The Alchemist

Born To Do This Shit [On Personal Legends and Teaching]

Jose, Mr. Vilson 6 Comments

The Alchemist

The Alchemist

“You have 135 minutes left on this test. Are there any questions?”

After a quick pause, I said, “You may begin.”

As the students got to work on this section of the test, I began to reflect on my life as a teacher, and came to realize that, yes, I was born to be in a classroom, teaching.

The set of students in front of me, a gathering of opted-out English Language Learners from different classes including mine, had different experiences coming into that exam, yet already had an engrained respect for me before I even said my first words of the day. They might have seen me pass by in the hallway, covering a class, or heard rumors about me from different kids. They knew I didn’t laugh, at least not in front of them. They knew I cracked some jokes, and rarely wrote up students, preferring to talk them out of their unwise decisions.

They heard I love teaching students, and they can see it in my eyes.

A few years ago, I didn’t know how my body language (or my actual language) manifested in them thinking I hated my job, or at least that I should hate it. They confided in me that teachers in these environments work less like gurus, more like prison guards. They tell me that they couldn’t work “with these stupid kids” who “never want to do anything,” so becoming a teacher would be too hard for them. They don’t like the lack of respect teachers get generally, and wonder why someone like me actually wanted to teach, and not do anything else.

America as a whole has similar beliefs.

Yet, after reading The Alchemist, I realized just how close I am to reaching this “Personal Legend.” The students I reach in the classroom – I’m happy I reach the majority of them – have an appreciation for math now, and I hope I had a positive effect on that sentiment. The ones I don’t aren’t the “bad” kids, or the “most troubled” kids. It’s the kids who simply aren’t ready for me, or maybe not anyone, right now. I’ve learned that great teachers have plenty of students who simply weren’t ready to learn from them. Maybe I’m not ready to teach them, either, and I still have lots to learn about teaching them.

Learning isn’t linear, and neither are our lives.

In some meetings, we get the privilege to debrief with our colleagues with varying degrees of frustration, of pain, or annoyance. At the kids. At their superiors. At the system as a whole. This source of frustration, although warranted, can also cloud us from our objective. As I’ve heard a few of my colleagues say time and again, we don’t teach our subjects; we teach our students these subjects.

In time, if we let that little bubble of frustration grow, we get blinded, strayed from what we originally came to do. We see teaching as just a job, and not as both profession and passion. We see children as cogs to fit into a framework and not as people we’re giving tools to build. Some people are OK with that, and they’ll have their vision for what teaching should be, too. I just can’t allow that.

Maybe the kids respect me because I walk in like I was born to do this shit, and I want to take them along with me.

Jose, who can’t / won’t / shouldn’t talk about the test until tomorrow afternoon …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 6

  1. Shannon Mashinchi

    I, too, feel like teaching is what I am born to do. I teach math and love to watch as the learning starts to sink in. “You have a lot of information in your head, you just need to apply it to a new situation.” I want them to see themselves as learners, that sometimes things are difficult, but the knowledge is in there…what do they see, what do they know about it, have they seen something like it before…learning, applying, thinking. That’s what I want them to do. Be thinkers. Every day I pour my heart into them…some of them will think back and remember, some not, but I know that they leave me at the end of the year with more than they came with…because I was born to do this!

  2. Cuban Urban Educator

    Jose your blog as become part of my morning work routine of Americanized “cafe con leche”, reading emails, and prepping for teaching. Thank you for your honest perspective. We all have moments in our professional and personal lives when the passion loses its luster. This essay is reminded me of Maya Angelou’s refection of a “not liking herself.” Worth a read:
    “I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you. When a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”

  3. Pingback: Born To Do This Shit [On Personal Legends and Teaching] ← NPE News Briefs

  4. Mr. B-G

    I like the passion and voice in this piece. However, I don’t like the notion that people are “born” to be teachers. It suggests that we’re somehow “special” professionals with innate abilities who don’t require meaningful professional development, because, after all, we’re “born” to teach. Popular culture and the media are already guilty of feeding this mindset. We don’t need to be putting additional fuel on the fire.

  5. Pingback: Please, Keep Writing and Teaching [Kick More Ass] | The Jose Vilson

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