high school Archives - The Jose Vilson

high school

I Wouldn’t Take That Shit

by Jose Vilson on October 31, 2011

in Jose

What Now, Sucker?

Back in my 8th grade social studies class, our teacher Mr. McIntyre used to always say, “Well, it’s much better to be pissed off than pissed on.” I laughed. No way in hell did I want to be pissed on, and the image made me gag harder than I did over watching hours upon hours of Real Housewives with Basketball Intentions or whatever over-privileged clan of women I’m seeing with my fiancee. I’d much rather get really angry because chances are, that’ll go away much more readily than the scent of human remains on my person.

He just never answered what happens when you’re both pissed off and pissed on.

Such is the case with the Science Skills Center High School in Brooklyn, NY, where only the nurse’s office had an open bathroom for the student. For those unfamiliar with the architecture of NYC urban high schools, they’re humungous with no lack for toilets. The school building this particular high school occupies has (at least) 6 functioning stories. Rudimentary amongst students needs are clean bathrooms that are easily accessible and available for them. I understand this is quite obvious for those of us with even half a conscience. Based on the signatures of more than 200 students on a petition for more bathrooms, that’s obviously not on their consciousness either.

What’s more, the administrator is Black. Whoa boy. One might think that having said administrator might make the person more proactive with dealing with such an issue, or at least bring transparency for all parties involved. However, it seems quite the opposite. The school reports that the school had to cut the school aide who used to supervise the bathrooms, so they couldn’t keep those bathrooms open. While plausible because of the recent issues they had been having with boys fighting in the bathrooms, it should prevent the majority from using a facility that’s perfectly functioning.

I didn’t want to have to say it, but it also reminds me that overseers come in all shapes and sizes. Rather than hire principals to do the work of the people, bosses force them to do a certain type of work that maintains the status quo while deflecting any thoughts about racism, sexism, or classism. Further, administrators get easily get replaced by the next one to continue the work, streamlining the disenfranchisement of our students for generation upon generation. (Some, like Dr. Steve Perry, will readily throw their own people under the bus just so they look tough in front of their high-ranking friends, but that’s another story.)

Students already feel a certain way when they’re consistently ostracized, underfunded, overtested, underserved, overinvestigated, undermined, and misunderstood. Now, their school building won’t even let them use the bathroom. Sure they didn’t care much before, but now they certainly don’t give a shit. I wouldn’t either.

Mr. Vilson, who said it …

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Yes, I Do Want You To Explain It To Them

by Jose Vilson on December 14, 2010

in Jose

The Manhattan Guardian

Having students for three years straight would make anyone feel like a parent to their group of students. It’s the way I feel with my students who graduated last year, as well as the other group that I had for two consecutive years. After a while, they start taking on bits of you that you wouldn’t realize: the wise cracks, the sarcasm, the appropriate measured rebellion against administration, the idea of family and team. Not sure if that bond has translated for them in their present high schools, but I’m almost certain many of the boys and girls still stay together and keep in touch via different social media.

As is usually the case, many of them either see me in the street or come directly to my school. Almost everyone has given the “MR. VILSON!” salute. Four of my boys almost stopped traffic in the middle of Dyckman St. to run after me and salute me. One of my students just stopped, didn’t know what to do, and proceeded to hug me sheepishly (endearing really). One of them even ran by one of their former teachers to say hello. Reactions like that are what many teachers appreciate about their job. Yes, a decent paycheck is nice, but making an impact in a person’s life is equally, if not more, important.

No one remembers why two of three angles in an isosceles triangle have to be of equal measure, but they do remember the time you took to explain it carefully until they got it.

That’s where many of my students get annoyed, and eventually fail. As bright as they are, some teachers don’t think it’s their job to explain their material carefully, or at least put the students in the direction of understanding. Some people don’t want to motivate my students to do better, even when they secretly yearn for higher expectations. Some teachers think, because it’s a high school job, they don’t have to do anything but deliver the instruction; if students choose to drop out, then that’s on them, and the ones who deserve to make it eventually will.

All my students come to me with the same complaint: “Mr. Vilson, they don’t really explain anything. I mean, look at this!” showing me a worksheet that probably has nothing to do with the work they had to do in the classroom. At some point in the conversation with the students, I ask them the usually roll of questions, “Do you do your homework? Do you ask them for help after school and during class? Do you bring your textbook? Do you take vodka shots before every quadratic equation like I do? Do you care enough?”

The answer usually falls in the answer of “I’ve done as much as I could, and all the teacher does is yell or push me away. It’s like I don’t have a voice.” Frustration lines the lips of many of those students. As someone who had them for three consecutive years, I also tried to find fault within myself. Did I make them used to math a certain way for so long that they were unprepared to someone else’s style? Did I need to be more rigorous so they could build a stronger armor once they hit the high school scene? Did I raise their confidence too high while preaching the merits of making it past high school and into college?

I think a lot.

I contemplated some of those factors on the A train, in between naps from 125th to 59th, wondering if somehow the consistency of my teaching made this crop of students ill-prepared for the fast pace and often callous approach of the high school environment. Then, I thought about how, frankly, I don’t know how to teach any other way. I like building strong relationships with my students. I loved their distinct avant-garde approach to school. When others in the school forgot about the class, I made them feel special. When others held a low expectation for them, I kept pushing to raise it. When others thought it was OK to treat them like dirt just to intimidate them, I gave second chances and apologized when I got out of hand.

I became a parent.

So yes, if you’re one of my former students’ teachers, I do want you to explain “it” to them. You don’t have to be me, but be the best you. That’s all I could do.

Mr. V, even when I don’t realize it.

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