school Archives - The Jose Vilson


Tim Howard, Goalkeeper

An excerpt from my widely-distributed Edutopia article on race:

1. Discomfort is the Starting Point, Not the End Goal

Discussions about big ideas like race, religion and politics necessitate some discomfort. By discomfort, I mean that people who participate in the discussion have a degree of soul-searching and reassessment about their own perceptions and biases. For instance, does one person find that their opinions get listened to more readily than those of certain school colleagues? Do they always sit with people of similar interests, or does it go deeper than that? How often do they interact with people that don’t look like them or speak like them? As long as people begin with a clear understanding that the discussion won’t start off with warm, fuzzy feelings, then the next few steps become easier.

Read and read again. Like. Share. Use in your discussions. Thank you.

Jose, who doesn’t shy away from the tough discussions in spaces where others do …



May 31, 2012

Dear disciplinarians and other enforcers within our school communities,

Please note: you’re trying to keep kids in school, not keep them out of it.

Let me first admit my own biases in this topic, of which I have a couple. As a teacher, I readily admit that I can reasonably reach 90% of my given class, given that my classes aren’t considered “magnet” or “gifted and talented” by most academic measures. I tend to get the classes people forget, the ones that have to fend for themselves in the swarm of adult confusion, the ones that no one human being can nurture at one time. The other 10% simply fall through the cracks for reasons I haven’t comprehended yet. I always blame myself, but it could be an issue between us.

There’s a difference between a child being my student and being someone’s child.

While it’s true that academically, I have to seek ways to motivate them (some I nudge harder than others), I don’t interact with students to embarrass them or show them I’m the top dog. That’s what scares me about some of the people I see and hear schooling our children. They think that just because they have a certain title or station in life that they can talk to kids a certain way.

Let me take this one step further: you’re not in the business of prepping kids for jail time. When you antagonize students just to get them out of the school and threatening to call police, you’re asking for them to self-identify as criminals. When you give a child a huge punishment for a minor offense, you’re telling them that schools and thus life can’t be fair. When you yell at a child in the middle of a test or quiz while disrupting everyone else from When you even give a look to a child for no real basis trying to initiate a reaction, you’re telling them that they have to be on the defensive at all times, even in a supposedly safe environment.

I won’t even get into the topic of metal detectors here, but looking at a child and instinctively pushing him towards jail does you no favors.

Instead, try pulling a student aside without the humiliation of everyone else knowing. Try getting to know the kids that do well, volunteer a lot, and try hard in their studies. Try working with adults in the building who do have a good relationship with the child and, wherever possible, emulate those behaviors. If the teacher constantly sends someone to you who you know can do better, see if the child needs help adjusting to that classroom or give the teacher some management tips for that child.

On my end, it’s great to have another adult who helps enforce things like uniform policy and excessively disruptive behavior, but I know I have to deal with the majority of it on my own. I also don’t think I need to send students out of the classroom when my primary purpose in the building is to ensure that my children learn. I couldn’t care less whether the student has on shorts and a durag or a three-piece suit, I will teach him or her.

Because as hard as I try to push my students, they understand I’m a teacher, not a prison guard. It’s also why I advocate for rehabilitation of prisoners, not severe punishment. Same with our kids.

Provoke change in the system.

Jose, who kept it way real …


Senator Bernie Sanders

On Friday, I came back from another CoCoLoco meeting in which someone suggested I become an administrator (for the umpteenth time) because I was asked to be a table leader even though I had no idea I was leading the table until my name was put at the top of a name chart at an 8th grade table … and proceeded to lead it well. Fair enough, but there’s no way I can be an administrator, even if I know how to get people re-focused on a task and actually come appropriately dressed for a professional development day.

After the meeting, I came home to the news that Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent socialist from Vermont, was in his 5th hour of speaking to a mostly empty chamber about the corrupt calamity that is Barack Obama and the GOP leaders’ tax plan “compromise,” which includes the extension of unemployment benefits but also includes the extension of the previous president’s affluent-appeasing tax cuts. I watched the grand spectacle of him reading letter after letter about the tax compromise, him wondering out loud how this should help our least fortunate Americans, him detailing the extreme economic inequalities, him dissecting case after case of families barely able to put food on their tables and leave lights on but having to pay more in taxes percentage-wise than the multi-millionaires and billionaires whose only worry includes whether they’ll be wearing a blue tie or a black tie to work the next day.

It’s through that lens that I view how a school runs. Irrespective of what people might think about the brick-and-mortar buildings that speckle any town’s landscape, everyone in the building matters, from the custodian who cleans up the leaves in front of the building in the morning to the principal whose vision and work keeps the school in line. Often, the talk in district offices (that trickles into school offices) is that these little things don’t matter. They focus far too much on the decor of instruction (I mean, does it look like kids are learning?) and the appearance of rigor and calm in a school instead of the relationships between students, teachers, parents, and everyone else involved that make a school efficiently.

For example, if I ever became an administrator, I couldn’t ever see myself as a closed-door principal. I’d welcome having parents and students, and frankly, they’d know my name by first week of school, if not before they even stepped into the building. I’d probably ask teachers to be mindful of hallways and protocol for sending kids to the dean’s office. I’d probably have my finger dipped in every critical situation within the school, from the parent getting loud with teachers to the teacher still reading the newspaper or their phone in the middle of class. I’d probably get up and help with some things myself if I wasn’t busy.

I mean, everyone matters, right? All the teachers everyone leaves alone, the assistant principals and deans who do the dirty work when others don’t want to, the person who programs schedules and the secretaries who address attendance, and the random people who, upon seeing a situation, handle it themselves even when they know it’s going to stir problems later on. The guidance counselor who pull a frustrated kid from a class and calm her down, the PTA president or coordinator who rallies parents around a central issue that matters to the school environment and the director of a floor that doesn’t have a license but was put there out of necessity all keep the ride smooth for the passenger, even when the principal’s holding the gas pedal at 100mph.

Schools don’t just run. Things rarely ever just get done.

People work behind the scenes to ensure that schools run. Just because we don’t see people working on something doesn’t mean they’re not. If it’s a good school, chances are, there’s something about what each person does that eventually contributes to the environment. Part of that is Bernie Sanders’ point: we need to work on infrastructure and the sorts of things that make the least and neediest of our people better. It’s not just a poverty of economics, but a poverty of ethics.

When schools take on that model, the poverty only expands.

Jose, who never has to say “I said it” anymore. People just know.