teaching Archives - The Jose Vilson


Why This Teacher Of Color Is Staying

by Jose Vilson on December 30, 2013

in Jose

Jaime Escalante Folded Arms

In the last month, there were a plethora of highly publicized articles on why teachers quit, the most poignant came from the Atlantic’s Amanda Machado, whose title “Why Do Teachers Of Color Quit?” hit me square in the jaw:

That life-long aspiration is the last issue that teachers from lower-income backgrounds struggle with. There is something disheartening about working so hard to honor your family’s sacrifices, only to find that your job has not improved your family’s situation. Twenty-seven percent of Teach for America teachers of color are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Many more are the first to go to a top-ranked school. To people from our backgrounds, admittance to college is not seen as only an opportunity for intellectual pursuits. It is seen, as my mother always used to tell me, as “a great equalizer,” a way of escaping the lower social status and finally gaining the respect or financial success of the upper class.

I have a hard time telling others the path they choose after leaving. Right now, most working conditions, especially in our most disadvantaged, would deter anyone from taking up a lesson plan book. With the current tenor on “good versus bad” teachers, the assault and shutdown of hundreds of schools across the country, and the massive emphasis on deprofessionalization via wayward adaptation of standards and evaluation, accompanied by the already low pay and loads of paperwork for teachers, most people with easier, more profitable options would take those routes over teaching. Those of us who are teachers constantly get the head-shake, as if the profession we chose and our realistic idealism proves us insane or big-hearted, yet deserving of the problems we deal with daily.

Yet, I stay.

The children do bring me back to the classroom and I love what I do. I could deal without the inner politics, the constant barrage of people asking whether I’m going to administration, the constant comparisons to others, and any number of little things that don’t actually have relevance to my students. I could also get paid a little more so I’m not struggling to pay off college bills, apartment bills, food bills, baby bills, and the set of monetary issues that some mysterious benefactor can’t just solve away for me.

Job protection, my posterior. It’s nice to have an anchor when you’re trying to navigate a ship in a tornado.

Alas, many of us work silently in the background, and, despite this writing and advocating I do, I consider myself among my staff, not better than. Working for and caring about students and their learning takes broad, thick shoulders, and I consider myself fortunate to try, fail, and succeed for 10 months because those shoulders I carry aren’t mine.

Many teachers might see this as a job, and more power to them. Those of us who share a cultural background with the students we teach feel the burden of our ancestors, knowing what might / could happen if they don’t have someone holding them to a high expectation and building a caring relationship with them. Let all else fall under these pivotal pieces. If the systems we work under can’t support us in this mission, then those of us who leave have a case for leaving, which is why I respect it.

It’s just not my decision right now. This responsibility weighs on me more so than my bills do. Should I go, I know it’s because I either had no choice or made a choice to affect more kids positively. But excuse me for now: I have papers to grade. They’ll need to hear from me on January 2nd.



Monster (Teaching In The Era of Evaluations)

by Jose Vilson on November 7, 2013

in Mr. Vilson

Lion Roar

Lion Roar

The way I taught this year, you’d think I had a chip on my shoulder. I do, and now I own it.

The last two months, I revamped my whole teaching style, not because Charlotte Danielson or any other education expert told me to do it, but because I’m in my ninth year, and damnit, if I can’t do get ‘er done now, what am I doing with my life?

My portfolios come in solid greens and reds. I’ve now done four rounds of bulletin boards. My classrooms walls have drawings of the solar system from the students, scaled from calculations they did using scientific notation. I still do too much talking when it comes to the student dialogues, but I’ve also given them lots of leeway to struggle with their classwork and ask each other questions before they ask me. I wait longer when I ask a hard question and don’t allow the quicker students to blurt out the responses before I’ve given them enough time (and space) to give a solid response. I’m keeping my classroom open for the most part, and slowly people have come to visit.

All in all, I’m kicking butt, at least in the classroom.

Too often, it’s easy to look at all the troubles you’re going through and let all your blessings disintegrate in front of you, much to the pleasure of your doubters. It’s easy to look at yourself as less of a teacher when the visits don’t come, the pats on the back don’t happen, or the kids act out as they are wont to do. In those moments, no matter our income levels, the only things we got are a mirror and a new day. Taking this day-to-day approach (and prioritizing my life) has made teaching simpler. If it directly benefits students, that comes first. Everything else is secondary, if not tertiary.

Our current education system asks us to do too much with too little. I’d rather work towards harder at the smarter stuff, leave out all the rest. Evaluations be damned.




Here’s my latest at The Collaborateurs, where I discuss my reason for joining #HerePastJune, a United For Public Schools project:

… we actually need to reconsider how we look at time in school. According to many reports (including some that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan quotes), the United States already has the highest teacher-to-student time in minutes in the entire world. Where high-performing countries beat us (I won’t use that one country, but yes …) is in the way they use time. Give professional educators the time and resources to a) be themselves and b) work on the actual school year makes a lot of sense. During the school year, we make adjustments and gain new information, but the summer is really where good plans come together.

For more, read here. Also, share and share alike, and participate in the #HerePastJune hashtag on Twitter and Facebook, especially if you’re a teacher (or educator, really).

Mr. Vilson


Please, Keep Writing and Teaching [Kick More Ass]

April 30, 2013 Jose
Iron Man 3

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you’re a blogger writing about education and a whole mess of other stuff that permeates the experiences you have as an educator looking inward and outward, trying to seek solutions to complex and amorphous situations. Let’s say you decided to look at the landscape of writing about education through this lens. […]

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Born To Do This Shit [On Personal Legends and Teaching]

April 25, 2013 Jose
The Alchemist

“You have 135 minutes left on this test. Are there any questions?” After a quick pause, I said, “You may begin.” As the students got to work on this section of the test, I began to reflect on my life as a teacher, and came to realize that, yes, I was born to be in […]

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If You’re Teaching Black History Month This Way, Please Stop

January 31, 2013 Jose

First, I’d like to acknowledge that, on the chance that you’re actually celebrating Black History Month, congrats. You haven’t let the Common Core madness deter you from celebrating culture, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.  The decorations will spring up. Common faces like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Benjamin Banneker, and Will Smith […]

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