Working at NCTM
I am the Online Projects Manager at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I love my job — I’ve been here for 6 years, and I’ll stay here another 60, if they’ll let me; I love my organization — I’m not yet 40 years old, but I’ve been a member almost half my life; and I love my colleagues. But working at NCTM has its share of, um, challenges.
Take the equipment we have in the building, for instance. Today, I selected “single‑sided” on the photocopier, and all of my copies were printed on Möbius strips.
Of course, my mathy colleagues cause problems, too. There are three types of people who work at NCTM: those who can count, and those who can’t.
About a year ago, a small fire started in one of the hallways. An engineer, a scientist, and a statistician — who were at NCTM headquarters attending a summit about the merits of always including three related professions in the set-up of a joke — began debating the best way to extinguish the blaze.
“Dump some water on it!” the engineer suggested.
“No! Remove the oxygen!” said the scientist.
The statistician, however, started running around the building, starting fires in other locations. “What the heck are you doing?” the other two asked.
“Trying to create a decent sample size,” he said.
To put out the fires, a mathematician on staff brought them several buckets of water. The fires were extinguished one by one, but when they finished, there was an unused bucket of water. The statistician said to the mathematician, “Can you please get rid of that water?”
The mathematician proceeded to start another fire, and then he dumped the bucket of water on it.
“What’d you do that for?” the statistician asked.
“I reduced it to a previously solved problem,” said the mathematician.
More seriously, the following is a true story about NCTM.
The James D. Gates Building in Reston, VA, serves as the national headquarters for NCTM. In 1993, an addition to the building nearly doubled its size. In the area between the original structure and the addition, a courtyard was created, and a geometric design of circles and triangles was constructed on the floor of the courtyard with bricks and drainage pipes:
Long‑time members of NCTM might recognize the old NCTM logo:
Shortly after the building was expanded, however, it was learned that a number of publishing companies, eager to align themselves with NCTM after the release of Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, began placing the NCTM logo directly on their products. Cease‑and‑desist letters were sent to the publishers asking them to kindly remove the logo from their materials — and NCTM was shocked when they said, “No!” As it turns out, the publishers’ lawyers had done their homework, and they learned that the NCTM logo had never been trademarked. As a result, there was nothing that NCTM could do to prevent them from using it.
Consequently, the NCTM logo was revised to the version we have today:
In the courtyard, we have a constant reminder of a bureaucratic blunder. As you’ll notice, the current logo has the ® symbol — and no one’s taken this one away from us, baby! Personally, I think the new one is better, anyway, with allusions to the infinity symbol; the letter x, as an algebraic variable; and a small child, which is a constant reminder that our profession is not just about numbers and shapes but about the lives we touch.