Short Notes: A Family Thing

Jose Vilson Jose

Wu Tang Clan

Wu Tang Clan

You probably wouldn’t know it from the lack of information I’ve shared about my actual family, but I come from a single-mother household with one brother from my stepfather and a plethora of siblings, a couple of whom I didn’t even know of until I was 16. Much of that stems from lack of responsibility or maybe even ignorance, but I’m over that. It took years for me to realize that this reality, this diversion from the “American dream” had less to do with me and more about the ideals instilled in me from my surroundings and the parts of me I felt I was missing from not having a real positive male presence in my house.

This, and many other related thoughts ran through my mind as I had 2 of my cousins and my elder brother sitting around a table at Dallas BBQ last night. One would never think that a family this disjointed would find themselves boisterously enjoying Hennessey-dipped wings and hating on outside vagabonds. In true Vilson form, we also threw a few barbs at each other and the rest of our family for good measure. At one point, I found myself just surprised at the naturalness and the openness we’d all established with each other over the last 6-8 years, as if we had been together for most of our lives.

It also got me to thinking of the students I’ll have this year, most of whom I’ll have had for 2 years going on 3. How much of this consistency with these students has maintained my students who don’t have father figures in their homes? How much have I contributed to a family-type environment in that room? Do I contribute positively to their lives or am I just another stressor in addition to the various complications they have at home? Because I’m such an advocate for the socio-emotional development of my students, I find myself on the opposite side of the trends people follow around me.

For instance, a fellow math teacher told me she couldn’t put up inspirational poster boards because people in years past told her that non-subject-related posters were unacceptable, especially in a topic like math. To that, I retorted, “F* ’em.” Sure, it was a little terse (and hilarious), but I also recognize the need for my students to love where they are, and know that they’re welcome and accepted somewhere, even with the rules we have. Too many students aren’t invested in school because a) their roles at home are elevated and / or b) they have emotionally / socially / economically broken homes. Some of us “educators” are far too concerned with complying with the state tests that we don’t teach them the critical thinking skills that will lead our students to help their own communities on a myriad of levels.

If not for my elder brother, ever the family historian, zealous salesman, and effective-problem solver, we wouldn’t have found that common bond between the Vilsons necessary to build those connections. Now, a whole generation of Vilsons, displaced by circumstance, can do things like terrorize waiters and customers at Dallas BBQ. Or for that matter, develop the extended family we never really had.

Jose, who tried to make this short, but this was far too important …