How Much I Make? A Difference

Jose Vilson Education

Taylor MaliThis morning, after waking up from a much-needed hangover-induced nap, I decided to make my rounds on the Internets. I got to AM’s blog and came upon one post in particular that I loved. It was Taylor Mali’s performance of “What Teachers Make”, a poem about the difference between a corporate 9-5 job and working in the K-12 educational system.

Naturally, I loved the subject matter and the poem itself, because every good teacher knows how much of their person they extend to these kids; even more so, they go above and beyond their pay to provide something for them, whether it’s inspiration, supplies, or a much needed wake-up call.

I bring this up because yesterday, I went to a leadership meeting as a guest speaker at my school. Apparently, when asked who the kids thought was a leader, but that wasn’t famous, a good portion of them chose me. Naturally, I’m humbled by the selection; this is not to say I didn’t expect that I made some effect on the kids, but honestly, I’m really into my job.

The counselor who organizes the meetings handed me questions that the kids asked me, and I laughed, mainly because they were so … boring. They weren’t used to asking real questions that mattered; that comes with age / maturity. So I wrote some notes down before the meeting that I thought would be critical in the kids’ understanding of what it takes to be a leader, and how I arrived where I am now.

I told them the story of the young, Black/Latino male making his way through the hood but turning right around and making a difference in another hood. I told them the struggles I went through to get there, and how, through places like the Nativity Mission School, I became the man I am today. I told them how the ideas of service and generosity always make the best leaders. The first question that came from these kids?

“Mr. Vilson, what’s your age?”

blackprofile.jpgI stood befuddled. Then I remembered that these kids couldn’t see past the more shallow topics, which only meant one thing; I had to stop being polite and start getting gangsta. As soon as I made it plainly aware that I wouldn’t answer the more personal questions, the 8th graders stepped up and asked serious questions that I hoped I could expound on.

That’s when I realized what it meant to be a real teacher. We discussed everything from basketball, music, the n-word, Dominican and Haitian relations, the Iraq war, my poetry, and who they thought I could most relate to as a student in the school. It was probably one of my happiest and proudest moments as a teacher; giving these kids the wisdom I wished to impart on them when they were in my classroom. And what’s more, it was the first time in a few days I had a room full of kids in complete silence. Ahhh …

What’s more, though, it helped me realize why I put up with everything I do, day in and day out. I care a lot about the kids and how well they do despite themselves and their environments. Everyday is a chance to start something new and break a trend that’s held Blacks and Latinos back. Here’s hoping I continue to remember moments like these when times get rough …

jose, signing off