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I Went Through Hell, So I’m Expecting Heaven [On Speaking Up Again]

Jose 1 Comment

Colleague Carrie Kamm commented on my last post with this:

“Something prompted this blog post from you. I am sure these thoughts and ideas have dwelled within you, but I’d love to know what you observed, heard, or felt that made you need to write this post this week. For me, reading Lisa Delpit’s latest book has brought many of these same sentiments to the surface for me in a way that feels more present and urgent.”

She’s probably right. Even after reflecting on the underlying themes of that post, I don’t know exactly what prompted it. I do know it came from a place where people believe all people’s histories, passions, and reasons for coming into this thing we call teaching are the same. It’s almost as if the expectation for teachers now is that, because we’re going to treat each other as professionals, our reasons for coming into teaching shouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, they do, and that’s why I wrote what I did.

I’ve outlined my story here: born to a hard-working single mother, raised on the Lower East Side before hipsters scrubbed it into an extension of the East Village, used his academic skills to make a living that simultaneously allows me to pursue my passions while making a decent salary as a public servant. I won’t get into the nitty gritty here, but suffice it to say that my stories have a little more grit than your average educator. While I didn’t participate in lots of the drudgery surrounding me, my life is a testament to lots of people’s ideals on many parts of the political spectrum.

That’s why I tell my truth. I’m too easy to misinterpret until I tell my side. Also worth saying: once you get that gift of speaking up, you become responsible for doing so, especially in my position.

You’re within your right to say, “Jose, don’t you think some of us take ourselves too seriously? Nothing’s really going to change, so why rock the boat?” You’re right. Some of our words become highfalutin, our stances stone-tablet worthy. Some voices use sarcasm to deliver their message, but it often squeaks like the tires of a car getting into a major accident. They call it humor, yet the pain seeps through. Some voices throw the same soundbites over and again, making them no different than the people who we seek to contradict. I’m attracted to those who can do both honestly enough to tell me what they mean. Imperfectly, but resoundingly.

In order for us to get more than appreciation for our efforts, we need to find a balance. I know for me, that means telling an equal amount of stories that happen in the classroom and out of the classroom. As a teacher, I’m happy when people appreciate what I do. I’d be even more happy to know that students learned in a positive way from their time in the classroom with me. I would hope that whoever reads my blog doesn’t stick me in the “hard work pays off” lane or the “Angry Black / Latino Male” lane; it’s all, both, and then some.

Moreso, I’ve been the consummate professional, but I’ve been through hell, so I’m expecting heaven. Because I’m owed, and I’m throwed, and I stuck to the G-code.

Jose, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, except when he does …

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.

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