July 27, 2017: The Terror of Twitter Math Camp
July 18-19, 2018: #descon18 and day one of #TMC18
Something has changed. It’s all still here – the anxiety, the relentless train of thoughts, the confusion about what to say and where to sit, the feeling that I don’t really belong. It’s all still here. But it’s better. It’s better. I know people.
When I arrived Wednesday morning, I sat at a table in the atrium to collect myself. Lisa Henry came over to welcome me. I talked with Dave Sabol, who I knew from my time student teaching at Saint Ignatius, for a few minutes, and as I sat waiting in Rade Dining Hall, Cindy Reagan, another Ignatius teacher I know, sat down and talked with me. At one point, Chris Luzniak, my TMC mentor last year, came over, gave me a hug, and asked about how my year went. I exchanged smiles with a number of people who remembered me from last year, even if they didn’t know my name or hadn’t really talked to me before. This morning, Joel Bezaire greeted me by name at his morning session. Mark Kaiser, another Ignatius teacher, sat next to me for My Favorites and the Keynote, and we chatted. When I arrived at an afternoon session, Lisa Bejarano and Kent Haines greeted me. Lisa gave me a hug and mentioned that she saw me tweeting so knew I was around somewhere. It’s an unfamiliar feeling: Someone knows I’m here.
I was never an especially social kid. I’m not sure I really knew how to be social, how to have friends, how to exist in “that” world. Two memories stand out. I recall getting together with a friend shortly after high school. “Okay, Dan, I guess I’ll see you in six months.” That’s what he said to me when we parted. It wasn’t meant in a sarcastic or cruel manner. I suppose in a sense it was almost wistful. He knew a simple truth: Even if he asked me to do something every day, it would likely be a long time before I agreed to do anything again. Whether it was shyness or laziness or anxiety or apathy or something else entirely, I simply did not spend much time being social.
The other memory involves the transition from fifth grade at an elementary school to sixth grade at the middle school. Because the middle school brought students together from four different elementary schools, the school tried to make sure that every student shared homerooms and teams with at least a few other people from elementary school. I did not. Well, that’s not exactly true. I knew Troy and Mike. They had never been what I’d call friends. They were just two boys that I knew. We got along fine; we just never had much occasion to spend time together in elementary school. But they were really the only two people I knew in sixth grade. The three of us made an odd bunch, but at least we had a group. I guess you could say we took care of each other socially. None of us were especially outgoing, and we were close to as far from popular as one could get. But we had our friendship, and I think it meant something for all of us. Although it’s been twenty years, I still remember the day I dropped my pencil box on the stairs and Troy came over and blocked the stairwell so that I could pick up my supplies. Maybe it’s not the most exciting or heartwarming childhood memory, but it has stuck with me for this long. I imagine it always will.
Marian Dingle spoke today about her children’s experiences in school. She told us how her son and daughter both had teachers with whom they formed no real connection, teachers that didn’t know them, teachers that made school a less welcoming place. For Marian’s daughter, sports, which sometimes serve to bring people closer, only seemed to exacerbate the feeling of not belonging. Despite Marian’s best efforts as team mom, her daughter did not develop the sense of kinship with her school volleyball team that is the hallmark of great youth sports programs. Fortunately, Marian’s daughter found this connection with her club volleyball team, and fortunately, Marian’s daughter had parents who strove to help her center herself in family, in community, and in her culture.
But what about the kids who don’t have this? What about the kids who walk into class and don’t know where to sit? What about the kids who hate group work because they know that no one will want to work with them? What about the kids who hope every day that they’ll be able to find an open seat in the cafeteria? What about the kids who believe that no one notices them? What about the kids who think their voices are never heard? What about the kids who feel like they just don’t belong? And maybe they don’t belong because we don’t let them belong or help them belong or provide a space for them to belong in. And maybe we don’t notice them and we don’t hear them because we don’t try to hear them or we don’t want to hear them. And maybe we just tell them to sit anywhere or to make a new friend or to just ask someone else in class because that’s what we would do and it seems so simple unless you’re 13 and you feel like you don’t belong. And maybe we send the message every single day that they really don’t belong. Intentionally or not, maybe everything we say and do sends that message. And maybe they see that message and hear that message every day at school. And we don’t do anything about it.
I teach at the middle school I attended. I’ve lived in the same community for my entire life. I don’t have any answers or at least not enough answers. All I have is the will to keep trying. To keep asking questions. To keep fighting. Because they do belong. And they deserve better.
Thank you Lisa and Dave and Cindy and Chris and Joel and Mark and Lisa and Kent and everyone else. You’ve made a difference for me. And thank you, Marian, for sharing your story and for fighting for kids.