administration Archives - The Jose Vilson


Tightrope Walker

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m young, Black / Latino, and / or well-dressed more often than not, but people have serious misconceptions about what I actually do in the building. This seems to be the case with lots of teachers I’ve met who, for whatever reason, have been pulled out of the classroom. Some of us are an ambitious lot who don’t really want to be in the classroom but want to work in education. Others just want to become administrators (no way). Most of the the teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, simply believe that they would better serve their community at large by having this in-between role where they could have a teacher’s voice in a board room. That often has mixed results, but that’s not the point of this particular post. So, without further adieu, here are the five biggest misconceptions for teacher leaders and coaches:

1. We have nothing else to do.

This is probably the largest complaint my fellow coaches have about their jobs. We understand that our first job is supposed to be to support our fellow teachers and we do so willingly. It’s just that we have the same obligations to tends of other teachers and administration who don’t take no for an answer.

2. We’re snitches for the administrators.

Our job states that we have to be liaisons to administrators, but not actually do observations of any nature. As a matter of fact, we shouldn’t even mention whom we visit (not observe) and what brought us there. If administrators ask us to go visit, it’s to help a teacher out, not to report back on our findings. Frankly, some don’t follow that rule because they’re scared for their jobs or they’re actual snitches, hoping that bringing other teachers down will make them look better by comparison. Yet, most of my friends know this code and hold it close to their hearts, which leads me to another thought …

3. We’re snitches for the teachers.

People have this weird belief that, once we say we’ve pledged our allegiance to our colleagues that we’re going to betray the trust administrators have in some of us. Much the way teachers expect us to not tell administrators what’s happening in their classrooms, administrators expect us to keep their thoughts and office business tightly sealed. It’s a different game when we’re acting as the in-between, so we’re often asked to reiterate or re-purpose the visions handed down to us from administrators and outside forces, many of whom never have to meet with the day-to-day teacher because we’re there.

4. We have lots of power.

This one really varies from person to person. For some, being a teacher leader means that the head of school fully respects you and your opinion, and gives you a certain degree of autonomy on the things he / she has assigned you to do. In other cases, that trust isn’t always there. It varies so frequently that the regular classroom teacher / staff member ought not to assume how much power one has until they see it for themselves. Plus, the power play depends also on the dynamics of the school system. In NYC, where teachers do have a certain level of protection, teachers can vocalize the things teacher leaders can’t.

5. We don’t teach.

This probably hurts most of the teacher leaders I know, because this statement usually equates to not being able to teach. The people that I trust in were accomplished teachers before they ever stepped into their current roles. They still have their lesson plan books and / or teaching materials. I personally teach a class for the full eight periods I’m assigned, and that’s something I asked for because it gives me an insight I can’t gain by just coming in for drop-by visits. When we develop assessments and lesson plans together, I can implement the strategies on my own students, and not do it as some sort of mock lesson. Building that trust is important for me, so that’s the route I chose. Others weren’t assigned a class, even when they miss it daily.

As stated before, some of us don’t actually want to teach, which is fine because who wants a teacher in a room that doesn’t actually want to teach? The best teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, have one foot in the classroom and build trust by any means necessary. They know how to translate the visions of administrators into meaningful practice for teachers and can provide proper feedback to higher-ups about next steps. It’s a delicate balance we play, but it’s more necessary than people think.

This stuff requires a stable mind and a set of feet impervious to callouses. They’re not good for walking tightropes.

Mr. Vilson, who thanks Matthew Ray for this …


Skip Lunch, Feed a Bunch

Today, as is often the case, I was asked whether I’d be taking AP classes. As the math coach, I’ve always been hesitant to discuss professional ambitions out in the open (because when I do, they get forwarded to people in my school and that becomes a mushroom cloud I have a hard time sitting on). Plus, maintaining a professional demeanor in spite of all is probably any teacher’s (especially a younger teacher’s) greatest weapon.

Today, I’m going to say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not (absolutely not) becoming an administrator anytime soon. And here are five reasons why:

5) I really appreciate getting out at normal time when I need to.

Being an AP means staying really long hours early and often, even when it’s not necessary. At least if you’re a good one. It means neglecting friends and family in the name of improving your school to the best of your ability. It sometimes means really long commutes and managing far more personalities than you thought. That is, if you’re good. If you’re not that great, then you just hand off your work to the willingest teacher and hope they do all the work for you secretly. And leave with the teachers, too.

4) I like eating lunch on schedule.

Not every teacher gets this opportunity, but for the most part, teachers get the opportunity to have a regulated breather / pee break / face-on-desk time and lunch every day. APs aren’t as fortunate. If they’re good, they’re constantly roaming the halls, working with students, (formally and informally) observing and consulting teachers, and telling parents why their child is doing well … or not. I’ve had a taste of these things on many ends and, as powerful a work this is, it’s just that: work. If you’re good at what you do, lunch often gets lost in the shuffle. Often.

3) Even as math coach, I only have to work with a slice of the teachers in the building, not all.

Yes, I do work with everyone at this point. Yet, my role is more facilitator and liaison than supervisor. I don’t think I want to deal with this “supervisor” title without understanding this math coach stuff because …

2) I’m not done teaching yet.

I still have to prove to myself that I can be a better teacher. I work hard at what I do, but every year, I’ve tried to become a better teacher. Sometimes, it didn’t work, but this year, I’m feeling it. I’m hitting a stride that I like a lot. Even though I only teach one class, that class is the foundation upon which I build my PDs and any other discussions I have with my district. Plus …

1) I’m tired of people asking me.

What is it about schools that send their supposedly promising young men straight off to be administrators? If you have a certain look, then you have to be out of the classroom, even when you’re not ready to do so. I’ve seen a few administrators who, after observing their moves, I think should get back in the classroom for a little longer. Staying in the classroom makes someone a better administrator, and the best principals and APs I know were probably very good teachers (at least adequate).

After all the discussions I’ve had with people like you (and you and you), I simply don’t see myself as a teacher of all teachers. I may be a school building leader, but to be a good administrator, there’s a whole skill set I have yet to learn. How do I discuss (and model) differentiation, formative and summative assessment, classroom management, and mediation? How do I handle those case-by-case situations without having to call every DOE person up? How do I handle each supervisor, network leader, parent association president, union rep,and chancellor who walks through those alarm-triggered steel double doors?

Why do people keep asking me if I’m going to be an administrator? Because that’s where things are going, I guess. Just not yet. I’d like to eat my lunch in silence, please.

Mr. Vilson, who wants to see how this one gets back to the school …

p.s. – My other reasons are actually people I rather not name. There. I said it. (Yes, I’m laughing. No, I’m not kidding.)


Why My Kids Can’t Count To A Million

by Jose Vilson on November 13, 2007

howmuchisamillion.jpgAs some of you know, I had an assignment in which we wanted to make 1 million stars and fill up the wall with that many stars. I set up the project by reading the book How Much Is a Million by David Schwartz and Steven Kellogg, and telling them that we’d be attempting to do as one of the facts stated: fill up seventy pages worth of stars, which I calculated to around 12,500 stars a student. I explicitly stated in the aforementioned post that I knew the kids wouldn’t get that far, but just to believe that they could really encourages them to do so. (Eventually, we’ll make it to 1 million, but they don’t know it yet.)

One month later, we have almost 60+ pages full of stars from the kids, and they’re really nice. But of course, as the latest trend has been, certain people want to squash even the sweetest of fruits just to say that they could. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say that we still have this pervasive theme of discouraging imagination and creativity in favor of rigid indoctrination. We shouldn’t have higher-ups coming in my room in front of the kids and basically crushing all the encouragement I’ve been giving the kids about their accomplishment, especially when it was my idea and I never got any assistance for said project.

And even when there’s the slightest hint of creativity from the higher-ups, it’s not done to achieve anything but as a facade to look ingenious. I look at what we did, and not only did it really pump up the kids, but it actually helped with a few of the math state standards, so I was essentially preparing them for the test without teaching to it. On the other side, we have people trying to emulate popular game shows on their computers but it has little to no relevance to preparing them for the test, and it’s taking away from our common planning, where we can be … planning in common … or whatever that was supposed to say. Y’all get the drift. I was also able to tie this in to Penny Harvest, and if all goes well, we’ll be able to observe what a 100 million pennies looks like in Rockerfeller Center.

Reaching for the StarsBut it’s just another footnote on how even within our own communities and people who share certain commonalities with their students can still be myopic enough to crush kids’ hopes with a lack of courtesy and encouragement. You can have all these slogans for student success, get great remarks from outside officials through your quality review, and get a great letter grade from NYC’s khan himself, but until we can effectively change the thinking our children have about their school environment and how they perceive their world, we’ll continue the endless cycle of mental and emotional abuse many inner-city children continue to endure and feed into.

According to the estimations of Schwartz and Kellogg, it would take approximately 23 days non-stop for someone to feasibly count to 1 million. Sounds like a little, but it apparently takes a lot longer to get our kids to believe that that’s possible. And even longer for everyone else to believe that those kids can believe that.


jose, who has an issue with the institution and not the individuals who crushed the fruit to begin with …


48 Laws of Education

August 21, 2007

Believe it or not, I’m a peaceful guy. I have some rather strong opinions and people believe that’s belligerence, but it’s really not. It’s just the honest truth. Yet I’ve always found myself thinking much the way a war strategist does. I detach myself from my own feelings about a certain situation and put myself […]

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I Remember When … (School Edition)

July 23, 2007 Jose

Today, after class, I saw one of my girls from my school. She’s the one that gave me the “Man of the Year” award, which I more than appreciated. We had a nice long conversation about everything from why the hell I would even put that out on the Web to the boy she’s dating […]

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March 20, 2007

Today, I could start off with an anecdote about a kid whose own inner complexities make her sensitive and bossy, sweet yet callous enough to steal and discard without remorse, mature on one end of the spectrum, yet too involved in her own sense of power over meeker beings to understand how she negatively affects […]

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