I'm grateful, again, to Key Curriculum, for luring me down to NCSM; to Ihor Charischak, for extending my stay through NCTM; and to Nana, for letting me stay in the guest room. Both conferences were worth my time, particularly NCSM, where my ratio of session hits to session misses was unbelievably high.
I had a variation on the same conversation with six or seven people at both conferences, people who were all closer to the end of their careers than the start, people with elevated angles of sight on math education in the U.S. (elevated enough that several specifically told me not to quote them on my blog), and they all wondered the same thing:
Where are the new teacher-leaders?
One individual clocked the average age of an NCSM attendee at 57. Another, an edtech vendor, said that the biggest liability to his business was his own age. I received a lot of kind notes on my Ignite session but some of the praise was really hyperbolic, predictions about my place in math education that, based on five minutes in front of a projector screen, were flatly unreasonable, and indicative of a certain desperation to point to someone — anyone — on the other side of a yawning leadership gap.
NCTM and NCSM need to convince younger math teachers and younger teacher-leaders of their value. We can do that and bridge the leadership gap with the same solution:
Make it really, really easy for new teachers to connect with mentors over the Internet and vice versa.
Many opportunities exist for older, talented educators to mentor younger educators. Crucially, though, few of them demand any less than an eight-hour-a-day commitment. Teacher mentorship is currently a full-time job in the U.S. Or, if you're working in an induction program, two hours per week with two or three new teachers. I don't know how to sell that investment to any of the six or seven people I spoke with in San Diego, all of whom have day jobs.
There are very few high-yield investments for twenty minutes per day of an amazing educator's time, but that can change.
We need to give Stack Exchange a long look. Stack Overflow is the first stop for anyone looking to crowdsource a programming question and the people behind it have decided to extend their platform to other disciplines. Their stated goal is to "make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions." You can connect those dots.
I won't summarize all the factors that have made Stack Overflow a valuable resource for developers though my opinion is that many of them would translate into value for teachers. I encourage you, instead, to read their FAQ. Read some sample questions. Then come back here and let us know how you could see yourself working on this bridge between expert and novice educators, if at all.