uft Archives - The Jose Vilson


First, let me tell you how excited I was that the United Federation of Teachers FOILed Joel Klein’s e-mails from DOE. I’m much happier knowing that I wasn’t misjudging anything about him or his co-conspirators on any level. They really do come off like jerks, they really do spend ALL day on their Blackberries for no apparent reason, and they really do want to push the idea of charter schools to the detriment of actual public schools. I don’t mind a few charters here and there, but the corporatists crossed the line by making it the solution to the education’s ills (when they know it’s not).

Plus, if I can’t get the Pearson-created math statewide tests released, I should at least get a few uncomfortable giggles from Klein’s exchanges.

Having said that, I’m also surprised that some of my colleagues are shocked (SHOCKED) by the content of the e-mails. We knew that even the most professional of us exchange a few “motherfuckers” and “shits” when in the midst of trusted company, especially about Klein, Cathie Black, and Bloomberg. Too many of you (yes, you) want to get angry because they clearly don’t like people who tell them something different from what they want to hear? Madness. I almost want to blurt out “There are starving people in _____ and you STILL think this is worth raging over?”

Also, have you taken a look at Joel Klein? Does it LOOK like he cares whether or not he cares what you think? He probably swears like a pirate; he already looks like one, and works for one. I’m not sure I knew anyone who called him “nice,” “pleasant,” or “gracious.” You might hear the word professional thrown about his aura, but a suit and a tie do a lot for a man. I mean, assassins and consiglieres are professionals, too, right? Right?

My only disappointment is that he didn’t do any drunk texting or get HotOrNot requests at random. Otherwise, any of the name-calling or charter school promotion didn’t bother me at all. If, in the words of Klein, this is all becoming very fluid, then our task is to bring things to a boil. He was supposed to work for all children in NYC, not just the ones he preferred.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words … I got a few choice words for this, too.


Why I’m Marching Forward [It's The Only Direction]

by Jose Vilson on July 17, 2011

in Jose

You’ve got to be wondering what a teacher like me is doing marching against the “reform” trends. For those of you unfamiliar with my background, I graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Syracuse University. A year later, after 6-8 months of unemployment and a stint as a data entry person at an educational database firm, I went into the NYC Teaching Fellows program, an offshoot of Michelle Rhee’s New Teacher Project. On the surface, I’m a perfect candidate to follow the corporatist thinking about education, and should be easily molded into the dominant thinking from elites who ostensibly believe they’re going into education for the common good. All it takes is the right amount of fear, the right amount of frustration, the right amount of ignorance, and the right amount of failure to tip people into the hands of those who wish to rotate our profession backwards.

Fortunately for me, I lucked out. And if you’re reading this, I’m thinking the same goes for you.

You see, I teach at a school that, somewhere along the line, decided to value veteran leadership and collaboration. They fostered a culture of discussion and unity that stems from decades of hardship from a neighborhood and administration standpoint. As leaders changed and gangs ran the block, teachers fortified the brick walls of the edifice. When I first came to that school, that legacy was indoctrinated in me in ways the teachers who mentored me probably didn’t realize. That first year, ideologies and trends changed so often, the only resort for me was to seek stability. I found that in the most experienced teachers in my building.

As many of those mentors retired throughout my six years of teaching, I gained a profound respect for that unity, because it’s really easy to say kids first and it’s quite another to be it. For the better part of 10 months out of the school year, you’re a teacher. Even when you’re at home reading the paper or hanging with your closest friends, your job ends up defining you. You get used to people using your last name and find it weird when others use your first. You’re sensitive and perceptive to things happening on the street. You wake up having to change your energy to teacher mode so it’s already simmering when students walk in the door.

You’re a teacher, and that’s great.

We can debate the merits of the ideas tossed out there about how to improve this wonderful profession, but without the base of respect, honesty, professionalism, and progressive thinking, we can’t come to the table thinking we’re eating the same meal. When teachers have one of the highest approval ratings of any profession out there, deformers prefer to buy the public through ads and mainstream media diversions. When teachers take summer breaks, they proffer a set of changes to exams so more of them are administered and used to determine the effectiveness of teachers, but never finding time to truly audit and assess themselves. When teachers pay out of pocket for school supplies and professional development, they assert that teachers bare the blame for their widespread, expensive, guaranteed contracts. When teachers invest their whole beings into the futures of hundreds of students through their career [many spanning a literal generation], they say that their monetary contributions to their pensions weigh too heavily on the economic crisis.

When teachers say they want unity, they try to turn us against our unions with hallow promises.

At this point, deformers have sought to tell the general public that the tip of the iceberg is indeed the whole structure. That’s why we must continue our advocacy. Where others left off, this is the tide upon which we must ride. We can’t do things “in response” anymore. We have to create the new narrative.

I will be marching because, from where we stand, I can see that there are those who prefer we step backwards. But we can’t settle for simply standing here a few feet away from getting pulled in. Thus, I march onward. It’s my only direction.

Jose Vilson, Math Teacher / Coach / Educator …


If You Smelt It, You Probably Dealt It

by Jose Vilson on June 29, 2010

in Jose

George W. Bush lays a fart in Colin Powell's face

I don’t like telling people the good, honest truth all the time. I prefer a more diplomatic truth where the recipient has some chance of getting better. No, really. One of my friends says that I can be so candid at times, I have to put a cap on it in the form of “I respect that.” Once, I saw a terrible flyer on Facebook for a poet I didn’t necessarily care for either. It looked like a cross between a Wheaties box and an ad for Tinactin, flames and all. I cracked up and I typed in “This is the flyer? Really?” The person commented back, “What’s wrong with the flyer?” Realizing that the poet probably made it himself, I said “Nevermind. Have fun at your party there.”

And honestly, I almost felt bad for doing it. Not that much because I think a little honesty goes a long way, and if we’re calling that “haterism,” then that’s fine by me. But I’m also genuinely reflective, and the times I get it wrong, I’m also genuinely apologetic. I wonder the same about Joel Klein, who fired off a missive this past Monday that cracked me up and made me wonder what he had for breakfast that day for him to be so imprudent. Check the excerpt:

Recognizing the importance of not losing an instructional school day, the parents who wrote us further proposed that our teachers and staff use that Wednesday, September 8, 2010, as a professional development day, and instead use what is known as Brooklyn-Queens day—a professional development day that falls on Thursday, June 9, 2011 as an instructional school day. Both the Mayor and I thought this proposal made sense for all involved and, in fact, would save parents the hassle of finding child-care for a one-day, mid-week holiday in June.

But in order to move forward with this plan, we needed the agreement of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Unfortunately, the UFT refused our proposal and therefore we are left with no choice but to keep the calendar unchanged.

We cannot have a chaotic system where different schools start classes on different days, which would require different bus schedules as well as different food schedules. It would be confusing to parents, a further strain on our budget, and disruptive to the overall school calendar. We understand and are sympathetic to the stress some families may feel because of the schedule during the first week of school, and regret that we were unable to make a change we saw as straightforward and fair to all.

But given our inability to reach an agreement with the UFT, we will proceed with starting school on Wednesday, September 8, 2010.

At first, a few people took him at his word. Bad choice. There’s always a back story, like the kid in the class who’s always pointing the finger at everything wrong that happens in the class. If you smell something funky, he points out the student with the acne. If books end up missing, he points out the student who didn’t tuck in their chair. UFT President Michael Mulgrew quickly fired off a statement that basically encapsulates what the rest of this hypothetical class would think after looking at this kid:

“Dude, you farted. It’s not my fault you’re gassy.”

Little do Joel Klein and the rest of the edu-reformers understand that the public can see right through this charade. Sometimes, when you’re wrong, it’s hard to say sorry. Then again, his example of leadership permeates through the school system, and is evident amongst talking heads across the nation.

Like many people, most teachers have an understanding where they work and are willing to make it work if the little things get taken care of. If the windows get fixed, if the expectations are clear, if most of the staff work hard alongside them, and the administration does a fair job of keeping the house in order, then teachers are generally happy. Most teachers that I know agree that the students can be “bad” and the parents can be “unbearable,” but if their fellow staff members and boss are horrible, then it’s not a great place to work. That’s important.

When your boss, on the local or national level, is unresponsive or simply makes everyone smell his flatulence with no regard, then teachers, like my fellow blogger Mildly Melancholy, feel the urge to leave this otherwise rewarding profession. It never strikes me that these men who made critical decisions for an entire set of people reflect any further than their dietary choices or their next soiree.

I don’t have a problem saying it to him or anyone else willing to challenge my thought, but I don’t want to be blamed for the increasingly smelly room. I’ll just walk away for now.

Mr. Vilson, who’s rather enjoying his first long day off.


Michael Mulgrew and the Idea of Listening Instead of Hearing

January 28, 2010 Jose
Michael Mulgrew with Comptroller John Liu

It might have been the sweet potato fries or the classic cuban sandwiches, but today marks the first time I ever believed my union president word-for-word. Today at Havana Central Upper West Side, Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), spoke in front of a capacity  crowd of strictly District 6 (Harlem […]

Read more →

Hot Town, Summer in the City

August 12, 2007 Short Notes

The latest weather in NYC makes me pose one question: “What the f*** is this?!” On one end of the week, I was in New Orleans, where it was hot for the most part, but soon turned to blistering when the humidity almost made my traveling partner and I collapse in our margaritas. On the […]

Read more →