Last week, I spoke to 170 teachers in Florida about Reaching the Unreachables.

I really wanna talk about it.

(Video coming soon)

Honesty Time

  • Hitching an Uber to the airport while carrying a suitbag still feels very Metropolitan. I hope it always does.
  • It was a boost to my ego to have people recognize me from the bulletin while we sampled the open bar and seafood appetizers.
  • In jeans and sandals, I look like a 19-year-old undergrad hoping to pick up a few pointers at an ed-conference.1 Despite that, everyone I met was delightful, and they let me show pictures of my kids.
And I sure do love pictures of my kids.  Way more than my kids love 4th of July.

And I sure love pictures of my kids.
Way more than my kids love pictures.


6:20 AM Eastern: Wake before the alarm to get dressed and have a quick bite before heading downstairs to meet with the sound guys. I have two hours before my keynote address and I want everything to go well. Also, I’ve been adjusting my sleep schedule to Eastern time all week, so my body doesn’t feel like it’s 3:20 Pacific.

7:45 AM: Everything is looking good, so I have time to fill a plate with fantastic breakfast.

7:50 AM: Nobody’s touched the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. What a shame. I’ll remedy that.

8:00 AM: Three time-zones west of me, my wife wakes before her alarm. She tunes in to the live webcast and texts me that she’s watching. I’m comforted by the thought.

8:30 AM: After a brief introduction, we’re off and running. A Lady-Gaga mic is taped to the hair on the back of my neck and I’m pacing back and forth like a chain-smoking fiction writer. My palms are sweaty and I note that my phone (from which, I’m running the slideshow and reading speaker notes) has a subtle shake.

vaudrey keynote facebook

In my head, the room was smaller and more intimate. In reality, they’re crammed eight to a table in a room the size of my dream home. Centuries of teaching experience stare back at me and I stutter a bit.

But I quickly hit a stride and am impressed by the room of nearly 200 presenting their undivided attention.

Nobody is texting, nobody is murmuring in the back or eating more breakfast. They actually… they actually want to hear my message.

That surprising fact steels my nerve and I slow down, speaking in a slow, even tone that belies the speed with which I’ve rehearsed. It helps that I know only half the time is me speaking, and the rest is “stand and talk” reflection for the room.

[[NOTE: I’ve been promised access to the footage, which is fantastic.  I’ll add my slides and post it here when I have it.]]

10:00 AM: Right on the downbeat of my 90 minutes, I close with the words of my mentor, Dr. Kimasi Browne, and give a room full of teachers this charge:

All success is the product of thousands of failures, none of which matter after the success.
Go forth and change the culture of your math classroom to make math meaningful.

A round of pleasant applause and I’m done.

10:11 AM: Several handshakes later, at least three attendees admit to paying closer attention to my delivery than my content. As P.D. Specialists–they point out–they recognize that teachers are a tough crowd and they picked up a few things from me.


A few others are simply blown away by my use of my phone as a slide clicker. My quick scan of the room at 8:15 noted that nobody brought a device and my crowd-sourced effort at note-taking may have been a flop.

10:30 AM: The attendees trickle off into the first workshop. I hide in the lobby to make sure all my materials are ready for second and third period, where I am to give workshops. The note-taking doc has six pages; some people even googled images to go along with my content. Sweet.

12:00 PM: Lunch with Rich and April, who both independently asked about an online math community. Luckily, that community organized itself into a system, so it took very little time to show them the hashtag, the directory, and the landing page for TMC. They also watched as I crowd-sourced the finding of a crowd-sourced movement. Very meta.

1:00 PM: Thirty-five math teachers file into Salon 5 to discuss Appetizing Warm-ups. Essentially, it’s the first course of La Cucina Matematica, and a great conversation spawned after this Would You Rather task.

After a teacher attempted to explain the method she used to choose one fraction of pie over another, she murmured, “I don’t know, that’s just how the trick works.”

denzel what

In a room full of math teachers, that’s like saying, “I think Star Wars was just okay.” or “Birkenstocks are so uncomfortable.”

What followed was a great discussion about teaching students at every level the why behind the tricks, so that they carry meaningful math skills with them, rather than a tool box full of metal they don’t know how to use.

Cathleen, I did the best I could to keep our colleagues civil, and it appears you learned your lesson. For more on how tricks are harming our math students, read this.

2:45 PM  I’m suddenly and acutely aware that I’m about to do a Google Drive workshop to a room that has a variety of devices and ability levels. That dude in the corner is making a Google account right now.

On an iPad.

At work, I do this workshop in the computer lab. Forty identical computers, all with Google Chrome.

We move at a glacial pace through my Google 101 workshop, leaving nobody behind and I accidentally use some foul language as I describe the use of GAFE in the classroom. Not my best work, but the attendees were pleased, so a great day ends with a C-plus workshop.

5:20 PM: Sara and Lisa meet me in the lobby to find some local dinner. The Village Eatery, a few blocks away, serves a sublime, mood-altering  chicken sandwich as we discuss the integration of technology into their classrooms. It was a fantastic meal with fantastic comrades; I’d be thrilled to work with either of them.

7:04 PM: The entire staff of Carnegie is chatting and dining as I walk by, on the phone with my lovely wife. I weasel a chair between Janet and Cassie and  pepper them with questions.

Putting my Prejudice Aside

Teacher confession:

We have regular discussions on Twitter, Voxer, on blogs, and at conferences about The Dark Side of teaching.

The scorn we visit upon non-teachers who talk about education is paltry compared for the ire we reserve for teachers who leave the classroom.

For better or worse, there’s a hierarchy in the field of Education. It looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-07-13 at 9.37.12 PM

At every conference I’ve ever attended, there’s at least one Educational Company in the exhibit hall  with a plucky, well-groomed twenty-something asking me if I’m interested in reaching more students.

Of course I am. I’m giving up my Saturday to attend a conference.

And yet, here in Fort Lauderdale, I’m surrounded by Carnegie staff and they’re all… knowledgeable. And friendly. And competent. And they like students. And love teaching.

I was baffled.

These two ex-teachers bookending me on the patio weren’t the first Carnegie employees to impress me, and now I’m curious about the textbook they produced.

(Which I’ve never seen. That surprised a few people, considering I’m speaking at their national annual conference. It shows me that we agree on some stuff.)

Leaving the Field

Later that night, somebody pointed out that many charismatic ex-teachers make a living doing keynote speeches for educational conferences, and are you interested in doing that?

Despite a fantastic day, meeting new people, and getting questions that challenged and intrigued me (more on that next week), that profession strays too far away from the classroom for me.

I’m not so much worried about how my Ed Cred appears to others, it’s how credible I feel. 

So I’ll probably never go work for Carnegie.

No hard feelings.

~Matt “Keynote to Quicktime to Final Cut with iTunes to Quicktime to Keynote” Vaudrey

1. As a white, straight, middle-class male, I’m not about to complain about the one area where I’m occasionally maligned. It’s not anything close to “oppression”, it’s just a bummer.