Mr. Vilson Archives - The Jose Vilson

Mr. Vilson

These posts are focused on the more professional side of my writing. They include tips, resources, and stories from the classroom.


This morning, I came across this article on Huffington Post (I know, I know, hear me out, though) and thought I should ask questions about President Obama’s initiative to enforce former President George W. Bush’s mandates for “excellent teachers” to stay in the highest-need communities. Read this:

President Barack Obama’s new initiative, titled “Excellent Educators For All,” seeks to ensure that states comply with the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind mandate by asking state officials to submit “comprehensive educator equity plans” that detail how states plan to put quality educators in classrooms with disadvantaged students. The Department of Education also plans to pour millions of dollars into a “Education Equity Support Network” and publish profiles of states and districts that have succeeded in promoting teacher equity.

For one, I’m usually skeptical about any initiative that attempts excellence when we haven’t defined (or even characterized) what actual excellence is. For instance, people often describe an excellent teacher as “caring,” but isolating “caring” as a characteristic would be short-sighted in terms of identifying the best teachers. Even something like the Danielson Framework can’t quite pinpoint because numbers aren’t always facts.

Secondly, I often see people who talk up teacher quality not address the issue of working conditions. People too often make working conditions and teacher quality a chicken and an egg argument. There were presumably eggs before chickens, and so it goes that working conditions of a school generally support good teachers and keep them. Of course, there will be special cases that don’t fit the mold, but that tends to be the way it goes.

Here’s the thing: in my observations, teachers of color will stay in underserved communities where others won’t.

If you look at the graphs for the full picture, you’re basically seeing that richer, whiter schools get more experienced, more educated (at least in number of degrees) and more certified teachers, which seems to contradict a few narratives, mainly that the number of years and degrees don’t matter in terms of student performance. While this might have some external validity, I don’t see how anyone would choose a school that doesn’t have at least some experienced, educated, and certified staff. Unless they’re in a private or charter school, where restrictions on degrees or certifications are more lenient, at least in most urban areas.

Unless they’re in the high-need neighborhoods, which is code for schools with poor students of color.

Teachers of color aren’t only needed in these high-need neighborhoods, they are predominantly in these high-need schools. This, among other reasons I’m sure, is why, when schools get shut down in droves as they have in the last decade, teachers of color lose their jobs with those schools. From the plethora of educators of color I’ve spoken to, with various degrees, experiences, and backgrounds, they stay in certain schools because they came into teaching to serve children of color, and aren’t necessarily looking for career advancement.

Yet, because the working conditions didn’t work and the systems in place were neither conducive nor supportive of children of color and their teachers, they either stay and hope to wither the storm or, increasingly with much younger teachers of color, leave altogether to pursue other education-related professions where they can work on behalf of students without being tied to the classroom.

That’s why, by 2020, we may see a drop from 18% teachers of color to 5% teachers of color, and with male teachers of color already at 3%, this may certainly perpetuate the inequity we’re seeing in student achievement. More importantly, this threatens to make schools feel less inequitable.

But our country stays taking shortcuts to equity instead of making a real investment. More on this soon.


photo c/o


Hope Makes Teaching More Than A Job

by Jose Vilson on May 25, 2014

in Mr. Vilson


I Love Lucy

Goodness, that last EduShyster’s interview was epic. There’s a whole piece that we didn’t even get to share with you because, well, it would hurt some people’s favorite bloggers / heroes / activists’ feelings. Really, the biggest difference between Audrey Watters’ awesome Twitter interview pre-This Is Not A Test and EduShyster’s recent, also awesome interview was the relationship each has to me. I consider Audrey a friend and, dare I say, ally in some of the work we’re doing in bringing up issues of race and class to the fore while I barely knew Jennifer Berkshire outside of her blog and Twitter.

Yet, after a close read of my book (and a few minutes to talk at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, TX), you see how, for an interview, that’s can be a good thing, too. Check this:

ES: This Is Not a Test is full of surprises—not just about your personal story—but the way the narrative unfolds. You manage to make even a grim systemic analysis feel uplifting.

JV: That’s pretty much how I roll. The way I look at it, there’s really no choice. Educators need, NEED to have some kind of hope because otherwise we’re powerless. Once we start to feel less hopeful, that fire we start out with gets extinguished. I do have pessimism and skepticism as drivers but I always have optimism right next to me because I’m always hoping things will get better. Our kids are our driving force. If you don’t have the kids you teach in mind, then why be hopeful? If you’re teaching as a career, than optimism is the way to go.

I’m arguing for the idea that hope makes teaching more than a job. If those of us who are in the classroom (or in schools as educators) don’t come into school with a modicum of hope to hold us over through the hard days / weeks / months, then we can’t keep the fire burning.

I get that some of us need angry and hurt to sustain ourselves while pieces of our public schools keep getting chipped away by private interest and government disinterest, to support each other in a struggle to re-affirm our belief in the possibility of all children (and not just some). Yet, my classroom persona isn’t built like that. Even after some of the more mind-numbing sessions I’m having these days as the end of the year wraps up, I’m hoping that all the consternation with my students is just an end-of-the-year phase and, once they go to high school, they’ll settle down and do far better than now.

In the interim, we need to keep hope in our back pocket always because our students do rely on us to keep our energies high. Because otherwise, everything we’re working for is of little consequence, and that would suck, too.


photo c/o


Michael Mulgrew, Carmen Farina, and Bill de Blasio

Michael Mulgrew, Carmen Farina, and Bill de Blasio

In case it hasn’t already flooded your airwaves already, the De Blasio administration and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) reached a tentative agreement to finally get teachers their just due. While I haven’t pored over the details of the contract, I’m certainly happy with any salary increase at this point. After four years without contract, the cost of living has jumped higher and higher without matching recompense for some of the most essential members of any flourishing society.

Of course, lots of people doubted whether the union would get retroactive pay or any contract at all this year after the mess Mayor Bloomberg left, but in fact, two rational sides worked out something they believed would advance the teaching profession.

The reason why so many of us feel comfortable with diverting the conversation around teacher contracts is to “unions” is because teachers themselves aren’t supposed to seek money for themselves. They’re supposed to keep their mouth shut, stay underpaid, and let others negotiate for them so they can pretend to not care about how much money they make.

Yet, it’s certainly appropriate for teachers to demand good pay. If anything, paying teachers means teachers can pay that energy forward.

I can’t pretend I know everything that this contract means, but I can tell you that, with the mounting debt of making a home in NYC, it’s good to know you have a union that’s willing to negotiate for your right to teach and make that home.

After 12 years of Bloomberg’s teacher-bashing, this is the big payback.


photo c/o Wall Street Journal


So What If It’s Not Relevant Right Now? (Just Math It)

February 23, 2014 Mr. Vilson

This week, I’m supposed to teach my students how to solve a system of equations by elimination. It’s the hardest of the four ways  for solving systems (graphing, substitution, guess-and-checking), and I’m not entirely sure everyone in the class gets the first three. The main point of the unit is to determine exactly where two […]

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No Really, Stay In Class

January 21, 2014 Mr. Vilson

After lunch, students drag their feet to class, chatting it up with friends in the hallway, taking elongated sips of fountain water, peeking into their former teachers’ classes, and generally finding any excuse to not go to their next class. Even as passionate, deliberate, and rock star-ish as I am, kids still do this for […]

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Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and How We Plant Seeds

January 17, 2014 Mr. Vilson

Confession: I didn’t get a chance to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom before taking my students. Confession #2: My kids wouldn’t have gone to see it either if I didn’t bring them myself. Here’s the thing about auto-bio pics that people don’t want to say, but will readily admit: if our youth don’t get […]

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