Courage to Teach

Jose Vilson 6 Comments

Teaching With FireEvery morning for a good 3 weeks or so, I’d been reading Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, a poetry compilation compiled and edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Schribner. Even though I haven’t finished it just yet, it’s already one of my favorite books of the year, and will probably stay somewhere near me at all times. It’s inspired me to continue reflecting on my profession with my most cherished hobby, (poetry for those of you who just know me as a teacher).

I’ll keep it short this time around. Check the latest poem. It’s my gift to some new teachers.

“Courage to Teach” by Jose Vilson 2007 ©

Read all the jargon you can get your hands on.
Rely heavily on Dewey, Delpit, and Piaget
Ask your initialism-titled mentors, heads, bosses, and busy-bodies
About their experiences in the classroom
Their classroom management
Their subject matter, reader levels, best advice, and worst
Dream optimistically about the ideal classroom
And wax poetic about the wonderful changes you’ll make in
these children’s lives
Take notes in those fancy workshops and network with older heads
Using them as resources in case any issues of race, religion, and sex come up
Take advantage of the crazy sales at Staples, the TC Bookstore, and Bank Street
Shop till your newly inherited teacher look drops
I can just as readily write this advice on sand as on paper
Can prepare you for when you step into that classroom
Not even Montessori will rise from the dead to rescue you from your almost secured failure
Forget everything I’ve said and do remember the three things you absolutely
Inevitably need to pass the 180 days successfully:
Focus to discipline
Love to inspire
And courage to teach
To NOT change them, but help them grow in who they are
To have a vision and adapt it constantly to the ever-changing environment around you
To cherish the sweet and spare moments when the successes of your mentees lifts you above the masses
To pace around the classroom knowing your heels might fall from right under you
Your face will peel off and slide onto the floor
Your knees will lock in tightly
You will be stripped naked
To the point where you will need to grow you a new skin
Start from birth
It’s only in the moment when you discover how you learn that you can teach
Fear is your only anchor
You have been set out to sail with your soul as captain
Let courage crack a bottle on your ass
And it will do so when you’re not afraid to fail …


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. Repairman

    Here’s to moving through fear and climbing the learning curve to become a loving and effective teacher! Nicely celebrated in your poem.

    I’ll be back, Jose. You are quite a voice. :-)

  2. Vivek

    “To pace around the classroom knowing your heels might fall from right under you
    Your face will peel off and slide onto the floor
    Your knees will lock in tightly
    You will be stripped naked
    To the point where you will need to grow you a new skin”

    I call it the metamorphosis.

    Thanks for sharing your well-written work. I love it!

  3. LuzMaria

    Please, don’t scare the newbies!!! It’s true, our profession requires courage. Reading your inspiring words, I can remember my first year and I still don’t know how I managed to survive. Yet I did thanks to some seasoned teachers who took pity upon me and my zest to change and fight the system. I learned a lot of things from these wonderful colleagues that I did not learn in graduate school. There is a vast difference between theory and reality and no matter what “we” (I am almost a veteran) tell the new teachers, they will not comprehend until they experience “it” themselves. It is important for us to support one another in out everyday struggles at school.

    Being an educator requires courage to stand up and fight against a system that creates segregation among our kids-levels 1 & 2 vs. levels 3 & 4, the bilingual vs. the monolingual, the poor vs. the wealthy, and inner city vs. suburbs. Our kids will teach us to be reflective and humble because their honesty will beat the hell out of us at times. Yet they will be our motivation to go in everyday and try again until we get that “aha” moment which will validate why we teach. There is no better feeling in the world.

    Thank you sir for sharing your words with us. It is great to see how you are willing to pass on the knowledge you have acquired along the way.

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