teachers Archives - The Jose Vilson


US First Lady Michelle Obama

US First Lady Michelle Obama

Every time someone says something, anything, about teachers, without fail, a naysayer always nags how it’s a conspiracy against teachers as a whole. For instance, a recent commercial about the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum started with a father asking his boy, “You like your teachers this year?” to which the boy replied, “Sure.” Some took that as a coordinated effort by Major League Baseball, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and all their plutocrat friends to diminish the teaching profession.

Really? Isn’t this rather typical banter between parents and their middle school children?

It gets worse when issues of race and class get involved. Take, for instance, this bit by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, in a commencement address at Dillard University:

So my mother volunteered at my school — helping out every day in the front office, making sure our teachers were doing their jobs, holding their feet to the fire if she thought they were falling short. I’d walk by the office and there she’d be. (Laughter.) I’d leave class to go to the bathroom, there she’d be again, roaming the halls, looking in the classrooms. And of course, as a kid, I have to say, that was a bit mortifying, having your mother at school all the time.

But looking back, I have no doubt that my classmates and I got a better education because she was looking over those teachers’ shoulders. (Applause.) You see, my mom was not a teacher or a principal or a school board member. But when it came to education, she had that hunger. So she believed that our education was very much her business.

Some folks were outraged by the comments, as if she meant that she would want hundreds of parents swarming the schools, checking to see if their kids were learning something instead of trusting the experts, experts now being the teachers. Actually, the speech reveals something deeper than that, an issue that I not only highlight in my book (see: “Negotiating My Own Skin” and “What Happened”), but that Mia McKenzie deftly does in today’s piece “The White Teachers I Wish I Never Had.” She writes:

The thing is, Ms. McMahon should have known better. She didn’t because white teachers then, and most now, aren’t required to have any analysis of systems of white supremacy or anti-Blackness, and their own complicity in both, before they enter classrooms to teach Black children, some of whom will be introduced to those realities by the behavior of these white teachers. Having done little or none of the necessary work required to examine their complicity, what gives these teachers the right to teach our children? How have they earned the privilege of being such an influential figure in a Black child’s life? Why do we grant them access to the minds of our vulnerable youth, who will already have to face so much racism in the world? I’m 38 and I’m still regularly traumatized by my interactions with blatantly racist, and ‘well-meaning’ but still racist white people. The same is true for all of the Black adults I know. So, how can our children possibly be ok? They can’t be. They’re not.

Truth be told, plenty of people of color are frustrated with our education system, regardless of whether we call it charter, public, or private. Often, the very “well-meaning” teachers who stand in front of our children are also agents for the system, and sometimes work as a cog in said system.

In other words, do teachers come into teaching as a passion, a love, a paying forward or as a job, a step in a ladder towards something “greater?”

This also applies to administrators, superintendents, and others up the chain of command. Do they see themselves as perpetuating a system of inequity and covert oppression or as change agents? Does the system swallow their optimism and hope whole or are there leftovers for the next fight?

It’s OK to double down on how great a teacher you are, how you care about the kids, and how you tear up whenever you watch a teacher movie because that teacher is so like you. It’s quite another to take a hard look in the mirror, or better yet, ask the kids whether you’ve served them well. In most cases, kids are your most important mirror because they’re free enough from our niceties to tell us whether they’re learning.

We need to learn how to embrace critique, especially when it concerns our most marginalized students. We do ourselves no favors by insisting on disregarding racism within our schools, in our conferences, and in our institutions.

We can simultaneously acknowledge that, even though the tenor is a bit better, teachers generally get a bad rap, with their unions, summers off, and irregular schedules. Which should make anyone wonder why a male-dominated government would concern itself with coming after a woman-dominated profession. (Actually, don’t.)

As often as I hear teacher-bashing stories, I hear stories of disgruntled (and rightly so!) parents who wish their child’s teacher wouldn’t stand behind a Paul Tough book or a Sir Ken Robinson lecture whenever the parent questions whether the child is learning. I hear of teachers who always complain about parent involvement, but don’t make themselves available when it comes to conversations about pedagogy. I hear of teachers who, especially in predominantly white institutions, throw kids to the back of the classroom and continually ostracize them in both grades and person. I hear of teachers calling kids trash and less than nothing.

But if you’re not willing to even have the race conversation, then maybe your feet ought to feel a little hotter …


photo c/o


On Teachers Writing Books (Myself Included) [CTQ]

by Jose Vilson on October 15, 2013

in Mr. Vilson

Deborah Meier, Mission Hill

Deborah Meier, Mission Hill

First, let me thank you for my support of my first solo project This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Rice, Class, and Education. I’m already seeing the uptick in pre-orders, and for that, I’m already appreciative. You have a few ways to connect with the experience, so be on the lookout for more as we finish up our edits.

Secondly, let me speak more broadly on educators writing books, and not just books about practice:

The last thing I’d want is for a teacher to think their work might get them fired. I must be nuts.

I have this wild belief that, simmering underneath our longform pieces, our emotional posts, and our great diatribes about what happened in school. Thus, those of us with a gift need to put their words in even longer form: the book. Special shout-out to Dan Brown (the teacher), Deborah Meier, Bill Ayers, and Frank McCourt, but teacher writers need more cache when it comes to our stories, and the ways in which those stories inspire others to teach.

To read more, click here. Share and comment on who you’d like to see write a book. Thanks again!

Mr. Vilson

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Pay Teachers

Pay Teachers

Do you want to make money as a teacher? Of course you do.

You know how hard it is to make money as a teacher? We already work enough unpaid hours grading papers, calling parents, and writing lesson plans. Why not profit off of it?

These and other questions came up today because a frequent commenter asked me on my Facebook page what I thought about this topic. I said I’d leave it up to my folk on the Facebook page. You can read the comments for yourself. I liked most of the nuanced responses.

Before I give my own, here’s something to consider about this whole discussion. Teachers are often asked to take the altruistic, heroic roles for whatever reason. It’s bad enough that we have too many pockets of society that say teachers get paid too much already, even though I know more than a handful of teachers who take on side jobs just to make ends meet. The idea that teachers shouldn’t get paid more, shouldn’t even ask to get paid more, or try to sell their wares comes from a false dichotomy that makes teachers seeking to make money in any ethical way look like they’re not interested in anything but themselves.

Having said that, I don’t think lesson plans are the way to go. If anything, lesson plans seem to have an ephemeral value; I can’t use them exactly the way I used them before. If anything, lesson plans don’t translate well to other years, especially if the unit or learning arc look different year to year. You can even make an argument for things like group projects, performance tasks, or other assessment materials because a) publishers already try to sell that to us and b) good ones that come right from teachers are hard to come by.

Even then, I’ve shared most of my wares freely either directly on this site or indirectly via my school’s website. Lesson plans ought to come from the teacher, and with an understanding of what the teachers’ particular students need. That comes from experience and expertise, something I think all teachers should get paid for. I get it if a third-party vendor comes in and helps teachers who don’t know how to approach assessment or building a collaborative culture, but, if there are enough experts in the district, why not pay them for their expertise like you would somebody else? Especially with so many people who profit off of teachers’ labor.

These are just questions swimming around. I welcome other thoughts on this. Please.

Mr. Vilson


If You Smell What I’m Cooking, Read This. [Future of Teaching]

March 11, 2013 Mr. Vilson
The Rock

Clearly, we need to define what “teacher” means a little more, and “educator,” for that matter. We also need to understand what that means for teacher voice. I spark a discussion here: The term “celebrity teacher” is such a difficult one too, because it presumes that the spotlight should focus strictly on the teacher and […]

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On National Education Discourse (Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That)

January 17, 2013 Jose

This is what happens when you start listening to folks who think the answer is square in the middle. The first time I took issue with a Michael Petrilli post, I was annoyed because, when it comes to education, only the people in his circle (frenemies or not) mattered and the rest of us (read: […]

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Closing Schools In The Time Of A Hurricane [SchoolBook]

November 26, 2012 Mr. Vilson

An excerpt from my first post at the popular Schoolbook, a WNYC project: As educators, we are charged with helping our children feel that, as wild as the world may seem, we will pull through. Parents, children, and other invested adults seek asylum in our schools because of our routines, the familiarity, and the dulcet […]

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