I'm going to compare Twitter Math Camp and the MTBoS to online dating. I actually made this comparison at least twice during the four days of TMC. And, each time, I just got weird looks. Apparently, the majority of TMCers don't have online dating experience. After seeing the results of Michael Pershan's survey, this made a little more sense.
The majority of TMC participants are over 30. With the mean and median ages in the mid to upper thirties, I guess it makes sense that most would have experienced dating without the influence of the Internet.
I know that at age 24 I'm young. But, in the TMC world, I'm apparently a baby.
Honestly, I wish I didn't have online dating experience. I fully intended on meeting a guy in college and marrying right after graduation. That did not happen. Instead, I graduated and moved to a town in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't really thinking about the prospects of finding someone to date in a town without a Wal-Mart or even a stoplight when I accepted this job offer. But, what's done is done. And, I have to trust that this is all part of God's plan for my life.
After a year of living in a tiny town and zero dates during that year, I decided to venture into the online dating world. [To my sister who may or may not be reading this because she tends to skim my blog posts because she finds them "boring", I apologize for never telling you that I tried online dating. I think the crazy stories that resulted from this experience are still funny. I'll have to share them with you sometime!] Entering the online dating world is actually kinda similar to becoming part of the #MTBoS.
Ways Online Dating and the #MTBoS are the Same
Side note: what does it say about me that I recently started trying to think up a cool mathematical username to use if I ever decide to try online dating again? I mean, we all know that I already have the best mathematical username in the world with mathequalslove. But, I'd kinda prefer to tell a guy in person that I spend a ridiculous amount of my life blogging about teaching math instead of letting him discover it before he ever meets me. He needs to see the normal side of me before he sees the "I love teaching math with all my being" side of me. Oh wait. That is the normal side of me. I can discuss things other than teaching math, though. :) So, I'll need a new username. Current contenders: lessthanthree, lovejesusandmath, ratioofcircumferencetodiameter, or myfavnumberispi. Of course, now I can't use any of these because they'll all lead back to this blog post. Bummer...
2. You get to decide what people see/know about you. With online dating, this means carefully selecting photos for your profile that only capture you at the perfect angle or on your best side. When writing your profile description, you can conveniently leave out the fact that you live in your parents' basement and haven't seen sunlight in seven years. Or, as we all know, you can claim to be a French model.
There was a lot of talk at TMC about feeling inadequate. And, it was mentioned that if you start comparing yourself and your teaching to what you read about on the blogs of others, you will feel inadequate. The activities and lessons that most people write about on their blogs are the rare perfect days or nearly perfect days in their classrooms. Most people don't write about the lessons that bombed. They don't write about the day they gave their students boring notes or a mind-numbing worksheet. Blogs tend to be highlight reels. And, if you start to compare the ups and downs that are a reality of being a classroom teacher with a highlight reel of only the best lessons of another teacher, you will fall short in comparison.
If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I tend to blog about everything under the sun. The lessons that went well. The lessons that didn't go so well. If I only shared super-polished lessons, this blog wouldn't exist. Some in the blogosphere have made comments about how they aren't sure how I became a "superstar blogger" in such a short amount of time. First, I don't view myself as a superstar. I'm just a normal, everyday teacher who has a tendency to over-share with the world. And, for some crazy reason, people read it. Case in point: you are currently reading a blog post about my online dating experiences. Someday I might regret putting all this out there on the Internet for the entire world to read... I strive for honesty in my blogging. I want my blog to be an accurate reflection of my teaching career--the good and the bad. Others strive to showcase lessons that went well. And, still others downplay their achievements through their blogs. They claim that they have nothing worthy of sharing when they clearly do.
3. Other people will judge you for your participation. Have you ever tried to describe the #MTBoS to someone who just didn't get it? Yeah, I've seen others raise their eyebrows in response to my gushing about how excited I was for Twitter Math Camp. I have to remind myself that this is okay. Not everyone needs the #MTBoS like I do. Not everyone teaches in a math department of 2 where they feel isolated and starved for collaboration. Then, there are the looks you get when you admit to trying online dating. As my students so nicely put it, online dating qualifies you as "desperate." There are those who get it. Those who have tried it out themselves or who know of someone else who has had a positive experience. And, there are those who will never get it. My parents might fall in that second category. I'm pretty sure they have watched too many Dateline specials on television about the dangers that lurk online.
Though, one of my Algebra 2 classes last year was all for me doing online dating. A few students got together one day after we did Dan Meyer's Graphing Stories and wrote out an online dating profile for me. "I like taking long walks along the beach and graphing them. I love reciting the quadratic formula. And, I enjoy reading math books by a roaring fire." If that won't catch me the perfect man, I'm not sure what will! ;)
4. Statistics matter and don't matter at the same time. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing that 50 people have viewed your online dating profile but haven't sent you a message. But, I speak from experience when I say quality > quantity. The messages that you do receive can cause you to begin doubting the effectiveness of elementary school literacy instruction. I tried to be very specific in my dating profile about what characteristics I was looking for in a potential relationship. If a guy was to read my entire profile, he would not need to send a "how do you feel about friends with benefits?" message.
It was difficult, but I restrained myself from sending back messages like this:
Dear Random Guy,
I really appreciated the long, semi-creepy message you sent me saying that you felt that we were soul mates based on the remarkable number of similarities we share. It is cool that we are both vegetarians. I'm a math teacher. You are going to school to be a history teacher. I fail to see, however, how these two facts make us destined to spend the rest of our lives together. Additionally, the fact that you spend 2-3 hours meditating each day is nice to know, but it does not negate the fact that we do not share the same faith.
Not your soul mate,
With blogging and tweeting, it's easy to get caught up in how many retweets you get or how many pageviews your blog receives. Building a community inside the #MTBoS takes time. I would much rather have a few readers who take the time to leave thoughtful comments instead of a bunch of readers who read but never comment. I follow a bunch of people on twitter, but if you looked at my tweets you would see that I tend to communicate with the same small group. These tweeps get me. They're always there for me. And, it was them that I was most excited about meeting at TMC.
5. Things can get awkward when you meet in person, but awesome, life-changing things can still result.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone in person who you've only ever communicated with through the written word before? Yeah, that's awkward. I attribute the awkwardness to the fact that you feel like you already know the person and know nothing about the person at the same time. I tend to be a wordy person, so the amount of information that a guy could know about me by the time we finally meet in person is substantial. Maybe this is why all the relationship articles suggest taking your relationship to the in-person level ASAP.
I feel like going out on a date with someone you've been talking to online is like trying to jump to the conversations you would normally occur on dates 4, 5, or 6 with all the added necessary awkwardness of dates 1, 2, and 3.
I think that the nature of the MTBoS compounds the potential for awkwardness at an event like TMC. In the MTBoS, I'm not just communicating my ideas with a handful of teachers. No, there are thousands upon thousands of people reading what I write. But, I really have no way of knowing who reads what. Sure, I know when people leave comments that they have read a certain post. I read a lots of blog posts without leaving comments, and I know most people do the same. When I meet somebody, will they know that I read their blog? Will they assume that I read their blog? Should they?
At TMC, I would find myself sharing something with someone that I knew had previously been shared on my blog. Do I assume this person has read the post? Do I assume he/she hasn't read it? Do I ask? I certainly didn't want to waste precious time sharing something they've already read about. I had to laugh when one of my tweeps told me at TMC14 that they weren't quite sure what to talk to me about the first time we met. After all, she felt like she already knew everything there was to know about me thanks to reading my blog. Oops. There's that over-sharing again.
Honestly, I think my introverted personality made things most awkward for me at TMC. As much as I wanted to meet all of my tweeps, I just couldn't make myself go up and introduce myself to these people. I am not an anti-social person at all. I love to talk to people. I love to hang out. I just struggle with being the person to initiate the conversation. This is something I'm currently working on in my life, but it's definitely a process. (And, God has certainly been giving me plenty of opportunities to initiate awkward conversations of late!)
So, I was the girl standing in the hotel lobby 3 feet away from Dan Meyer who couldn't bring herself to say, "Hey Dan, I'm Sarah. I started reading your blog when I was a junior in high school. And, you're one of the main reasons I blog and tweet today. Thank you!"
Picture proof that I met Dan Meyer: :)
Thankfully, Dan doesn't have the same issues with starting conversations with random people whose blogs he reads as I do. And, we ended up having a nice conversation after he introduced himself to me. "You're Sarah Hagan, right?" "That's me." "Hi, I'm Dan." If there was anybody at #TMC14 who shouldn't have had to introduce himself, it was Dan. #Danweallloveyouandknowwhoyouare Now why would I think that was such a hard thing to do? We ended up talking about what makes for a good blog post, the crazy things that can happen as a result of blogging, and the major influence that blogging has had on my life as a new teacher. Then, the next day, Dan referenced our conversation during his keynote address. Ummmmmmmmmmm there are 150-170 math teacher bloggers in the room and you decide to talk about me?!? That's cool. Well, actually it's more than cool. However, I found that when I tried to explain how cool it was to others not in the #MTBoS, they just didn't understand.
And, this was just one awesome conversation of many that happened during the 4 days of TMC. I got to meet so many people whose blogs I've been reading since high school and college. Plus, I was able to connect with a lot of my interactive notebook friends and share awesome ideas. And, I met new people and found new blogs to read, too.
So, am I thankful that I went to Twitter Math Camp 2014? Yes, yes. A million times yes! It was the most exciting, exhilarating, useful professional development I've ever experienced. I've got more to write/share/reflect on, but this is a start. TMC was in July. It's almost October . I'm just a few months behind... :)