Why This Teacher Of Color Is Staying - 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.

Jose

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

nikki stevens December 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

Many people, including our city, state and federal governments, parents, students, teachers, school boards, administrators, corporations and the general public want to ignore the fact that teaching children society hates is a blessing from God. The closing of urban public schools and selling them to charter schools that is happening in Philadelphia, Newark, NJ, Camden, NJ and other urban cites is just another way of forcing especially black and hispanic teachers out of teaching and selling urban children to the highest bidder, sounds like slavery. Teachers of color need to stand up for their students and with faith teach and stop the destruction of urban public schools. Most teachers came from urban public schools, went to college and now they are teaching. It isn’ t the college you attended that makes you a good teacher it is your faith, who you serve and your belief that with hard work you can make a difference in your students lifes. You can educate and make them the very best and don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t.

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Oldschoolteach December 30, 2013 at 9:46 am

LOVE this post Jose! I am feeling you on so many levels! I have experienced many of the same feelings you have. I’m not leaving either!

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Tracey Carmichael December 30, 2013 at 11:15 am

I am a minority… a female. My mother also insisted that we go to college so that “we would not live her life”… an uneducated widow raising six children. I have 28 years into this career and hope I can stay beyond 30 years since I love my students. I may not have the exact same struggles they have, but I know their pain, their drive, their soul… and I will leave when that connection is no longer, not.one.day.sooner.

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Zulma, retired NYC math teacher from the Bronx December 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

There are those who call teaching a job and they’re in it to pay the bills until something “better” comes along. I called it my profession, my career, my passion, my calling. I was a late bloomer in the teaching profession. Prior to being a teacher I was an accountant and a computer programmer, but those “jobs” did not satisfy me and I had a longing. While I was working in the secular/mundane world of business, I attended many school board meetings in District 12 during the mid-80s, where two of my friends were Community School Board Members. It was then and there when I realized I needed to get involved in education, not only because of the underhanded politics of certain administrators, mind you my two friends fought for the kids, too, but for the kids. Left the business world and entered the world of teaching.

I went to school in District 12 and I began my career in District 12 as an Hispanic single mother raising three sons, living in the Bronx. For 24 years I gave my best to each child, loved every minute of it, and managed to stay in the profession for so many years. If I had started teaching at a younger age, most likely I would have retired with 30+ years. But I decided it was never to late to make a career move for the right reason, and money wasn’t one of the reasons.

To all those who have “ganas” to be blessed and go into the teaching position, just do it.

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Zulma, retired NYC math teacher from the Bronx December 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Forget to mention one more thing.

I met Jaime Escalante in person when he visited District 12 in 1992 or 1993. After his presentation (all math teachers from District 12 attended), I went up to him and I thanked him for all the “ganas” that he had instilled in teachers who love the profession, love to teach math, and love their students who embrace the subject. I know I was a little schmaltzy, but I needed him to know this.

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Jose Vilson December 31, 2013 at 10:47 am

Zulma, thanks for the comments. Ganas is a big word in this industry, one we rarely talk about these days. TOCs understand the ramifications of such ganas when it comes to our kids. I know others do too, but it’s not the same.

Also, I wish I got a chance to meet Jaime. I only got to meet Edward James Olmos, about as close as I got to him.

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Todd Blechner December 30, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Caring for your students is the only way to positively impact each one of them without truly realizing how many you are actually impacting. Keep up the fight. It’s a valiant one. I lasted 5 years in the classroom; cared for each one of my students, and they knew it. I was exhausted at the end of each year. Worth it? Based on the response I have received from former students over the years, the answer is YES. Math rocks!

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Jose Vilson December 31, 2013 at 10:45 am

Todd, thank you for this. You’re right: math rocks!

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Renee Moore January 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I do understand, sadly, that many have been forced to leave–I’ve seen some of them driven from the profession–and I don’t judge them for the decisions they’ve had to make for themselves and their families. I do judge the systems that perpetuate such tragic loss of human potential as criminal and in dire need of correction.

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Amanda Machado January 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm

As the author of the Atlantic article, finding this response to it really made my day. Looking back on the piece, there were so many other teachers of color’s stories that I wish I could have included, teachers who clearly dealt with the issues I discussed- finances, cultural insensitivity, personal connection- in far more severe ways than I did. I admire you greatly for staying in the profession even amidst all these very real struggles. Your post gave me a lot of hope and confidence that the education system is slowly changing and that in the meantime, our students are still being taught by passionate and devoted teachers. Thank you for your commitment :)

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