Thursday, July 31, 2014


I am reluctantly pressing "publish" for this post. However, please know that the rawness and honesty in this post is aimed at making each and every one of us better at what we (both individually and collectively) do to support our students.

Kate wrote a great post the other day about some teachers coming out of TMC14 feeling inadequate. I support Kate's attitude and conclusion:
We are all good at some things and suck at other things. One thing we all share is the recognition that we all have work to do, and that we can all get better, and that focusing on that is worth our time.
I believe we need inadequacies and need to feel them at times because they make us better at what we're striving to be: the best teacher for our students. We don't need inadequacies to feel inferior to other teachers or generate some type of MTBoS worth. Here's how I think we all need inadequacies.

I started learning and exploring how to play the guitar in high school. I stunk. My family probably got tired of me playing Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water and Metallica's Enter Sandman all day. The first two riffs (and eventually songs) I learned. However, I practiced. A LOT. When I wasn't playing basketball, I practiced guitar. When I was supposed to be doing homework, I practiced guitar. There were guys at my high school who played guitar and were better. It made me practice more. It made me want to be better at something I loved doing.

When I got into college, my focus on guitar playing was similar. I was a lot better by this time, but still practiced a lot. When I wasn't working or going to class, I practiced guitar. When I was supposed to be studying, I practiced guitar. Then I joined a few bands and we practiced a lot. Not only did I continue practicing by myself, but now I practiced with others. That's awesome. We got better together! I would also jam with other guitarists who were better than me. Sometimes they were better so I learned a lot. Sometimes, I was better so I got to share some things and could relate. Every time I jammed with someone, it was a chance for me to improve at something I loved doing.

I loved going to concerts or watching videos of my favorite guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or Warren Haynes. I wanted to cut my hands off many times because there was no way I would ever be as good as them. However, it only made me want to learn from them, steal some of their licks (guitar moves/techniques), and be the best I could be with their help and inspiration. I remember meeting James Hetfield from Metallica and was star struck. I thanked him for his inspiration. That's all I could muster up the intelligence to say. If I could jam with him I'd probably mess up A TON! But I'd never turn that opportunity down, because I'd learn a lot and he'd push me to get better.

Once during college, I was in Chicago at Kingston Mines blues bar hanging with my cousin. This blues/funk band, Charlie Love, was up there laying down some great songs. I went up at their break to compliment them and they invited me up to do a funk jam with them. I was completely honored and humbled at the same time. Here is this tall white guy trying to play funk with the Chicago blues/funk band and I did not play as well as I could have. However, I was grateful to meet them, I learned a lot from watching them, and it again made me want to go home and practice until my hands fell off.

For me, this connects so well with where I am as a math teacher. I am grateful for many other math teachers who have inspired me. There are many times I feel inadequate. Maybe I've met some of these math teachers and I feel like my brain shuts down. The best I can utter is some number and ignorantly nod my head in agreement. However, meeting inspiration and hanging out with inspiration has made me want to become a better teacher for my students.

Imagine there was an opening at your school and you could hire your teaching colleague. Would you turn down the chance to work alongside:
This is a snapshot of the many teachers who have inspired me and continue to raise the bar for me. I wouldn't turn them down because I might have some inadequacies. They would make me a better teacher for my students. Imagine if you were the teacher after receiving students from any teacher who inspires you? Imagine if you're the teacher before sending your students to a teacher who inspires you? Wouldn't you want to be the best teacher for your students? Isn't that healthy? Who wins? I would hope your students. 

I recently offered a keep-your-head-up comment somewhere saying,
"Think of the skills you will acquire when making changes."
My challenge to you (and myself), if you're feeling inadequate or inferior at any time is to:
  • take risks
  • be brave
  • tap into your influences and inspirations to stretch yourself
  • be the best teacher for YOUR students, not the MTBoS.


  1. +10^6
    Awesome, relevant and constructive post. Thank you, Andrew.

  2. Nice post Andrew. Especially like that last summary point. See the notes I added to the twitter discussion...
    All my best,

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  4. Just had this conversation the other day, in different context (ultimate frisbee). Without someone better, you have no inspiration to be better or work harder, no bar set, and nothing to push you. I read your blog often and feel inspired/pushed to be better a better teacher. Great post.

    1. Thanks Hunter. Ultimate frisbee could be just as relative here.

  5. I think I understand what’s happening here. Often teachers will show their class a model or exemplar of student work. I've done it, and I've seen how this practice can just as easily instill feelings of inadequacy (“I’m so far away from being able to do something like that…”) as motivation. It's very delicate.
    Using the video game analogy that’s so popular now, if we’re starting at level one, our goal is to first get to level 2, not level 50. In this context, I find Kate’s comment, which was made last year in the thread to Dan’s post “The Unengagables”, very useful. She wrote:

    "Corny as it sounds, don’t give up. The first and second and tenth attempt at -whatever it is that’s a very different approach in your class – a 3Act, a project, a whatever it is — is probably going to either fall flat or fail spectacularly. The kids might get mad and weirdly uncooperative. Things might happen that you didn’t anticipate and don’t have the skills to handle. You aren’t going to get good at planning them until you get some experience planning them. You’re going to suck at this for a while. [..] You need to keep stretching the rubber band over and over until it loosens up and doesn’t snap back all the way."
    So by all means, stretch.

  6. Thanks Andrew for sharing this with us, especially those of us who feel connected to TMC and haven't made it in person yet.

    I was talking to a professor of Education and he told me he has all of his future teachers do a "learning" project. (Sort of like you and the guitar). He asks them to learn something they never knew how to do before and keep records of what helped and what did not and how they felt about it. They even have to have a mentor who reports on their progress. What an eye opener! (My learning experience is the ukelele!)

    Baby Steps...