luz Archives - The Jose Vilson

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From a Teacher to an Educational Leader

by Jose Vilson on November 18, 2008

in Jose

Luz loved writing about education so much, she decided to give us another nugget of wisdom. Once again, Luz …

The transition began four years when I saw the chaos that was around me in the school I had been working in for six years. Even though it wasn’t always the perfect setting, there was a sense of solidarity and commitment from my colleagues. I had the privilege of having many mentors in said building who took me under their wing and helped to mold me. From them, I learned that as a teacher I had to make sure that my students were my first priority and not the latest mandates imposed upon us by a continuous changing at the district, region, NYCDOE, and state level.

Unfortunately, due to the latter, I had the privilege of meeting many administrators who added a title to their name and which carried no weight because they possessed no said qualifications of leadership. Positions had been assigned due to political connections either at the district or city level. Others had graduated from the District University of Leadership and had earned the 18 credits on paper which were needed to obtain state certification to be a building leader. Last but not least, we also had administrators who graduated from an educational leadership program, a pilot program. Yet, we still had administrators in said building whom had earned their positions by putting in the time, working hard, and their commitment to the kids, and even to themselves.

The school was undergoing a tremendous change with all the requirements we had to meet in order to remove our names from “THAT” list, the new state guidelines, and an unstable leadership. In spite of all this, the majority of the teachers worked together and maintained a semblance of stability for our students. Even though we knew things were very questionable, we also knew we had a job to do. At times, teacher morale was low therefore some of us would rally the troops and provide that moral support in these desperate times. Especially because some veteran teachers that had been teaching over fifteen years suddenly found themselves being observed, written up, threatened with a letter in their files, and felt a certain disrespect by the new administration – those whom had been in the classroom for a minute or two and had not earned their accreditation with the staff.

This was an ongoing battle both at the administrative level and the staff. The established administrators had earned their respect from many of us since not only had they put their time in but had also been teachers themselves. We found ourselves sitting in meetings in which the new administrators did not know about English language learners yet insisted directing the ELA, ESL, and bilingual teachers as to how to do their job. Conversations ranged from what color should the words for our word walls be, the reading assessments kits, weekly grade level meetings, and professional development after school. We heard from the new administrators how one has to create incentives and make them understand the relevance of what they learn.

An example that was shared with us was about a student who had difficulty reading but his incentive was not only the sports car his dad would buy him, but the business he would one day inherit. My colleagues and I sat there in silence trying to make the connection between our students whose reality at the time was the following: 1st and/or 2nd generation American-Latinos, immigrants to this country like their parents, lived in an economically diverse neighborhood, and who were below their respective reading grade level. Did this administrator not realize who our students were? Yet, this same administrator went after teachers whom were veterans and had more combined years of teaching than said person was alive. Another strategic device was for administrators to come into our classrooms with a checklist which consisted of the following: word walls, students’ work, labeled libraries, labeled notebook bins, bulletin boards up-to-date, information posted, and of course to see if we were teaching. It became a constant interruption during instruction that even my students would roll their eyes and have an attitude since we had “Big Brother” (or “Big Sister”) was watching us.

Even though I comprehend and acknowledge that the level of bureaucracy can often interfere with leadership, I do not justify incompetence as being a core requirement like I had personally witnessed in said environment. In order to lead, one does not have to micromanage teachers nor disrespect them and attempt to threaten them by putting a letter in their file because one is demanding respect when it has not been earned. Instead, have conversations with staff members and listen and address their concerns, especially when there is hesitation to try the new “miracle” curriculum.

I am not saying that teachers do not have to sometimes refresh their techniques and learn new approaches but there is finesse as to how this is done. It is easy to target those teachers whom won’t fight back unlike those teachers, whom are known not to do their job for various reasons, yet are still working and earning a paycheck because creating a paper trail is an on-going process. If these teachers are detrimental to the students, then make sure that there is a follow through because mediocrity is not acceptable. There is no need to walk around with a checklist to see if your building is in order since as a leader your vision of what the building and classroom should look like is transparent to everyone; but most importantly, the stakeholders of your school, are also aligned to this vision. It is not an easy task to undertake for those who have decided to embark on the path of educational leadership, yet is very necessary in order to transform our schools, inspire our students, and motivate our teachers.

Luz, who’d love to hear your enlightened opinions about all of this …

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Teaching: By Any Means Necessary

by Jose Vilson on November 6, 2008

in Jose

Malcolm X

This is the first guest post on my site, The Jose Vilson. Here, I’d like to show a little shine to some of my more prolific commenters and readers who may not get the recognition for being the writers and thought-provokers in my circle. Without any further adieu, I present Luz.

I have sat in countless meetings these past nine years as an educator. The topics have ranged from the new state regulations for our schools, the [NYC] Chancellor’s new policies, the curriculum which will solve all our problems, school culture, classroom management, discipline problems, and of course the bitching and gripping sessions, which never seem to astound me. In all said meetings, one of the things I find the most disturbing is the lack of reflection which exists among my colleagues and the administration officials. Questions are posed and issues are brought forward yet some of the on-going responses have become the following:

  • “I can’t do this in my classroom because of the pacing calendar.”
  • “These kids don’t have any basic skills.”
  • “I don’t have support from the administration.”
  • “I don’t have materials.”
  • Due to the budget cuts, I don’t have enough supplies.”

I am not saying that the statements above are not valid because they are and sometimes have a tremendous impact in our everyday reality in the classrooms. But the unanswered question which I not only formulate but articulate is,

How can I provide my students a quality education in spite of all the obstacles we face in our schools?”

When I share my thinking with others, I often wish I could videotape the facial expressions and the commentaries which emerge from my respective colleagues. It’s as if I haven’t read or comprehended the unspoken teacher manual for many, “This is How Things Are, So Don’t Go and Try to Change Them.” I find it extremely disturbing to hear in a group full of professionals whom are educated and minimally possess a master’s degree, how the system is set up for our kids to fail. Since we already know that this might be the hidden agenda, why don’t we take this knowledge and flip the script? Why should we be pawns in this game of give and take, especially when many of us profess to “love teaching?” Do we really?

Or has it become easy to be part of a system which has so many flaws and allots for the incompetent to get paid while reading a newspaper, have paid summer months off, and protect them from being fired. How does one really get fired from the NYCBOE? Do teachers get fired if they don’t write lesson plans? Do teachers get fired if they use the same lessons they have taught for the past ten years? Do teachers get fired for having low expectations for their students? Do teachers get fired for being prejudiced towards students due to their socio-economic class stature? Do teachers get fired for arriving late to class every day? Do teachers get fired for drinking on the job?

It is very difficult to be part of meetings in which I feel nothing gets accomplished because many of my colleagues believe that this time is needed for a bitch fest. I agree that we need to share and vent our frustrations because God knows that our families and loved ones are tired of hearing the stories. Who else can better understand and sympathize with our plight? Only a teacher can fully understand the nuances of our careers. When do we look at each other and actually bring honesty into the conversation? Almost rarely. After all how many of us feel comfortable asking a teacher with less experience to share some of the innovative ideas in her/his classroom? How many of us admit that we struggle with the different components of our lesson planning and/or execution of it? How many of us accept and admit that our lessons are not differentiated for the learners in our classrooms? How many of us seek alternative professional development training to enhance our instruction? How many of us reflect on our practice and are honest about what works and what doesn’t ?

Our students are diverse in many ways. We cannot measure our students in the same manner the state does because we actually have to incorporate the human factor which they do not. Therefore I struggle when I hear my colleagues claiming to love and give their students the best of themselves while the expectations they have for them are low. There are circumstances outside of the school which affect our students’ learning and motivation. Do we pity these students or teach them how to be resilient and fight back? Our students should not be settling to just get by and/or barely pass in our respective classes. They should be encouraged to step forward and expect more of themselves. When we say that we care about students, our actions will back up this blanket statement. Our actions will exemplify our commitment to their educational success because we will not tolerate excuses. The goal is for our students to modify their thinking from being a passive learner to an active learner.

When do we, as educators, change our thinking from being a victim to being a survivor in this professional realm? We don’t have the luxury of always finding excuses as to why things cannot get accomplished. Our task is to teach “by any means necessary.”

luz, who’s as gangsta in real life as she is in writing.

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