Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray


You got a fast car. I want a ticket to anywhere. Maybe we can make a deal, maybe together we can get somewhere. --Tracy Chapman
If you are of a certain age, you just sang that. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is one of those songs that stands the test of time. From the familiar guitar hook to the powerful lyrics, every time you listen to it, you feel some feels.


Recently, I read an essay online about how Luke Combs, a country singer, recorded a cover of “Fast Car.” Some songs, like “Fast Car” are so ubiquitous that it’s almost heresy to record them yourself. But the essay was so powerfully written and resonated with me so I suspended my own doubt and listened to Combs’s version. And y’all, he nailed it. Never thought “Fast Car” could have a twang, but it worked.


You don’t need me to tell you how rapidly our field is changing. While human resources teams in schools and school districts have focused on recruiting new talent to fill the massive turnover our schools have experienced, mathematics leaders are noticing that the professional learning needs are also changing. A few years ago, we were focused on instructional strategies that teachers could use to help students better understand the mathematics before them. Formative assessment, performance tasks, and productive struggle were topics that you’d see in many districts’ professional learning goals for their mathematics teachers.


Yet, the single thing I hear most as I speak with mathematics leaders across the state is that our newest teachers might know one skill for a particular topic but they don’t know the other ways to solve the problem. Makes it hard to teach multiple approaches to a problem when you only know one yourself. Believe me – I’ve been there! This year, there seems to be a strong need to shore up teachers’
mathematical knowledge for teaching. Which, if my memory serves me, is a place where we’ve been before. Time to dust off “Fast Car.”


We’ve all been tasked with implementing new curriculum standards at some point in our careers. We had to spend time studying the content, asking each other “what the heck does this mean?” We invested time studying the connections among topics within a grade level and how a topic played out vertically between grade levels. We explored multiple representations and made connections among
them. That’s how we built our mathematical knowledge for teaching. Like artists who bring past work to life with a fresh look and new touch, mathematics leaders can lift up strategies and methods from earlier in our careers and adapt them to meet today’s needs.


I’ve often been critical of so-called experts and consultants who simply parrot ideas that have been around for decades. It particularly amuses me when they go on social media with their impressive discoveries and it was a strategy that I used at Chickasha Junior High in 1996. But after listening to the country version of “Fast Car,” I get it. We need artists, educators, and thought leaders to take those old ideas and give them a fresh look for today’s audiences. Powerful ideas from the 1970s or 1990s shouldn’t be taken and just dropped into today’s classrooms. But they can serve as seeds for contemporary interpretations that help our teachers make sense of this messy education landscape we find ourselves in. Inquiry-based instruction is timeless. Knowing powerful vertical connections is essential. Take that “Fast Car” and introduce it to new teachers. Make it a part of their canon, too.


“And I had a feeling that I belonged. I had a feeling I could be someone. Be someone. Be someone.”
Y’all be careful. We’ll touch base again in July!


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