graduation Archives - The Jose Vilson


A Thought On Graduations As A Whole

by Jose Vilson on June 24, 2013

in Mr. Vilson

Isaiah Mustafa in Old Spice Commercial

Isaiah Mustafa in Old Spice Commercial

A list of the common complaints about graduations from K-12:

  • Not everyone deserves to graduate.

A more detailed subset of that list:

  • At this rate, should we have to make special accommodations for our kids when we’re trying to raise the rigor of all curricula?
  • Better yet, can everyone just get an intervention plan so we can stop lying to ourselves that every student who graduates gets the same criteria?
  • If the student is late and / or absent more than 70% of the time, must they be promoted?
  • If so, what does that say about the value of our diplomas?
  • How many of the kids who’ve openly defied class rules find their way across the stage, despite our most earnest attempts at assuring they don’t?

This and more questions always taint the graduation some. Teachers all over the country have pondered this, and wondered aloud why it seems, for some, that graduation isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

I honestly don’t know how to answer the question, but if ever asked, I always say, “Just because they’re all on the same boat doesn’t mean they’re all going to the same destination.”

For the handful of kids who we believe don’t deserve to cross the stage, we often have many more who do, who tried their best to achieve, and earned every bit of the pomp and circumstance. In our line of work, we have to deal with the adult nonsense far too much, and that includes the ways in which we promote children to the next level.

The only comfort is that perhaps “middle school” was a phase, and that separation from their friends would actually help them see themselves as better students. Many times, eighth graders get into high school and find themselves academically, and if that’s so for some of our children, that’s great.

In the meantime, let’s not ruin it for those who we rarely talk about. They deserve our praise and congratulations. Besides, we’re on this boat for the long haul.

Mr. Vilson


7,000 Children Left Behind

by Jose Vilson on August 6, 2012

in Jose

A couple of weeks back, newspapers across the city reported that around 7,000 students were wrongly sent to summer school because of their ELA or math test scores. I’m almost certain a few of those include my own (former) students.

For those of you who don’t know the inner workings of how these officials make their decisions, the ELA and Math tests have two basic elements: the multiple choice and the extended response. The multiple choice questions are (obviously) given a different weight than the extended response, but, because the test keeps changing on us, it’s hard to determine off-hand whether the student actually passed the whole test based on the multiple choice section.

That’s exactly what the state officials do, much to the chagrin of those of us who have to face the students.

When students get their summer school letters, they’re told on the spot whether the recommendation was based on classroom grades or the test grades. As quickly as teachers from certain districts try to grade their assigned exams, the entire process can take a couple of months to really get the score for these exams. Most teachers I know are OK with students getting the letter based on the grades they’ve gotten in class because a) there’s often accompanying evidence (or lack thereof) and b) we have a few people who can speak to the student’s mastery, including administration and parent coordinators. However, the test is trickier because we often have to follow a company line like: “Sorry your child didn’t pass the test. We don’t have anything to do with that, and it’s up to the city or state to determine if your child has mastered the grade material.”

I’ve always hated the company line, and this news only validated my original thoughts.

Even though this adds to a growing list of defeats and push-backs against the testing-as-accountability argument, it hasn’t gotten the national attention I believe it deserves. Now, the Post reports that the city will roll out make-up ceremonies for 1,200 of those students, but it’s far too late. They not only messed up the crowning achievement for these students, they overemphasized the importance of a three-hour long survey. We ought to continue holding our leaders accountable for letting such a farce pass through, but now we should give pause to some of the complicit behaviors we as teachers took in not working hand-in-hand with parents to disseminate information about the 7,000.

The city might have gotten a No Child Left Behind waiver, but 7,000 children still wouldn’t know that.



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 …