made a list of people, including students, administrators, parents, family members, and other educators, that we may have harmed in our quest to control everything.

Step 9:  We work to repair relationships with as many people on that list as possible.

Step 10:  We continue to take personal inventory proceeding fiercely to help change what we are able and let go of what we are not.

Step 11:  We seek constant improvement through connection with our positive forces.

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Step 12:  We carry this message to other educators and practice these principles in every classroom we enter.

You can start right now, at this conference, in this room, with these people who help fill our glass with passion, ideas, vision, and clarity in our professional lives.

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We admit we are powerless over the fact that Samuel comes from a low-income family, but we accept the power we have to fix that he, along with a disproportionate number of students of color, ends up being tracked in the lowest level of math available to him.

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We admit we are powerless over the fact that Patricia has to work everyday after school, but we accept the power we have to change that Patricia doesn’t think she’s a math person.

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My call to action is not for you to stop drinking.  In fact, I would like you to raise your class for a toast.  A toast to accepting your powerlessness so that you can focus on making sure every student has access to high level mathematics.

A toast to looking educational inequality in the face and proclaiming you’re no match for a group of educators determined to change the world.  And starting with developing the wisdom to differentiate between what we can control and what we cannot.

A toast to being the mathematicians, fighters of social justice, dog-lovers, plant-eaters, and overall human empathizers that the universe designed us to be.

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Thank you, and let’s go change the world.

Special thank you to Matt Larson who emceed this lovely event and Suzanne Alejandre who put together this amazing group of teachers.  And thank you to everyone else in my life who helps fill my glass with positive energy on a daily basis so that I can do this work that means so much to me.

Here’s a link to the 12 steps: 12StepsforEducators12StepsforEducators.jpg