I recently listened to a podcast where the host shared ten things she was embarrassed to talk about. It surprised me because it seems like these days we only publicly share the pretty parts of our lives instead of the struggle we all go through to get there. Her podcast made me feel normal for having similar challenges and rather than making me think less of her, I wound up having even more respect for her and appreciated her vulnerability.
I thought it would be an interesting experiment for me to do the same thing, so here are ten things I’m embarrassed to tell you:
#1 - The more I learn about math, the more I realize how much I still don't know
I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly realizing how much math I don’t understand as well as I thought I did. For example, I was already an adult math teacher before I learned that there was actually a reason for why we invert and multiply when we divide by a fraction.
When I first learned that there was a reason, I felt denial like, “Well, I guess it’s not important because I made it this far.” Next came the doubt of, “Wait, if I don’t know why this works, how well do I understand this topic.” Finally came, “Oh gosh, what if there are reasons for all the other things I can do but don’t understand.” I’m pretty sure I’m not alone with this one, but it’s something that can be awkward to admit.
I get nervous every single time I teach a lesson in someone else’s classroom or present to other teachers. At first this self doubt worried me, but now I tell myself that I’m nervous because I care and really want to do a good job. Once I get started with the lesson or presentation though, I quickly get in the zone, start to feel comfortable, and remember why I love what I do.
#3 - I probably can't pass some high school math finals without studying
Without some significant studying, I would probably not pass an Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, or Calculus final. I’ve never taught any of these classes, I never use this math in real life, and it’s been over twenty years since I’ve taken them, so I just don’t remember much of it.
#4 - I want to be liked by others
I really want to be liked by others, and sometimes I’ve prioritized this too highly. For example, when I saw the tweet below
, I realized that more had to be done to increase diversity at math conferences.
However, I said nothing publicly, even though I was in a position where I could say something, because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I continued to passively act like I had no control over the situation and found myself in similar lineups. I regret my previous inactions and I’m working to better align the values I claim to have with what my actions show.
In telling this regret to my friend Lybrya Kebreab, she clearly and succinctly explained that it shouldn’t be people of color’s responsibility to call it out every time there’s an injustice. As soon as she said that, it hit me how obviously right she was, but up until that moment, I hadn’t considered that reality.
#5 - My presentations are initially pretty rough
If you’ve ever thought that one of my presentations was good, it’s because you didn’t see the dozens of other times I’ve done it which were riddled with mistakes. Seriously, before I do a presentation at a major conference like NCTM, I’ve probably already done that same presentation 20+ times. It usually takes me about ten times to go from “Here’s a bunch of loosely related ideas I’m calling a presentation.” to “Here’s a coherent and engaging presentation that tells a single story.”
#6 - I've never taken a statistics class
Having never taken a statistics class in my life means that I struggle with pretty much every high school stats question. Statistics wasn’t a class my high school offered and wasn’t a requirement for graduating from UCLA with a B.S. in mathematics. I really wish I had taken one though because there have been so many times I didn’t understand something that I wish I had. I’m still looking for good statistics professional development to help me catch up.
#7 - I sometimes feel like a fraud
I sometimes feel like a fraud for telling people what to do when I haven’t walked in their shoes to verify that it will certainly work. For example, I don’t have experience working in rural areas. I don’t have experience working in affluent areas. My elementary teaching experience is limited to a few dozen demo lessons. So, even though there are thousands of teachers applying what I share at all grade levels, I still I worry that I don’t have the credentials that’ll matter to each teacher.
#8 - I worry that my experiences will become outdated
I no longer work for a school district, so while I’ve got 15 years of experience as a public school district teacher and teacher specialist, I worry about how that will affect my perspective and abilities. That being said, in my first year away from Downey Unified School District, I actually taught far more lessons to students than I had as a teacher specialist because I didn’t have to constantly run and attend meetings and trainings.
#9 - It's hard being a parent and educator
It’s really hard balancing being a math educator and a parent. While I have few expectations for what my son learns in his science and social studies classes, I’ve got strong feelings about his math classes. I do not want to be the parent that teachers dread, but I also hope that some of the strategies I spend my days sharing get incorporated into his classroom too. I have not figured out how to balance this and it continues to be a sore spot.
#10 - Dealing with embarrassments can be awkward
It’s hard dealing with the embarrassment
that comes from realizing that I know so much more now than I did in my first years of teaching. I so wish that I could go back in time and do better for my past students. I’ve always cared for my kids, but in my first years of teaching, I used to do timed tests and give them many worksheets. It’s not my proudest moment but it’s my reality.
Thanks for making it through my list. My hope for writing this blog post was that in sharing my own fears and insecurities, it might make it easier for you and others by realizing that you’re not alone.
I’d appreciate it if you let me know what you thought. What parts resonated with you? Have you had any similar experiences? Please let me know in the comments.
Thank you for being transparent about these things. Frankness like this helps our field grow. I appreciate your inspiration, and especially appreciate your sharing what your friend Lybrya said – it is *everyone’s* responsibility to call out injustices and advocate for equity.
I hope each of us who reads this post will take a moment to step back and reflect, at least privately, on the areas in which we can become transparent with others and take our own steps forward.
Thanks Annette. It’s definitely been a journey, and I appreciate your reinforcement.
Great list!! I can totally relate to MANY of them.
Thank you for this. I am currently an elementary math coach with the K-8 math specialist endorsement but all of my teaching experience is in middle school. I think I feel like a fraud at least once every day since I have not taught elementary school. I often wonder if there are judgements made because of this.
I’ve come to rationalize our situation in two ways:
– First, I believe that at the end of the day people care more about how much we care and how much we can help. I hope that’s not naive.
– Second, no matter what your experiences were, there will always be difference. So if you taught 4th grade, well you didn’t teach 1st. If you taught first too, well then you didn’t teach students who with special needs. If you also taught students with special needs, well you didn’t teach THESE students. We will never have the exact same paths as others, but I think that being compassionate listeners will take us far.
The point about our early days as teachers particularly resonates. I now mentor student teachers, and so many of them are significantly more knowledgeable and better skilled than I was at the same stage. So much of my skill set and capacity for classroom teaching has come through years and years experience, and I do sincerely wish that I could revisit my classes 10, 15, 20 years ago and give them the teaching that they did not get.
Robert, I think just about every one of your fears is on my list as well. Thank you for making me not feel like I was a weirdo! I now know I am in good company!
Yeah, that’s been a surprising outcome of this blog post: realizing that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Thank you Robert. ❤️ This took a great deal of courage to post. I have often thought that worrying about what other people think is the single largest barrier to… everything. It is particularly damaging to educators. I love your work and am grateful for your desire to teach.
Thank you for the kind words, Leah. I still have a lot of work to do towards prioritizing what’s right ahead of what’s safe for me.
Thank you for this Robert! It was courageous and vulnerable and inspirational. I really resonate with your list and it is actually liberating to hear that someone whose work I really admire has similar insecurities.
Thank you Naomi. It’s appearing that these fears are pretty universal, which makes it all the more surprising that we’re all surprised that they’re universal. Seriously.
These fears *are* universal. I’m surprised so many are surprised with how many of us have these fears. I think we just don’t talk about them – as you originally posted, Robert, they can feel “embarrassing” to share with others. That’s why I’m so glad you took the risk and shared. Thanks for providing a platform for us to begin/continue talking about these ideas. 🙂
Someone I admire recently talked about moving through things we feel “called” to do, and how our fears can often hold us back. His advice: “Go scared!” [deep breath] Challenging but encouraging and inspiring words. The first exhortation is to GO. The second is go no matter how you’re feeling (e.g., scared).
Wow! Batting a thousand with my own experience Robert …. I moved from teaching high school math to a Fac Ed job at a fairly young age … The best thing I did was to go back to a classroom teaching job for a full year at a time with all its joys and frustrations …. It was not easy, but I wish I I did it more often …. Thanks for sharing and thanks for what you do !
Thanks Don. It takes intentionality to get back in classrooms when it’s no longer part of your job description… and this pandemic ain’t making it any easier.
I did not take a single math class after taking Calculus in high school.
I used to think math was my easiest prep because I just followed the textbook. (I also teach history, English, and music.)
I often feel as if I have nothing to offer other teachers because my experience is unusual. For example, I was on a Q and A recently with math teachers, and I mentioned that I have one math class of 4 students and one of 5 students. The next teacher who spoke made a point of mentioning that she teaches 187 students. Did I mention I teach history, reading, writing, and music to these students as well? Even so, I feel as if it *should* be easy, even when my class size is more like 10-12 students (in a normal, non-pandemic year).
Comparisons are often hard because quantity of students is not the only thing that matters. Acknowledging where we all come from helps though.
Everything you wrote I have experienced especially the part about being a parent and a math teacher…. I know I will be upset by who teaches my sons math because I truly feel the way I teach is the way. Great list and thank you for posting it!
I absolutely get it. It’s hard being a parent and an educator.
People who are vulnerable and analyze their behaviors and experiences, are the ones who grow. Self reflection Is essential to move forward. Bravo to you for sharing this with us!