Fires Alarmed

Mr. Vilson 4 Comments

Fire drills always unnerve me. One time, our dean asked me to stand in one of the streets, a standard procedure for fire drills as we escort students to about a one-block radius from the school in case of emergency. As the teachers escort the kids to their designated spots, a black SUV with a rather angry disposition pulls up within a feet of my knees and waits patiently for this drill to end. I stood my ground, waiting for all the students to cross the streets and holding my “Fire Drill” sign in a choke hold. The kids crossed the street, and the SUV grew more impatient, inching closer to my less-than-superhuman legs. My throat tightened up. The man kept yelling about having to get to work. I thought how the man could have just gotten to work early like everyone else and not at 9:30am. None of this mattered. My silence held clenched abs tight against what I felt might have gotten really ugly really quickly. The dean and my supervisor talked the man in the SUV down, and not a second too soon as I could feel the heat careening off the bumper could have steam-ironed my pants. The man cursed us all out as he let his engine growl while I stood my ground. The dean had waved the students back, but I couldn’t move until all the classes got back in the building. Every 30 seconds felt like an hour. When I heard the dean wave the teachers off, I took two steps back and felt the whoosh of this Escalade push me back a few steps further.

A quarter of the school saw this. Respect earned.

More importantly, it became my metaphor for the way I see my students in the classroom. Today, my dean gave me a less ominous corner, and the humdrum of this fire drill procedure came back. Because of the drill, I lost about 10 minutes of class time with my students, speeding up my lesson to a rush. Walking into class, I felt the chit-chatter I knew would come with the disjoint in our routine for the day. I waited until the din came to a standstill. When we started the lesson, one of my students decided to do small, semi-disruptive things in the class consistently, and it pushed me to remember the things I knew about him. Suddenly, I saw a child in need of help, who always came into my class and only had success about half the time, who just wanted a place to feel comfortable.

I asked someone who knew his situation a little better, and he confirmed my beliefs. My percent lesson had no chance of reaching him on a day like this. In my mind, I decided to set off the fire alarm when I saw it. Not because the fire was ready to burn the building, but because I saw smoke.

If I stand there and wait, this dangerous vehicle might come to a complete stop.

Mr. Vilson, who’s been on a roll with his class …

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.

Jose VilsonFires Alarmed

Comments 4

  1. Matt Mezger, Sr.

    Don’t let this experience sour your opinion of Cadillacs, Jose. I drive an SRX, and it’s a fine automobile, made in the U.S. A. That cat was working for his Escalade, and maybe should think about using public transportation.

  2. DaniRenee

    Jose… You pay attention. (-or does Attention pay You?!) You KNOW. You SEE da “smoke”. You are in the absolute correct profession. But, it is sooooo damn lonely being like you.. like me. Nothing close to the loneliness felt by you know who.. (if only they knew what “kindling” they are…) So whenever I respond/react to your posts, it is my abbreviated (code?) language for, “I’m too busy – or too ‘off-my-meds’ to efficiently, (proficiently) respond. I just know that your regard for OUR youngins gives me pause, peace and purpose…. and hope. Thank you for this, J. Maybe one day we’ll actually ‘talk’ about what we do; want; and expect…for the smoke.

  3. Post
    Author
    Jose

    Thank you both for your comments. I hear you, Matt. Whichever car it would have been, my knees were in a certain danger if you will.

    DaniRenee, thanks. Maybe we will. Love to hear more from you, whether you’re on your meds or otherwise.

  4. Shelley

    Jose,
    Couldn’t help but think as I was reading your post that you are in a battle zone in more than one way. Students — for sure — both the kids, their neediness, their histories, “no-child-left-behind”, the PARENTS; but to deal with the latent hostility of that driver — on a fire drill with kids for crying out loud! My God! I teach in a “city” in Maine (which would be like an eighth of a borough in NY!) When my daughter (who attends St. Johns Univ. in Queens) brought her boyfriend to spend the summer at our coastal getaway (Bar Harbor) he was absolutely astounded that no one beeps their horns. NO ONE. Literally you can go an entire day there with bicyclists, pedestrians, dogs, other cars all moving about the streets and the only sounds you hear are seagulls and an occasional Harley. NYC — love to visit, but in many ways I feel I live in another dimension — for you, I wonder, do you ever feel the overstimulation and just defensiveness of watching your back from road-rager who can’t even wait for kids to cross the street must leave its own brand of PTSD.

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