students Archives - The Jose Vilson



Confession: I didn’t get a chance to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom before taking my students.

Confession #2: My kids wouldn’t have gone to see it either if I didn’t bring them myself.

Here’s the thing about auto-bio pics that people don’t want to say, but will readily admit: if our youth don’t get a sense of why something or someone is important, they won’t pay attention to it.

Even before Mandela’s passing, I was excited to hear Idris Elba play Mandela, if only because we sanitize the image of civil rights leaders all the time, and we ought not to. If anything, we should find ways to make those “miracles” more concrete for the people. It’s important for all of us to understand people as multi-dimensional, even the people many of us have proclaimed as heroes. The stains and dents make the statues more real.

Just as I started planning for the trip, he passed. For better or worse, the news on him turned on a switch for my kids. “The guy who Mr. Vilson just talked about” became “the famous guy who passed away and was on the news last night.”

Without a movie like Mandela, I have a harder time helping students visualize his importance. Fortunately for us, we won a free trip to go courtesy of Share My Lesson (check out these lessons too), the AFT, and the Weinstein Company, and so I took all the students I could on the trip. They had no idea what the movie was save for the few who had already done some research beforehand.

After coming out of the movie, most of them started making connections to the readings in their classes, specifically To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet, my draw to the movie wasn’t necessarily academic reasons. It’s to help plant the seed in students that might spark a thought. The movie does a good job of laying out his legacy in such a way that doesn’t pretend sainthood, yet asks us to look at the mountain of a man for all his flaws.

Most of my kids thought it was good, and appreciated being taken to see it. Someone had to. Rather, I had to.


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Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure

Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure

Confession: I had the best time yesterday hanging with my students at Six Flags Great Adventure for their senior trip.

From discovering that Adventure Time is my new favorite show (and I ain’t even know it) to testing out my intestinal fortitude (just fine for now, thank you very much), I got to see a side of my students I rarely get to see. The heights of the Kingda Ka and twists of Batman The Ride shook their false bravado and nonchalance they put on at school. In one instance, a couple of my more nervous girls went immediately to the Kingda Ka while most of my boys stayed behind.

Right then, I wish we had this roller coaster all along.

Having a rapport with students often demands that we pull back our actual selves, focusing instead on our roles as “warm demanders.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but every so often, we need spaces where we can interact aside from academics. In no way do I advocate for lower expectations for students. Rather, I’m suggesting that I’m still trying to find the balance between high expectations for them as students and high expectations for all of us as people.

Yesterday, when a few of my students feared getting up this green giant, I took my usual technique with math and said, “Guys, this is light work.” They didn’t find it so easy. Some hyperventilated. Others tried to back out until their friends pulled them back in. One of them said she needed me to sit next to her on the ride and not move too much. I tell them it’s 30 seconds for the entire ride. They’re doubting it, but they’ve counted every ride before them and each of them hit 30 seconds until they return.

When it’s our turn, they’re super-quiet. I try to keep a straight face, but the G-force pushed my face back and I looked like a villain out of Dick Tracy. A meme would ensue shortly thereafter. When we finished the ride, I cracked a wry smile at the survivors. They waited half an hour, but thanked me.

Shortly thereafter, I tweeted:

As much as I’ve taught them, my only regret is that I didn’t remind myself that I’m learning from them too.



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Chris Rock as Rufus in Dogma on Ideas

Chris Rock as Rufus in Dogma on Ideas

A few notes:

How did we in the teacher unions create MichelleRhee? We were too intransigent, says Merrow. If we only had gone along with the corporate agenda of charter schools, testing everything that breathes, linking student test scores to teacher performance evaluations and doing away with tenure and seniority then we wouldn’t have created MichelleRhee. The weird thing is that I think we did go along with all those things.

Didn’t we?

- Fred Klonsky, on John Merrow’s hypothesis that it was partly the unions’ fault Michelle Rhee became so big. As if.


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A Suspension of Time and School

March 5, 2013 Mr. Vilson
Empty Chair

You weren’t supposed to come back. Even though you were on our school’s roster, rumor had it that your guardian put you in a different school, and you’d no longer half-bounce into my class, calling one of your friends a “nigga-what-the-fuck” for something they allegedly did to you. Before you came back, you only knew […]

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Don’t Let Me Down [On Opening Up When Things Go Down]

October 9, 2012 Mr. Vilson

You’re not supposed to know when your student is this close to suicide. You get up in front of the classroom, get students started on their work, and get into the routine. Whether the routine comes from you or them matters little. The room buzzes for a while as they sit, but when the notebooks […]

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A Whole Month Left (A Freewrite)

May 27, 2012 Jose

“You’re going to miss us!” “Yes, I’m going to miss bothering the heck out of you!” I mean, why do students think we’re actually going to spend our off time thinking about them? Except when we do. Like now. There’s only a month left before we usher them on to their next stations in life […]

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