Marvin Gaye

Oh Mercy Mercy Me [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

Jose Vilson Jose 3 Comments

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye

I present these ideas, abstract and concrete all at once. The disconnect between the problem and the solution persists. And it’s not strictly limited to my kids either. Children all over the United States and the world have their views on what education means to them, and how adults view the educational system in the country. Where do we go from here?

When I have these discussions with my own education cabal (usually my girlfriend, but also my people here and here), it always goes back to the same root: the educational system we have presently was meant to make people docile and uneducated. These simple changes we ask for, like character development, extra accommodations for students who struggle with state tests, and a more supportive school system as a whole for all parties involved is always regarded as “too expensive” or “pending” upon some litigation that usually gets drowned out by some other mess. Some of these simple adjustments may have worked in different schools, but as a system, we’re just not doing well. Some systems in our country actually serve as training centers for the prison industrial complex, and that’s the reality.

So what can we do? Maybe that’s the better question. After a conversation with a younger teacher today, I thought I’d list some things that may be helpful with the socio-emotional part of this education process. I’m learning along the way, so suggestions and comments are welcome. Note that some of these will make you say duh, but I find too many people who work with children (and adults) don’t incorporate this at all.

  1. Get that respect: First, build the foundation for what you’re going to do with them, then you can take it however you like. Some teachers are more comfortable with regimentation and others are a bit looser. However you choose to go, you have to build the respect first.
  2. Don’t try and change them, try and know them: We’re still too inundated with images of the teacher who outright changed a student overnight. It’s just not true. Try just getting to know them and maybe there’ll be an exchange of learned experiences. Change here becomes implicit.
  3. Show up to things sporadically: Anytime I show up for a talent show, a basketball game, or another of their classes just passing by, I earn points in my respect count.
  4. Talk to them: Obviously, if you’re not talking to them personally, one on one, then you’re not going to earn that respect. Even if they act out in class after that conversation you’ve had with the inappropriately behaved student, you’ll see through that and not stress yourself out too much.
  5. Humble yourself: Working with students whose background may be different than yourself is the primary job. Forget the benefits, the health care, the days off, and the discounts. We play roles in students’ lives that are akin to acting, and the number one thing to know is that, no matter how great a job you’re doing, there’s still the next day. And the next. And the next.
  6. Celebrate and accentuate the positive: Along the way this year, I forgot how good I have it, relatively speaking. A grand majority (I’d say 3/4ths) of my students actually try their best and have great potential to do well, despite themselves. I don’t have all honor students, but I’ve found good returns on my investments in them. Yet, I let the negative cloud my judgment about entire classes, and that was a problem. So not only did I get back on my feet (with a little help from my friends), I organized an awards show for the floor, and it worked 2 ways: it celebrated the achievements of those that try and those that excel while allowing all the teachers on the floor to share in the pride of teaching. It’s really those little things that make a difference. Seriously.

When I reviewed these tips, I think to the children and adults who never felt loved, who felt so hopeless that they preferred to stay in prison so they’d stay out of trouble, who died for the most trivial things, who give favors of all varieties just so they can continue living their lives, however miserable it may seem. Imagine if just that pat on the back or that good talking to might have tilted their sails in the right direction.

But in the grand scheme of things, I’m only one educator. Even one who has a platform that’s widely distributed can’t revolutionize the whole educational system. I don’t see myself with some cross to bear or a hammer to wield. I don’t proselytize to the masses about how great I am because, frankly, I still have a long way to go.

However, if I have 80 lives in my hands, and I maximize the learning potential in each of these students, my conscience is clean. If for any reason, I don’t think I’m even reaching one, then lord have mercy. Either way, my job as an educator is done.

Jose, who wants to throw my hands up because this makes me wanna holla …

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.

Comments 3

  1. Jay Midnyte

    My best teacher was my 6th grade teacher. This was in P.G. County where kids just get babysat at school. Well he is one of the FEW teachers who treated us like humans capable of making decisions instead of treating us like toddlers and just passing time by. We clashed alot at that time but now I realize he was my best teacher because he demanded the best from all of us and many other students I’ve talked to now feel the same way. So you can have a big impact on their lives even though most of the time they will talk back and be rude just to be “cool” in front of their friends.

  2. Steven Shaffer

    As I sit here catching up on your posts my thoughts turn to the teachers who kicked my ass, cajoled, inspired, befriended and believed in me. From junior high through college, I was blessed. Thanks for what you do-much love.

  3. Laurie Wasserman

    Once again you totally and utterly get what it means to reach out and “grab kids by their brains,” as Louanne Johnson, my teacher heroine from “MY Posse Don’t Do Homework,” also known as ‘Dangerous Minds’ talks about too. I’m thinking about #2 “Don’t try and change them, try and know them,” and how if this was every teacher’s philosophy what a difference we’d all be making. Kids have so much in them that is amazing and special, yet so many folks want them to fit into their preconceived notion of what makes a good student.
    Most of my students are right brained learners, it just seems to go hand in hand with their learning disabilities.I always do my pep talk about how important right brained learners are in our world: I cheer them on and explain, “you’re the musicians, artists, painters, carpenters, plumbers, auto mechanics, and electricians, and without you our world would be pretty lousy.”
    I’m printing out your list, and putting it on my board to keep reminding me of what’s imporant in my teaching practice. Thanks again, you are of course, wicked cool.

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