steve perry Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Honesty In The Time Of Professionalism

by Jose Vilson on May 20, 2013

in Jose

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan

In this economy, everyone’s scared to lose their jobs.

Leaders often say they want feedback and honesty, but only if it fits their beliefs about the reality they’ve interpreted. For instance, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently tweeted this:


I laughed and replied:


Perhaps he does. Perhaps he believes that the schools his administration created in Chicago mattered a lot for the most impoverished kids. Perhaps he thinks charter schools offer a way to circumvent obtrusive localities that want to stall innovation. Perhaps he thinks Race To The Top shakes districts into following an agenda. He could have the best intentions in mind, and could see himself as helping continue the legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education. Perhaps he read my tweet, too, and decided to rethink how he approaches this thing he calls “listening to teachers.”

I doubt it. All of it.

Sadly, I have little (read: no) faith in our current administration’s policies, irrespective of how much they say they appreciate educators, and want for the children. The reform path offers little solutions that interest me and the thousands of American educators trying to make a difference in our children’s lives.  I have a few more anti-reform pro-child things to tell you, most of them documented here.

What often separates the message, however, is the source. By source, I mean, when people come out for or against a position, do they do it from a place of love and care or hate and derision? Do they say things because they have an honest belief in making things better or do they have an ulterior motive in their positions?

We have people like Michelle Rhee who takes shots at National Education Association, The American Federation of Teachers, and  Occupy The DOE and other education activists without actually talking about what her organization, StudentsLast, does against the public good. Dr. Steve Perry, another person who sees himself as the solution and not a part of it, thinks a huge lit review is the same as a dissertation for his doctorate. The mainstream media, book publishers, celebrities, and venture capitalists treat them as darlings, but people on the ground have grown more skeptical as the days go by.

Sometimes, though, I fear that people on “my” side of things have similar ambitions. Some questions to ask:

  • Do we emphasize the word “teacher” or “leader” in teacher-leader?
  • Do we talk down to teachers and tell them how they should approach their jobs when they haven’t done it themselves?
  • Do we believe the way to have a bigger voice is to get a doctorate?

In no way do I seek purity in ideology, but I do take issue when people see their positions solely as a means for self-advancement. The honesty I often seek comes from a source of love, a source of restoration, and getting to a place where all children have equitable conditions for academic (and personal) success. College and career readiness sounds hollow in light of creating conditions for better people.

The challenge for us is, really, how do we continue to do this without feeling like we could lose our jobs for this? Or vex our colleagues with this?


Some of you might be asking, “But Jose, isn’t your data in the public view? Aren’t you afraid that your job is on the line somehow?” Sure. On Saturday, after seeing the report in the New York Post, I started to see the scores of my fellow teachers in the building and thinking, “This can’t be life.” Thus, Biggie’s Ready to Die played in heavy rotation on my iPod while I thought of ways to self-sooth, as if the deluge of misinformation would eat away of my healthy status as a contributing member of the education community. Without my fiancee’s intervention, I’d have a harder time jumping out of the temporary funk.

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t happy that the New York Post had published this erroneous data so liberally (see what I did there?). It’s par for course for a rag that consistently publishes soft porn and racist cartoons and puts hundreds of their papers at the doorsteps of our schools. Their nerve is only surpassed by an administration that shouldn’t have created the reports to start. Thus, it’s only right that the same Post decided to publicly humiliate a teacher with no rhyme or reason, possibly for their own shits and giggles.

Disclaimer: Here are five quick reasons why you shouldn’t believe any of it (besides the ones I stated on Thursday.)

Never mind that. You came to see some sort of testimonial on these numbers.

I’m leery about providing too many details on that here. On the way back from getting some Rockports for my teacher-weary feet, I realized something. If these scores have me judged against my peers of similar experience and demographics, I have some news for them: half my peers have already left the profession. Indeed, a third of my peers left by the first couple of years, and exactly half my peers left two years ago. In my seventh year, my peers have started to look for corporate jobs, jobs in third party vendors, or administration. Out of those of us who are left, we probably see our jobs as careers. These is the set of professional teachers that will teach children for the next couple of decades (2030, even).

How can we expect teachers to want to stay in a profession that doesn’t want to respect them or want them to be successful by a fair measure?

Why would you judge me on a fairer measure than a snapshot, knowing full well that only a third of my students have been taken into account for the scores? Why would you get at me so hard after I just started teaching and don’t believe in drilling my students with how to fill in bubbles? Why would you accost me with this after knowing I teach students who have learning disabilities, have special accommodations for learning, speak limited English, and have a myriad of issues I don’t excuse, but can’t control? If you really want your best and passionate teachers in the classrooms where we need them most, why humiliate the only teachers who would jump headfirst into this situations?

While certain people are in the business of education, I’m actually educating. Huge difference.

But people like Steve Perry or any of his acolytes might reprimand me by saying I’m just an adult looking out for my own job rather than educating youth. Sure, we’re speaking to the media, organizing with (and without) our union, developing our own blogs and radio stations, learning about social media, and asking for a contract (NYC teachers are working without one right now). Yet, we’re also about our kids. There is no contradiction there. Since so much of our job entails sacrifice, don’t we deserve the ability to negotiate some terms about our job?

Because that’s what professionals do.

Before the All Star Game started, Richard Branson asked Kobe Bryant about success in the latest installment of the “Kobe System” commercial series. Branson asserts that he had already achieved success at success. He had been underwater, in space, and everywhere in between, to which Kobe said, “You’re welcome.” Perplexed, Branson then asks, “What comes next? What’s after success at success?” Naturally, Kobe explains that there is a success at success at success. Disappointed in himself, Branson then says, “You’re right, I haven’t achieved that.” No matter where teachers are in the spectrum of success, we always want to do our jobs better and find the next level of success. Even if all of our students do well, we want to see if there’s another level where they can repeat that success.

In other words, we’re professionals. We don’t need the Post up our asses trying to find what drives us. I’ve only now begun to succeed.

Mr. Vilson, who can’t wait to get back to class tomorrow, despite myself …