My Child, Your Child, Everyone’s Child (Five Years An Actual Father)

Jose VilsonEducation, Featured, Jose8 Comments

Five years ago, my son was on his way to us. We hailed him as a Three Kings’ Day (01/06) gift, the bookend to an otherwise brutal winter. We waited 41 weeks and counting to no avail as he refused to leave his mothers’ natural cocoon. The hospital staff ranged in their hospitality, but our main doctor came in like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I remember not sleeping for 24 hours, restless over my new prince’s birth. When I finally cradled him in my arms, I remember thinking we might have made the world a better place and parented accordingly.

Both of Alejandro’s parents are educators with that mindset. Nine days later, I would return to the children our communities birthed.

My son’s birthday reminds me of the deep gulf between the lofty aspirations of our best days and the doldrum realities of our worst days in our classrooms. I’d say “truth be told,” but there’s so many contradictory truths I hold at once. I do believe in students’ capacity to learn, sometimes more than they believe in themselves. I get angry when students don’t try their best, though that might actually be their best. I don’t need my students to be compliant, but their understanding of respect and mine don’t always align. I’ve caught myself saying “if this student doesn’t show up today, the class will be 50% smoother” even when I know I want to and have to teach every single child.

The rub is that I’m a National Board Certified teacher, a writer, an activist, and an acclaimed education blogger. I blame myself for this. My students are blameless.

I’m receiving someone’s gift. 30 babies at a time, 145 babies a day. Their parents sent them to us with different needs, different competencies, and different orientations to institutions (specifically school). But even on my worst days – today is one – they remind me that parents sent a manifestation of themselves to us. I’ve done this for long enough to teach over a thousand students, some of whom said I was their school father, but that too lasted for what seems like a few seconds of my time in retrospect.

What does it look like for us to treat all of our children like our own?

I don’t know the answer because I’m not there yet. Parenting is teaching me a lot about myself as a teacher, though, and I plan on tending to this need.

Comments 8

  1. As always, a wonderful piece. As the oldest of two girls, I didn’t always understand my male students. Thankfully God gave me a son, and I became a much better teacher for it.

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  2. Being a mother has given me so much more compassion for families, and has made me a better educator. One of the biggest eye-openers has been owning the way I disrespected parents of color by thinking of my students as “my kids” and NOT other folks children. As a young, childless, middle and high school teacher in urban schools I was used to experiencing parental involvement, and thus made assumptions that parents didn’t need (or want) to know much or that they didn’t have the capacity or interest in being involved. I thought I was being helpful “not to burden” working class parents with communication or participation.

    Now I’m realizing this was an assumption and frankly an excuse for not reaching out in many cases. Many parents of color, immigrant parents, low-income parents want to be involved in their children’s schools, but get actively excluded because it takes work to cross cultural divides or requires effort. Now that I am a parent actively advocating for public education, I realize I was missing out. The only thing more powerful than a parent or a teacher in a child’s life is a parent AND a teacher working together.

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  3. Indeed your have made a powerful statement. It is also commendable that you mention that at times you get angry; many of us including me do so. What you have done is to highlight something which we often forget that that student is someone’s prince or princess.
    Reaching out to parents can be difficult, some of the resistance within ourselves. Yet it necessary and worth it. In the education world it seems that it has been forgotten. Parents are served with progress reports and other communication which meet school requirements but scarcely addresses the needs of parents. It seems that schools shy away from it.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas with us.

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      Thank you for commenting here. We all forget that we’re fallible human beings. Sometimes, our feelings are within the threshold of what we deem civility and sometimes it’s not. For example, I don’t deem it appropriate to throw a student out the window, but I might say it for hyperbolic effect. Ha!

      Seriously, we *do* need to have a conversation about the needs of parents, and that’s hyperlocal too. For example, the needs of my neighborhood might not be the same as the neighborhood a few miles away, but we have similar foundational needs for our children.

  4. Great post. Becoming a parent creates a definite paradigm shift for teachers. What we think we knew is completely re-framed. I also liked your insight into the fact that the needs of parents are specific to the locality. After 45 years in Education, over 25 of them in “Title I” schools, it is clear to me that we need a tight partnership with our parents and our community. We have the greatest knowledge of both our strengths and our weaknesses.

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