Embracing the Plot Twist
We have a saying in my household that we invoke quite frequently these days. Most recently, it was used as we embarked on what we thought was a quick project to shift a few cabinets around in our mud room. As we slowly uncovered a tangled thicket of issues that included a floor that had not been completely tiled, the use of every sort of fastener known to humans (including liberally applied construction adhesive), and other setbacks, my wife Amanda would regularly exclaim, “Plot twist!”
I love this phrase for a number of reasons. First, it’s much more polite than simply uttering a string of obscenities when things go wrong (although perhaps a bit less satisfying). Second, it helps me remember that such complications are not personal affronts - the folks who did the previous project didn’t use seventeen tubes of construction adhesive specifically to spite me years later. But most importantly, it helps me remember that just because we are no longer following the vision of what happens next that I laid out in my head, that doesn’t make it any less possible or even less satisfying to accomplish what we set out to do. In fact, sometimes those plot twists are what makes a piece of literature, television, or film worthwhile and exciting.
Leading an organization in the midst of a pandemic is challenging. There have been more than a few plot twists this year. I am thankful to have a dedicated, thoughtful, and talented Board of Directors and a large supporting cast of committee members and Associate Vice Presidents that have been helping us tackle plot twists large and small over the past six months. Much of the work they have been doing has been invisible to our membership - creating plans for multiple different contingencies, only one of which will ultimately become reality; taking small steps to ensure that our fiscal health and wellbeing as an organization is secure; and coordinating among one another and across our committee structures in ways that we have not needed to do before. I know many of you can relate to this situation, having prepared for multiple possible formats for fall courses with the knowledge that those formats are likely to shift beneath your feet.
This is a moment in our annual AMTE rhythm that always features a great deal of activity. The Board is working on finding volunteers to serve on next year’s committees and setting our direction for the year ahead. Our Awards team is finalizing the 2021 awards. The Program and Conference Committees are processing acceptances and ramping up to begin registration for the Annual Conference. And all that activity is going on this year, albeit in very different ways through plot twist after plot twist. We know that many of you have questions about how the AMTE world is going to look in the next few months, and rest assured that your leadership team are laying the foundation for an exciting and thrilling conclusion to our 2020-2021 year with a few (hopefully) satisfying surprises along the way.
I know you all are living the life of the pandemic plot twist yourselves. I wish you the very best of luck as you’re navigating these changes and making hundreds of adaptations to your research, teaching, and service. Whether you’re thinking about initial preparation of teachers of mathematics; mathematics professional development; whether you’re preparing to teach content, pedagogy, or leadership; and whether you’re worried about students, teachers, student teachers, teacher leaders, or all of the above, I would encourage you to find ways to enact research-based best practices in mathematics teacher education. Our commitment to the AMTE Standards for Preparing Teachers of Mathematics has not wavered; in fact, attention to the Social Contexts of Mathematics Teaching and Learning (standard C.4) has never been more important. What we value in building teacher knowledge and skill, supporting our teachers in enacting equitable mathematics teaching, and engaging in antiracist teaching has not changed.
My calls to action for you this quarter are in the spirit of realizing that high-quality vision of mathematics teaching and learning. First, embrace the plot twist. Remember that change is constant and it’s not about us personally, even when it seems like it might be. Next, find a new and more satisfying path forward. This is something we value in doing mathematics - that there is more than one pathway to solve a complex problem - and when we set aside our preconceptions about how things will go, sometimes we see a better way. And finally, mind your pacing. We don’t want to star in the movie where we feel like the ending was rushed. When the plot twist happens, take a breath, remember what is important and what our commitments are to mathematics teacher education, and keep your audience on the edge of their seats with engagement until the credits start to roll.
Be well, wear your masks, remember to take a little time for yourself, and go out there and do amazing things in the name of mathematics teacher education. I’ll be the one in the back of the theatre standing up and applauding you after the final scene.
Yours in service,