Tell You Somethin’ (A Teacher’s Reprise)

Jose Vilson 5 Comments

Alicia Keys, remixed by me

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I won’t wait, I don’t wanna wait
I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I won’t wait, I don’t wanna wait
I won’t wait til it’s too late …

On Sunday, I spoke a little about how I often see myself as an inspiration to the little ones in my class, especially my boys, who hardly ever get any examples of people to look up to. Past my coarse and firm exterior as a disciplinarian resides a man who really understands the power of someone else telling you that you’re going to be alright. Maybe in many ways I earned it academically or because I got lucky, but the teachers and principals I had looking out for me usually made sure that I stayed on a successful road.

But more recently, accelerated teacher programs practically chastise teachers for becoming too emotionally involved with the students, because there’s a fear that 1) the teacher won’t understand or relate to the child 2) the teacher will become far too fatigued at the end of the day to become a real human being and 3) they won’t represent the program they’re in as professionals. The jargon some of these heads speak in often denotes an implicit hatred of the children, preferring to speak about them as statistics and not as humans. That attitude trickles down to the principals, administrators, and even some teachers, who would rather run around trying to find ways to pass their students so they can improve the schools’ overall grade rather than keeping that academic rigor that’s so necessary.

So then as a teacher, I’m often stuck in between. When I first came into the world’s greatest profession, I was encouraged to inspire and challenge, but then chastised for my idealism and investment. Thus, I did the only thing I knew how to do since high school: rebel. I rebelled against the misconceptions of my person, against those advisers who treated my qualities as setbacks, rebelled against my parent’s wishes for me to get into some cubicle writing C++ with a banana in my left hand, and rebelled against the kids, because their thoughts (I want to do better) and their behavior (not really) are independent of each other, but not independent of the zillion factors outside of a classroom I can control.

Even on a day like this, when I had to detach myself from the situations in my school, I only find myself getting more excited to have that special secret handshake with my little gentlemen, to tell the girls that they need to act like they want to be strong, independent women someday, and furthermore, delve into statistics and at some point, make them understand the real-world relevancy of it all. I want to have awesome discussions with fellow teachers about the children we teach, with some administrators about ideas we can implement for next year, and even sit down and think about how I can become that master teacher people keep hallowing.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I counter, “Ask BOTH what your country can do for you as well as what you can do for your country.” Let’s have an exchange. Teachers like me can’t do it alone, though. We need to have assurances that we’ll have just enough freedom to implement the curriculum with our own flavor but still have enough focus to meet state and national standards for education. We need to have enough resources and support to keep on keeping on. Most teachers don’t work shorter hours because we’re lazy, but because we need to correct homework, plan lessons, go to outside professional developments when our own school’s PDs aren’t adequate for our growth, and because unlike every other profession, we also have a harder time extracting ourselves from our professions.

In turn, I personally can’t promise that some teachers will follow me, but I can promise that I’m going to do my best to hold my end of the bargain: elevate your child to a higher level than when he or she first met me, and work as hard as possible to make that happen. If it means we’ll be protesting on a Wednesday (3/19) at City Hall for more funds for schools, or making a little noise around the edublogosphere (because we really are all we got), or telling that little boy or girl to get back to work or they’ll face serious and appropriate consequences, then so be it. One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I won’t wait, I won’t wanna wait …

jose, who wants to show you in so many ways …

p.s. – Pencil tap to Alicia Keys’ “Tell You Somethin’ (Nana’s Reprise)” …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Education #163: Spring Break 2008 Edition | So You Want To Teach?

  2. Joel

    Man, I really like this article. I’m glad you included it in the Carnival! I think too often teachers ignore the “role model” part we take in the lives of our students.

    Even at the secondary level when they’re too cool to like us, we play a tremendous part in their development. This is especially true in homes where there is not a parent who stays home.

    With the changing dynamics of culture, it has come to the point where two-parent homes are the exception. Even more rare are those homes where one of the parents stays home all day.

  3. Miss Profe

    Jose, I hear you when you say you see yourself as an inspiration to the students who don’t have many positive role models. In my situation, I am role model for the students of color, the girls, and the White students. A heavy load, but doable.

  4. Pat

    This was an awesome post! I can feel your enthusiasm and desire to be a good teacher. Your comment about “I want to have awesome discussions with fellow teachers about the children we teach, with some administrators about ideas we can implement for next year, and even sit down and think about how I can become that master teacher people keep hallowing.” really hit home for me. As long as you have this goal and keep trying to achieve it, you are on the right track.

  5. LuzMaria

    You are making a difference!!! These young people in your class will always remember you in various manners because you are the teacher who cares. Not the one who gets paid to baysit them or pretend to teach them, but rather the educator who is passionate about the career he has chosen and is committed to his students. You alone cannot make the difference, but you are a catalyst of change. Bringing your ideas to the table of the admins and letting them hear your “voice” is how you will begin to make things happen, even if they are in small venues. Do not lose the drive, keep going forward. We need more of you on our side, the committed educators.

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