#iknowateacher Archives - The Jose Vilson


The whole premise of some meetings is to listen to the person speak ad nauseam about the topic of their choice with little regard for others’ opinions. It happens all across America in offices where voice only matters insofar as the first one has first, second, and third say. Words to some serve as a beat down into acquiescence rather than inspiration to act onward. In such meetings, the most powerful person is always the one who puts his index fingers on his lips, takes a deep breath, waits until the speaker is done, and says, “Yea, I get that, but you’re wrong, and here’s why.”

That’s why I admire my former math coach. All praise is due to my first math assistant principal and first math coach, but, during his years at my school, I learned lots about how to handle the malcontents of the world. Some people have this belief that they don’t have time to waste, so they grow impatient and frustrated with those who they believe take up too much of their time. They cut people off, don’t want to deal with people, and take too many comments at face value. Others don’t really care for how much time they waste because they get to occupy whatever time they have selfishly, as if the person listening doesn’t have anything else to do but listen to the madness.

This math coach thought different.

I met him as an F-status staff member, meaning he was considered retired but wanted to work to fill in a void or need. He enjoyed math so much, he took up every opportunity to prove why numbers worked or why the tasks in front of him weren’t rigorous enough. His intellect was often superior to the rest of us, though he didn’t let many of us on until he got into heated discussions. Best of all, he let out a few curse words just for emphasis.

Like bullshit.

He imparted a few lessons about leading that I didn’t understand until he left with little fanfare. While he knew his role within the school, he always asked us to push our thinking so the kids could, too. We’d say it’s too hard for them; he said, “Well, this is math.” We’d say this is going to take a lot of differentiation; he said, “So?” We’d say “How does that even work?”; he’d pause for a split second then say, “I don’t know, you tell me.” He’d smirk, wondering about the wide range of mathematical knowledge in the room.

It’s not that he didn’t care; it’s that he cared enough to ask us to step it up. He didn’t consider anyone his superior until his checks got signed, and was always up for a good discussion. I know a teacher who became my teacher without having ever realizing it. Now that he’s officially retired for good, he’s right, and here’s why.

Mr. Vilson, who knows a teacher who was far too honest with fellow staff members at his school today …


Last night, I had the privilege of attending City College of New York’s Education Alumni Annual Awards Dinner. Even though I am an esteemed alum of the College, I was actually attending on behalf of my good friend Zuleika Martinez, social studies teacher, teacher leader, and aspiring superstar at an alternative high school in Queens. Last night, watching her receive an award was probably the highlight of my month. If anyone deserves an award for their tireless efforts, it’s my faux-big-sister and a proud educator.

What most people don’t know about Zuleika is that she’s one of the reasons I survived my first year. She was my social studies counterpart next door to my classroom. Sharing an 8th grade class assured that I would always have her around, even when I least expected it. She was also every bit my opposite during that first year: organized, structured, focused, experienced, and armed with serious classroom management skills.

But she was also better than me in another respect: she had much more heart.

She loved her profession and the kids she serviced more than I could have at that point, even if she didn’t emote that to them. The attention and care she put into every lesson was evident the minute you walked past any of her classrooms, and the school had to respect that, if not adore her. After she left on to bigger and better things, I was reminded why she was great: there was one less classroom where I could recommend anyone and everyone to walk into where I knew there’d be great teaching going on. It’s no diss on my school, but the caliber of a teacher who, for 180 days, gave you every drop of their energy for the profession is inspiring for us mere mortals.

Thus, watching her professor laud her personally while ignoring the pre-printed biography in our programs, I felt so proud for this CCNY Teacher of the Year. I know I’m not good with showing my appreciation for others’ contributions to my life in person, but I hope this serves as testament that #iknowateacher who made me want to be better.

Thanks, Ms. Martinez.

Jose, who wonders if you know a teacher, too …

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