If You Teach Them, They Will Come - The Jose Vilson

If You Teach Them, They Will Come

March 11, 2008

Teacher

I know I might lose a few subscribers off what I’m going to say, but fu … gettabotit:

1. I don’t do pair testing; it’s just too weird for me.

2. Homeroom is very necessary for children who never have any other source of stability in their lives.

3. It’s important for teachers to inspire as well as elevate our kids’ thinking, by any means necessary … and plausible.

When I look at the various teachers on my floor, I see a range of experiences, and with that, a range of classroom management / discipline styles. One thing that they all have in common is their love for teaching. Most of us come in understanding our roles as molders of young minds, and not just static figures from 8am – 3pm. Some of us are more practical, focusing on the actual job and not worried about whether the kids remember you or not. The problem with that, and I’ve found this especially true over the last few years of teaching, they always remember.

ALWAYS.

Especially with middle school, because these are their formative years. Just when you think you don’t have a grip on them, you get that little feedback you need to reinvigorate you. Teachers who’ve been in the system for at least 3 years have enough stories to last them more than a few rounds of beers. For instance, I had this one girl who many of us saw as such an airhead. For a good 6 months of her 8th grade career, most of us were under the impression that she was far too infatuated with boys to tap her potential. She was bright to no end, even earning high scores on her math and ELA tests. Then, for 3 straight months, she finally showed us how hard she could work and eventually graduated, ditzy personality intact, and left the school without a trace.

She stayed in the back of my mind because I always used to see her friends around, and wondered if she ever made something of herself. Then, this year, when I logged onto my teacher MySpace (yes I have one of those and no you can’t see), I noticed a strange bulletin from her. It was about our school. At first, I was expecting one of those typical “I hate my former school” bulletins, but as I kept reading, she really seemed to enjoy her 8th grade year. And guess who she put down as her favorite teacher? Me. Yeah, my jaw dropped at that very moment. I definitely messaged her back with a thanks. Truly humbled.

And that’s just a tidbit of the love I’ve received from my kids. I still get visits from my alum, even when I least expect it. People drop me messages, post stuff on my door, and even try to run into me before I go to school. For one reason or another, I have an amazing rapport with them, while never sacrificing my academic rigor. They always come back with stories about how easy freshman year math is. Granted, some of them do come back telling me that, despite that, they’re still not doing well because of whatever personal problems they were going through. It’s probably the saddest part of the job. I’ve seen the triumphs and the defeats first-hand. Sometimes I wish I could do something about it like reach out and help my former student out.

But the most I can do is pack as much learning as possible in one year (if you’re lucky, 2), and hope they learn something directly about math, but implicitly about life. I have a captive audience, I might as well give it all I got. I can proudly say I provide an answer to the question “What if you had a 12-year-old’s ear for just a second? What would you do?”

What do you think? As an educator, do you find it important if not worthwhile to inspire your children or young adults? Let me know in the box.

jose, who loves it when kids ask questions like “Have you ever farted so hard, you shiver?” after class …

p.s. – After reminding him how to convert degrees to radians on MySpace, one of my alums wrote me tonight,

“oo ok thanks man…i wish i had a teacher like u now…all these wakk teachers in highschool…wish i had some1 to tell me 2 shut up…lmao”

This post was written by...

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.

For more about me, read here.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Leesee March 12, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I am not a teacher, I’m a counselor. My heart breaks when I let myself consider how many high schoolers didn’t make it to college.
I do my very best for those that made it this far, because college can be treacherous in a lot of ways for a kid from a mediocre school.
We do the best we can in the amount of time we have.

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mzvirgo March 12, 2008 at 5:06 pm

LOL at the comment about myspace “yes I have one and no you can’t see”.

Excellent blog.

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Miss Profe March 12, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Yes, Jose. I agree. I do try to give life instruction as well as second language instruction. But, in many ways, the two are intertwined. Hopefully, along with vocabulary, verbs and grammar, I am giving them a bit of inspiration for learning about the larger world via reading and travel.

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Dawn March 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm

I’m a homeschooling mom but I’ve been struck lately how much we homeschoolers have in common with teachers even if our roles are different. For one, we love our kids. You guys just have a whole lot more of them. :D

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Bam March 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Thing is Jose. You never forget a good teacher. I will never forget Mr Dziedzic, the first English teacher I had who dared give me a D on a paper I had written. Flat out telling me, the paper was better than anyones in the class, but for me, he knew it was bullshit. And he said it too: “bullshit.” I respected him. I will never forget Professor Marilyn Fox Kocatska, the only teacher who delivered history to me and made me realize I love it. Anne Warfield Rawls – this woman made Marx simple – awesome teacher. Then there was Dr. C. Patrick Palmer, without whom I’d never have finished Graduate School.

Your teachers make you… In ways even your parents can’t begin to, although your parents may be the ones hoping the highest that you are actually made.

Loved this post.

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Jovan March 12, 2008 at 7:43 pm

I just bit the teacher myspace idea…chea

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Jose March 12, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Leesee, your job as a counselor is invaluable. And your caseloads must be up to your neck. Keep up the struggle.

mzvirgo, I gotta write something to lighten things up.

Miss Profe, inspiring kids travel is sooooo important! I can’t tell you how many of my kids would benefit from leaving their neighborhood for a second.

Dawn, homeschoolers have an important function, too. Look forward to hearing more from you.

Bam, you straight blasted their names. I’m impressed. I think you never forget the awful teachers, either, because you swear that neither you nor your kids will ever have those types of teachers ever again.

Jovan, you’re a biter, but I’m not mad at you. (HA!)

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Los Angelista March 13, 2008 at 5:54 am

It’s 100% worthwhile. That is teaching. Teaching boils down to nothing but the rote dissemination of ideas until inspiration is added to the mix.

Although I no longer teach, I also keep up with many of my former students via myspace and it’s amazing to see their transformation from 3rd graders to seniors in high school. I am afraid for some of them but others have blossomed beyond my unformed hopes of yesteryear.

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Laura March 14, 2008 at 8:55 pm

I have one kid who makes it a point to be that inspired reminder for me. He IM’s every so often to tell me again that I made him realize he can always improve, and that he’s a much better writer because of me; last time was this past week! I think connection is an essential part of the job, even if inspiration never happens. Sometimes I wonder if those few are enough. As long as I kind of like my present kids too, then the inspired ones really can keep me going.

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CaliforniaTeacherGuy March 15, 2008 at 7:18 am

Oh, about 99% of my students think that my class is the most boring one in the building. Guess what? They’ll NEVER forget me! Hah! :)

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Jose March 16, 2008 at 7:34 pm

LA, Well, I’d like to hear more about your years in teaching, and maybe even why it is that you don’t teach anymore.

Laura, connection is another component, but in the teaching world, that’s an inspired act. We’re speaking the same language.

CTG, haha, you’re funny. I’m sure you bring a lot more to the table than that.

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