beatles Archives - The Jose Vilson


John Pushing Paul Off a Roof

You’re not supposed to know when your student is this close to suicide.

You get up in front of the classroom, get students started on their work, and get into the routine. Whether the routine comes from you or them matters little. The room buzzes for a while as they sit, but when the notebooks come out, the notebook pages ruffle, the pencils scratch, and your shoes tap along the aisles and rows you’ve created in your classroom. As you walk up and down the classroom, you check for understanding. Does the student have their objective and “Do Now” ready? Do they look like they’re thinking about the given solution? Does the solution fit in with what they learned the prior year or yesterday? Are you confident they can actually give their answer if called upon in the middle of class?

You’ll ignore their temperaments for a second because the clouds in the sky have yet to give way to the morning.

You start the class and look around the room for signs of intrigue or bewilderment. You’re picking apart the twitches, blinks, and fidgets. You pick the first student to start the conversation. He responds and gets it wrong. You say nothing. You instead point to the next student. She disagrees because he forgot to move a decimal. You ask the room if they agree with that particular statement. Most of them raise their hand, though a couple never do. You choose one student. She says, “I don’t know.” You make a note of it, and simply state, “Of course you know! You must know something.” They shrug. You wait a little. She offers no response. You move onto another student, but keep it in the back of your mind.

You don’t accept non-participation.

You finish the lesson portion in a solid 14 minutes without interruption. You let the students get to their classwork, reminding them of your grading system, and the procedure for how to address questions. You need to take attendance on your iPad, sifting through 28 names you’ve memorized since the second week of school. You look up at the student who didn’t know how to respond to your prompts earlier. She’s fiddling with her pencil, looking studious, impersonating someone who’s interested. You think back to all the times a student ever confided in you that they’ve contemplated suicide, that their homes kept them from doing well in school, that they prefer to have a quiet classroom because they don’t have quiet homes.

That they’d rather not be here. Wherever here is. Last time you felt like that, you disappeared into a vast menu of U2 and Beatles songs and video games, detached from your reality. Daily, you hoped to muster the strength to say that today mattered even when it might have not. You went into a wave of positivity and set goals, unrealistic to the naked eye but it gave you something to look forward to when others couldn’t. Your stoicism and utter professionalism became a guise for a strength you didn’t acquire.

You pull the student aside and prompted a conversation on what happened today. She reiterates her indifference. You keep scratching the surface, hoping to dig just enough to get what’s happening. You find yourself expecting. You get a response akin to “Can I go now?” You ask one more question. She alludes to suicide. You check to make sure she’s going to the “right people” for that, hoping it helps. As a professional, you can’t let off too much emotion because you’re so centered on academics. Your conscience gets the best of you, your strength within these words:

“Listen, if you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen. Just know that there are people who’ve gone through the same thing you have, who’ve felt what you feel, who know what it’s like. It’s not pretty, but just know you are needed. We need you alive and present. And you know what the best part of living? You’re still here. You’re going to be fine. Be strong. Don’t let us down.”

“Thank you, Mr. Vilson.”

“No, thank you.”

Mr. Vilson, who’s all “Jai guru deva om …”


On The Future of Teaching blog, I made a list of the five things I learned this year, a standard writing prompt for writers who can’t for the life of them get a word out about the whirlwind named “The End of the Year.” Every year spins out of control right around the last two weeks, and the staff, prepared for emergency landing, lock their seatbelts extra tightly and enjoy the ride. Some of us, like yours truly, put our hands up in the air and leave them up there until the ride is over. I barely remember anything other than the phrase “Come on, kid. Graduate, graduate, graduate.”

Alas, when I sat in the front row onstage, my mind swooped back and forth, past the dynamic student MC, past the awesome Stuyvestant / MIT alum, past the couple of boring less-interesting speakers, and right to the graduates receiving their makeshift diplomas, representatives for the real ones they’ll receive on the last day. During the bluster of graduation, I tried to remain cool. Naturally, I was excited to see our choir and band perform, and mouthed the words to fun.’s “We Are Young.” During the procession of graduates, however, I shook hands and broke out a big grin, with big handshakes and hugs for my students this year.

As we started to go, I didn’t feel the need to tear up or tighten up. I walked down the stage and outside to see the plethora of proud parents, alumni, and staff gather, flashing pictures and laughing gleefully. I paced around looking for my students and to thank their parents for letting me teach their children. None of the interactions were dry; to the contrary, most of the families shared their gratitude in similar fashion. Students hugged me and promised to keep in contact. Whether they actually do doesn’t matter as much as that the sentiment is there. You forgive kids.

It wasn’t until I went back into the auditorium, at the almost empty hall that a minute ago held us in there like lobsters in a steaming pot, that the moment hit me: I actually cared a lot about these kids. My objective this year for teaching shifted for them. The pieces I wrote, the discussions I had, and the professional development I undertook had everything to do with my utmost desire for them to do well. I read more books, talk to more teachers, and let go of my personal hang-ups as a math coach for them.

Just then, my top student walked up with her father, weepy-eyed. Yep, I’m a sucker for that. This young girl would have been a blessing to have in any teacher’s class. Great work ethic, super-intelligent, and tries to excel in every category possible. She met almost every challenge I laid in front of her. She also gave me something I didn’t expect: her trust. She told me that, unlike most teachers, she actually felt like she could talk about any and everything. She’s also one of the students I made sure went to a promising high school in downtown Manhattan with one of my favorite educators at the moment. Most importantly, she became an extension of me, as did many of my other students. I shook her father’s hand and gave her one last hug.

Thank God I wore glasses because my eyes definitely teared up.

I honestly tried to keep my cool while seeing the rest of my students, but my revelation about my students made it difficult to see them. I stepped back outside eventually and just stared at the dwindling crowd. The masses had left to their dinner parties. With an uncertain future still hanging in the balance for us all, the only thing certain was that our jobs as teachers were to connect with another set of students. And make them graduate. Again.

Jose, who hasn’t made a Beatles reference in a long time …


Let It Be

by Jose Vilson on October 9, 2007

2007 Yankees Let It BeWhen I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be …

While everyone’s been hitting up my blog for the #1 search term for this website / $252 million dollar scapegoat of the New York Yankees, I had but one thought: let it be. I’ve had the song in my head since I envisioned my Beatle-themed post over the last week or so. It was like a message to me about the Yanks. There will be Canadian locusts in game 2 of this year’s playoffs, opposing teams playing like mirror images of the Yankees dynasty teams (2003 Marlins, 2006 Tigers, and 2007 Indians), New Yankee Stadium curses , and #13′s clutch moment that wasn’t back in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. Yet, it really all comes down to just letting it be.

I haven’t responded to the last posts’ comments because I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of idealism, especially as it concerns my favorite team and my profession. It’s a trait I’ve come to love / hate. It works well with other idealists, but doesn’t work as smoothly with pragmatic points of view. For instance, during my training for this position, I was told (notice I didn’t mention names) that my idealism wouldn’t make me a good teacher, and I wouldn’t make it through my term.

Since then, I’ve managed to inspire a hundred plus kids, and have enjoyed my job thoroughly, even to the point where I might want to do this for life. Teaching math is in many ways satisfying. Outside of the politics, it’s become a platform for growth, and I love discussing my experiences with friends and family. While it doesn’t have the social stature it does in other countries, I’m certainly shown a lot of respect and admiration by my people all around me, and that’s rewarding in and of itself.

Yet, I look around in the edu-sphere and try to understand how some of my fellow teacher bloggers and co-workers got to the point that they did. Very few of the teachers have maintained that idealism; is it because of age or does the environment matter? Does idealism have an inverse relationship with age and wisdom or do the actions and policies of the greater administration takes these idealistic and young men and women and remake them into bitter and angry veterans?

I see the value in fighting for one’s rights in a time when the higher-ups constantly want to put a dent into the civil rights and personal freedoms many of us enjoy. We need speakers and protesters for the voiceless and weary. On the same end, we don’t hear enough stories about what’s happening in those classrooms, and getting a chance to represent our profession to its fullest extent. Some bloggers do an excellent job of detailing their triumphs and troubles, but in general, even when I read some of my angrier posts, I ask why we’re even in the profession to begin with.

Of course I love being a teacher, and this profession has led me to a wonderful group of people far and near. It’s also given me a world view of my profession, and how on World Teachers’ Day, we still preferred apathy and misery over optimism and idealism.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.

Let it be, let it be, …

jose, who’s back to watching the Boondocks episode he missed last night …



October 1, 2007 Jose

You say you want a revolution, well you know we all want to change the world. My annoyance right now stems from the idea of leadership, and how my definition of it has changes vastly everyday. On the one end, I wanted to believe I was a leader. I do my part as a teacher […]

Read more →

Across The Universe

September 30, 2007 Short Notes

I finally settled on a new layout. Though it’s not exactly the one I wanted, it’s the only one that works for both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and it’s much better than the other flowery layouts available out there. BTW, Firefox is much better than Internet Explorer for WordPress layouts … much better. I’m coming […]

Read more →