discipline Archives - The Jose Vilson


The Mouth and The Giggler

by Jose Vilson on December 9, 2008

in Jose

Girl Scream

Girl Scream

I have these two students, who I’m calling the Mouth and the Giggler. Both of them have garnered notorious reputations as girls who are far too loud for their own good. They went to the same school last year, but not our school, unfortunately. For if they did, they may have learned a few things, like manners and courtesy, small things really. At least in comparison to setting your “rep”, talking junk about who kissed who and in general, how much they hate certain classes.

They’ve become the representatives for the dearth of educational motivation in the class, and it’s really unfortunate. The Mouth is a young lady in sore need of attention. While I can’t claim I know exactly what’s going on in the household, I can take a pretty good guess. Unfortunately, because of the many frustrations she’s felt over her lifetime, and her rather imposing physique (for a girl), she’s gotten into a few scraps in her lifetime. I haven’t seen it in this school, but her abrasive and ultra-argumentative ways have left many a bad taste in her teachers’ and fellow students’ mouths. Nevermind that she’s probably one of the more proficient students in the class when she puts her mind to it. It’s almost as if when her mouth closes, her mind begins to work. Funny really.

The Giggler on the other hand also has similar issues. Nasty and snippy attitude, but has an added laugh that she really can’t control. There really isn’t anything she won’t laugh at, and every chance she gets to laugh, she will. It’s almost cute really … until it happens during my lessons. Then it becomes absolutely annoying. Her academics, too, also seem to be lacking even though when she puts her mind to it, she really does wonders for herself and her own academics. And as with the Mouth, calling The Giggler’s house has been ineffectual to say the least.

So in my mind, as a teacher who actually cares a lot about each and every one of my students’ progress, I have to think about the best practices for me. Can I focus on one or two while sacrificing the rest of the class? Out of the two, if I were asked to let go of one because they had issues in other classes as well, which would I let go, if only because I felt that the there was no chemistry between us? Can I wait that long until I can break their multi-layered shells so they can get their acts together while the rest of the class suffers?

My answers: No, the Mouth, and I can’t wait too long.

At least with the Giggler, it’s obvious that she’ll eventually do the work, even if she drags her feet through it. I can’t say the same for The Mouth. Girls like the Mouth become extreme archetypes for the phrase “wasted talent.” If I can get a good product out of most of my struggling students 4 out of 5 days, I can respect that. Anything less is far below my standards. And despite her obvious talents, she’s not even coming at this juncture.

And while I consider myself a really good disciplinarian (take that for what it’s worth), I haven’t met these brand of children in a good 2-3 years, so I’m taken aback by their level of disrespect sometimes, even towards their friends. I know many of the origins of that anger, resentment, and hyper-sensitivity, and it’s almost like watching a building implode …

Jose, who’s got a few students who shoot themselves in the leg every day …


Soft Like Baby Talc

by Jose Vilson on June 3, 2008

in Jose

I keep telling some of these “educators” that they can’t tell me nothin’.

John Holland recently talked about the differences between urban and suburban education as it concerns one’s demeanor. In many educators’ eyes, they think just because they have a dream that they can go into any school and magically transform children into shiny, happy people. They have this vision that somehow their idealism can save Black and Latino children from their desperate conditions and just having a little exposure to a new form of teacher will undoubtedly make them want to do better for themselves and improve their communities and become the shining beacon for their whole generations.

It doesn’t quite work out that way. Urban education requires a little more discipline. Where other children may come ready to learn and focused, many of the children I teach neither have parents who value education that much nor have people in the family who’ve gone beyond high school (or even middle school). Just the other day, we had a child who was going to the Dominican Republic at the start of Memorial Day Weekend … and continued in for two weeks! There’s no reinforcement of classroom rituals and routines at home with many of my students.

There’s also a barrier that exists that limits the types of things teachers can do (some teachers in smaller towns visit their students’ homes. WOW!). Most of all, though, kids are not just kids: every student is a product of their environment and they have different internal metrics for whether you measure up for what their teacher looks like.

In other words, if you don’t cut it, you’re getting cut, plain and simple. It doesn’t mean you need to scream at them all the time, or have militaristic tendencies (some prefer that), but it means you have to demand the respect first and foremost before you can even shed some of that tough exterior. I can personally tell you that I’ve seen the softer approach tried by teachers and they’re constantly berated, shown disrespect, and have little to no learning happening in those classrooms. Once I get them the next year, or another teacher whose got a solid backbone, they learn how to learn.

See, if you really care about the students in your classroom, you’re not just teaching them curriculum; you’re teaching them about life, and how there’s a need for balance. Yes, that “look” is often amorphous, but the energy behind it is unmistakable. The lack of equilibrium in their lives can only be matched by someone willing to see them for who they are, and working from there. Thus, I can usually quell any questions I might have about the way I handle my class with a clear conscience.

Here’s hoping that when I continue to find my way through this labyrinth of education, I won’t lose touch of what it really means to be in a classroom.

jose, who wonders how people can rush to judgment through a teacher’s first post, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re coming from on high …

p.s. – I’ll discuss the other side later on, but comments are open. Go on.


props to Mark Parisi

After that passionate imaginary letter I wrote to one of my students on Tuesday, a few questions came up about how I approached the situation.

Did your administration support you through this decision?

In a word, yes. Though I knew I was right and I thought about my decision clearly, I still consulted with fellow teachers and administration, and I got the right response. I didn’t have to ask my principal because the assistant principal was enough. I know a lot of my fellow bloggers find themselves in more dire straits, but I also notice a lot of principals who blog that say I’m somehow stifling the young man’s creativity and individuality. The next three questions should address that.

By not letting him go to the trip, aren’t you promoting a perpetual cycle of failure for him?

In some ways I understand the question, but in realistic terms, no. I believe I was rather clear about the chances I’ve given him, and if he can’t respect that, then what happens when we’re actually outside and I’m responsible for his well-being and safety on the subway or anywhere else? Furthermore, what kind of message does that send to the kids who do behave well and make a decent effort to do well socially and academically? I have students who once messed up but improved significantly in all the major areas and they’re getting a chance to go on trips, so for this student, that’s not the case. He hasn’t been an exemplary student, and there have to be consequences.

Don’t you think you’re pushing your kid so hard to fit a mold that you’ll squash his “creativity and independent spirit”?

Again, a somewhat valid question, but one that I’m more than willing to squash. (I’m not sure where either of these qualities comes into the argument of whether or not the student deserves a trip or not, but whatever.) If we think of the most creative and independent spirits of our time, I can make a pretty safe assumption that, in order for them to break the rules, they must learn and master them. Every rapper had a favorite rap song they knew every word to, and wrapped their head around that favorite style until they found their own niche. Same goes for artists, and even teachers. This student needs to learn the rules and understand why we make those rules before he goes off and becomes an independent high school student and eventually college. That’s the difference between someone who’s self-reliant and one who’s a recluse.

Also note that I consider myself rather creative and more often than not allow for creativity and independence in my classroom, but in a constructive and positive manner. We also need to find ways to hone that. The most talented athletes may not always be the most successful, but the most successful athletes have an excellent mix of talent and discipline. Then again, you’d have to have read my blog for more than one post, or actually read the whole post to see that.

Isn’t using a trip or any “escape from school” demeaning the purpose of school itself?

Let’s flip that question on its head then: do you think we should have trips at all then? And if so, then are you taking everyone? Again, just from yesterday’s experience with my students, I have a pretty good idea of what the answers to those questions are. I know how trips often help develop the civil skills of my students, and helps me gauge how much they’ve grown socially as well as academically. When, for instance, I can take them to the park and they can interact with their teachers and fellow students without the confines of the school building, it changes things a little bit. Unless you a) find yourself really uncomfortable with the group of students who you’re trying to take out, 2) your group of students don’t merit getting a trip, especially one on your own dime or 3) are a bit of a hermit / curmudgeon, then I can’t see anyone trying to discredit teachers for taking their students on a class trip.

Then again, I think my reasoning was pretty clear, and for people who insist on playing the devil’s advocate on these questions have to come correct. I’m not asking for the children to be perfect, but here’s the order:

1. He cut class.
2. He begs for trip.
3. I say, “If you cut class again, you don’t get this privilege.”
4. He cuts class again.
5. I decline his invitation.

Done. Respond as you please.

jose, who has a few more trips to go on …


Who’s The Savage?

October 10, 2007

This kid in my school’s about 5’10, Black Latino, raspy voice, and a good 225-235 pounds easily. The first time I ever observed him, I knew he was public enemy #1 in school. Something about hanging out in front of the AP’s office tipped me off early. In my usual cavalier fashion, I nodded my […]

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The Not-So-Reluctant Disciplinarian

August 28, 2007

For any new teacher, I would recommend Gary Rubenstein’s The Reluctant Disciplinarian, a book of one teacher’s journey towards becoming the ultimate disciplinarian. Well, it’s not as fabricated as that, but it’s certainly worth a read. It’s hilarious, and an easy read. More importantly, it reaches a wide audience: it’s mainly for first year teachers, […]

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