Being Black at TMC

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As an African American female, I often feel I have a heighten awareness of how I relate to the world around me. To be more specific, I have a conscious thought of the places I go, who I may encounter there and whether or not I have to enter said place with my guards up. Being an African American female in the south makes this awareness even more potent.

It's important to know that I grew up in the suburbs of southern Maryland with a diversity group of people, I never attended a predominately minority school nor did I attend a historically black college or university. With this said, I have been aware of my blackness and it's relationship to my world literally all my life.

I've made my own conclusion about life. One in particular relates to my attendance at Twitter Math Camp 2017. I concluded that by attending this conference, I'd be one of few black people there. This thought seemed very normal to me. As an educator, I've been in many professional learning sessions where I was the sole African American "representative" in the room. I've grown accustomed to it, making it my duty to represent my race and culture with dignity in those rooms.

So when I walked in the Dining Hall of Holy Innocent Episcopal School along with around 200 other participants, I wasn't surprised to see like 4 or 5 other brown skinned people. But that evening I received a DM from another participant which read, "Where are all the black people?"

In that moment, reading that message, I realized it wasn't my role to be the sole representative. It isn't supposed to be normal for me to be the only black face in the room. I had to ask myself some really hard questions. Jenise, what have you done to engage your African American counterparts in this forum? What message are you sending when you don't question why there aren't more African Americans in the room? And the toughest one, what's your role in this discussion?

Attending TMC was on my professional bucket list. I so desired to attend that I even wrote about it around this time last year in a Global Math Department article. When I shared this wish of attending with a good friend of mine, his response was, "To be honest Jenise, if you want to attend, you need to present." I immediately felt disappointed, with my first thought being, "I don't have anything to offer." But my desire to attend weighed so heavily upon me, I pulled up my big girl panties and submitted a proposal.

Fast forward to #TMC17, completely geeked up from the opportunity to learn from people I admire, I walked into something for which I was not prepared. Days leading to the conference, I received messages of encouragement from other #tmc17 participants when I expressed presentation gitters.

Walking into the Dining Hall, smiling faces greeted me and offers for seating invited me. Conversations were easy, many happening as if I were talking with an old friend I hadn't seen in a while.

To take things a step farther, opportunities for deep and vulnerable conversations about the art of teaching math occurred in multiple sessions. I found out quickly that I did have something to offer, and it was more than I expected.

Which brings me back to my tough questions. Could it be that many of my African American counterparts are not in these math communities because they've yet to be informed through a simple invitation? Is it because they feel they don't have anything to offer? Or do they feel our ways of teaching math are so drastically different that others wouldn't understand their perspective?

I don't have an answer to those questions. I know that #TMC17 has made me a better math educator with one conference. I can only imagine how I will continue to evolve as I attend more TMCs in the future. So I'm changing my #1tmcthing to speaking up and out about the underrepresentation of African American teachers in #tmc and #mtbos. Not speaking up as if these organization have purposely caused an injustice. But speaking up to inform, empower and educate African American teachers how to #pushsend and join the conversation. You have a lot to bring to the table and your voice deserves to be heard.

Preaching What You Practice 

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Since 2010, I functioned in the role of math coach until the beginning of last school year. Feeling a bit burnt out and moving to a new school district created a perfect opportunity to go back into the classroom. With an amazing group of 7th graders, I was able to practice a lot of things I had preached for the past 4 1/2 years. 

Read more here Preaching What You Practice by Jenise Sexton