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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016 - Copy (2)

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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(17) - Copy.jpeg

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 to 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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(2) - Copy

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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(8)

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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(13) - Copy

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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(9) - Copy

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.

Ignite - NCTM 2016(11) - Copy

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


  1. I can’t really say I wish I’d gone to NCTM this year, because I would have missed my son’s birthday, and that was never going to happen. But of all the things I regret missing at NCTM 2017, this tops the list. Even reading the Twitter responses brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad at least I’ll get to see the video soon.

  2. Megan, the words and journey that you shared at your your ignite session was so powerful-wish I could have been there to hear it in real time. I think it is amazing how you have taken what you have learned and struggled with and connected it in a way that can help and reach so many people- students, colleagues, and other educators who were there or will see the video. I look forward to meeting you in Atlanta this summer- hope the end of the school year is great for you!

  3. My comment got gobbled up…twice. 😦

    So here’s the very brief version:

    (1) I loved this thought-provoking post. Thank you.
    (2) I tend to think as “making someone see themselves as math people” as part of the things that I can’t control. How do you know which things you can control, and which you can’t?
    (3) Are we talking about the things we as *individual* math educators can control, or the things that we *collectively* can control?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s