Be Brave or Be Desperate

I had lunch with a former colleague — I”ll call her Laura — whom I hadn’t seen for some 20 plus years. She’s now retired and was in my town for a wedding.

I got into my car, entered the restaurant’s address into my phone, Google Maps said I’d arrive at 12:05 PM, and I was upset for thinking I lived closer. I texted Laura to let her know I’d be 6 minutes late. She texted back, “No worries!” (I hate being late, it’s rude and arrogant.)

I instantly recognized her. Of course, she was wearing an Oregon Ducks sweatshirt. We hugged, and the waitress showed us to an empty booth. Laura reminded me that she still needed to get a pair of TOMS after lunch because of the blisters she got from walking all day yesterday in her new shoes. I then reminded her that 20 years ago, we were in Nordstrom for her to buy new underwear because she was too lazy to do laundry.

She handed me two gifts wrapped in The Sunday Oregonian COMICS — one dated November 8, 2015, the other July 3, 2016.

We both regretted that neither one us thought of the Dammit! Doll. I mean, Jesus, just look at its mishappened head and scraggly yarn hair. I could have made that.

I really wanted to order a thick juicy burger because this place could put together a great thick juicy burger. But Laura said she wanted to order something healthy, so I opted for the turkey sandwich instead. (Who goes out and orders a turkey sandwich when it’s readily available in your own fridge at home?!) Then Laura ordered, lo and behold, a goddamn burger with two strips of bacon! (For a split second, I wanted to tell her that there was a burning car outside right behind her, so when she turned to look, I could steal her bacon.)

When we were colleagues in Oregon, Laura was teaching math, and I was teaching science. We became friends on Facebook just this past year, and she learned from there that I’ve been teaching math and giving talks at conferences. She used the word “brave” to describe my speaking at conferences. She said it at least three times, “You’re so brave.”

I told her I was terrified each and every time that I accepted a keynote or featured speaker assignment. She looked puzzled. I told her that the honor of being invited was always bigger than who I was, so it was hard to say no. And I didn’t want to say no. My father, a math teacher his entire career, would want me to accept. I’d told my own three children that doing the easy stuff ain’t worth their time, so I accepted because I could hear my own voice preaching. I accepted the invitation to speak because I wanted to bring the voice of classroom teachers and students to the forefront. There are stories to be told, and they are fresh and alive.

I’m not brave, I’m desperate. I’m desperate in wanting to share what’s happening right now with the 100 students on my rosters. But I’m terrified that I might get their stories wrong. I’m terrified that I may inadvertently amplify our small successes and diminish our big failures. I must get it right — the-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth-so-help-me-God kind of right — or I’ll die a miserable death. Back in December, at CMC-North, Dan Meyer had invited me and two other teachers, Shira and Juana, to be part of his keynote. I’m grateful to Dan for the invitation and was excited that we teachers got to share with a wider audience.

So, if you’re in the classroom, I hope you’ll consider speaking at conferences and workshops because the number of students you currently have is the number of reasons you have to say YES. Consider co-presenting with someone if it would be your first time; it is less scary that way. My first gig was with this tall white dude. Be brave, or be desperate, I think one is just a glorified form of the other.

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