Taking This Journey Together

  • Taking This Journey Together

    May 2020

    As I begin my term as president of NCTM, I am finding that it is a time of reflection and goal setting in the next phase of my journey in teaching and learning mathematics. I began this journey when I decided to study mathematics in college. I loved doing mathematics, and I enjoyed digging deeply to understand it and working with others. As I was preparing to student teach, I looked forward to teaching mathematics but silently hoped not to teach geometry. Of course, that turned out to be the only subject my supervising teacher taught, but it was an amazing experience! You never know the path your journey might take. My supervising teacher was an excellent mentor and taught me the love of teaching geometry, caring about students, and continuing my learning.

    In 1976 I took my first position as a high school teacher at Mandeville High School in Louisiana, and of course joined NCTM, which would turn out to be my constant partner in teaching and learning mathematics. I was excited about teaching the subject. I loved mathematics, and I looked forward to sharing that passion with my students, hoping to nurture their passion for mathematics as well. The principal who hired me told me that I was the “greenest thing” he had ever hired. Fortunately, he did not tell me that when I began but, instead, supported me as I started this journey and later shared that bit of information with me. We laughed over it many times. Oh, and guess what? When I was hired, the schedules had already been set, so I picked the one with the most geometry classes! That previous path that I had not planned to take then led to many years of joy in teaching geometry.

    When we embark on this journey of teaching mathematics, we have hopes and plans; but we do not know all the places that this journey will take us, what we will learn, or who we will encounter along the way. Sometimes the journey takes unexpected turns or offers a choice of paths to take as we make decisions. I have learned many things on this incredible journey, and I want to share three with you that I embrace as I now embark on the next step of my journey as president of NCTM and as we, as an organization, begin our next 100 years.

    • Continued learning is key to growth and joy.
    • Building relationships is essential; we are not on this journey alone but with many others.
    • Taking the next step and embracing the journey are vital to moving forward.

    I have a canvas in my office with the saying “Enjoy the Journey.” This reminds me to experience the joy of continued learning of mathematics, the joy of new discoveries and connections, the joy of learning with my students, and the joy of examining my own practice of teaching mathematics. I find that if I keep learning, then that keeps me growing in my understanding and brings great joy. But I do not do this alone, which leads to the second thing I have learned: Building relationships is essential.

    On this journey, we encounter inquisitive students who want to know and understand mathematics. We come to know exemplary mathematics teacher colleagues who mentor, support, laugh, celebrate, and—yes, at times—cry with us along this journey. Lest you think I am too naïve, I also know that we are at times challenged by some students who may not love mathematics as we do or some colleagues who do not seem as interested in teaching and learning mathematics as we are. Even with those challenges come great opportunities for learning and sharing the joy we have for what we do in teaching and learning mathematics. There is joy in the journey as we continue to learn and build relationships with students, colleagues, caregivers, and many others. In fact, these relationships are essential as we take subsequent steps in our journey. This leads to my third area of learning on the journey.

    I have observed, especially at this time during COVID-19, that together we can continue to take the next step and move forward. Although at times we may seem to take a step backward, with support perhaps it is only a temporary setback. We learn and then move forward in our journey. As Robert Berry so eloquently expressed in his final message as NCTM President in April 2020, the mathematics teaching community is resilient. This resilience is reflected in the actions by so many to ensure that each and every student sees themselves as a doer of mathematics and that each and every mathematics teacher is valued and supported.

    In closing I want to thank Robert for his guidance and insights as he has led NCTM during the past two years. His leadership has positioned NCTM in a strong place to begin its next 100 years. I personally have learned so much from him and am grateful to have the opportunity for continued collaboration with his mentorship during my first year as president. I look forward to working with our mathematics education community, incredible NCTM members, outstanding NCTM staff, and a dedicated NCTM Board of Directors as we continue to learn, build relationships, and take this next step together on our journey. I am humbled and honored to take this step with you.

    In my April 6, 2020, webinar, From Knowns to Unknowns A Journey into Teaching Mathematics for NCTM’s 100 Days of Professional Learning, I closed with this:

    Teaching math is a journey we take with not only our students, but also our colleagues, friends, family, and more each day, week, month, and year, over our lifetime.


    Join me in the journey as we begin the next 100 years at NCTM! Let’s do it together!

    Trena Wilkerson
    NCTM President