I was fortunate to attend Steve Leinwand’s presentation at the NCTM annual convention in Philadelphia this spring. I had never heard him speak before but, within five minutes, thought, “This guy is the real deal.”
He was comparing standardized assessments in the United States to those in Asia, decrying the former for being too simplistic and praising the latter for being more nuanced, more layered and altogether richer. Assessment design is an idiosyncratic topic -- certainly not one known to stir the soul -- yet he spoke of it with the passion of an artist. You’ve been looking at this painting. Let me help you see it.
Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know both Steve and his wife, Ann (herself a math educator). A few months ago we had dinner in DC, and immediately he began enviously peppering me with questions about Twitter Math Camp. What kinds of problems did you solve? Are you guys doing it again next year?
Steve is a leading figure in math education and has, I’m sure, more important people he could be dining with than me. Yet during dinner, all he wanted to talk about was project-based learning and the teachers he’s working with in the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of the St. Louis suburbs. In just one year, you wouldn’t believe the progress they’re making!
There are lots of voices in education reform. There are lots of people trying to “fundamentally rethink” what it means to teach, often with a variety of motives.
And then there are people like Steve: real teachers who know what it means to roll up their sleeves, grade papers until 7pm, stain their fingers with Expo Markers. During Steve’s NCTM presentation he was pacing. He was sweating. He was bouncing. Most people don’t get so animated when teaching math. Steve does. Like I said, the real deal.
Now he’s running to be the next president of NCTM. I (Karim) am not actually a member of NCTM, but I’m going to become one just for the opportunity to vote for him. Steve is one of those rare, clarion voices that can help transform what it means to teach. Not by offering some radical new vision, but simply by reminding us of what the vision has always been: good teachers teaching good lessons well. He's a fresh take on the old school, and he would -- and hopefully will -- be a great NCTM president.