This 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?”
I 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