The Beautiful Teacher Struggle

Jose VilsonJose5 Comments

My Classroom

My feet on the ground actions are simple-not-easy. For the last three weeks sans EduCon weekend, I spent every “free” period plus lunch, after-school, and my birthday weekend grading papers. It’s the type of paper streak that makes non-teachers go from “Your job is so easy, plus you have summers and religious holidays off” to “You’re a saint, I don’t know how you deal with it.” It made writing for blogs and leisure seem like a thing I used to do in my fledgling past. It made hanging out with me perhaps intolerable because of my intolerance towards schooling and the disconnect between my own ideology and things I’ve asked to compromise on so I can stay in the classroom.

It’s like, stop it already.

Some people still think the only valid activism is the one on the streets when there’s clearly a battle over the mind as well. All of these talking points – growth mindset, Common Core, grit and resilience – speak to how we’re creating policy over the newest brainwave, not just constructs of the body. As a teacher, I still see achievement bastardized through banking methods, as if unzipping students’ skulls means the same thing as embracing knowledge in full.

I’m not interested in dumping known ideas into students for the sake of passing an exam that happens for a few, gruesome hours. I’m not interested in propping oneself up as an expert on getting students’ minds reformed under these bubbles because it made people feel better about educational inequity. I’m not interesting in selling our students down the river because college and career ready won’t help them when bosses won’t hire and colleges create crushing debt. I’m not interested in teaching like a champion if the only person that wins is me.

I’m interested in students seeing themselves as capable, as questioners, as owners of their own minds.

Social justice isn’t just having a face of color against the backdrop of strong-looking words yet irresponsible pedagogy. It’s the idea that, as an educator, I have to approach any and all material as if I’m letting it go. I’m of the opinion that I must get better as a teacher, not simply as a beacon of the teaching profession, but because my students depend on it.

And so do yours. That’s my beautiful struggle. You be radical your way, I’ll be mine.

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. howardat58

    “I’m interested in students seeing themselves as capable, as questioners, as owners of their own minds.”
    And this is how it should be!
    Towards the end of my teaching career (university engineeiring) my head of department, in some meeting or other, used the expression “delivering the material”. Oh dear, I thought, is that what he thinks it’s all about.

  2. Nashima Harvey

    Well stated!
    It is my belief as well, that in order to be the leader, you have to experience a constant growth and change. This growth and change will enable you to continuously participate in our global village with a relevancy like no other. Exploring who I am as an educator and a learner allows me to reach a broad range of students, parents, and educators without a sense of superiority but instead with a sense of building a better community together.

  3. J. Wicks

    I think you hit the nail on the head as you describe the “beautiful teacher struggle”. Most educators go into the field to make change, only to find that most of the changes are dictated by someone else. Often, someone who isn’t in the classroom, someone who doesn’t know your kids. Your take on “college and career ready” and “teaching like a champion” force me to rethink how I’ve defined these terms in my own practice and in my efforts to develop teachers. I have to believe that we do have a responsibility to have some optimism regarding our students’ futures, even with the present conditions of overwhelming student loan debt and inequitable hiring practices. Otherwise, what are we doing and how do we keep doing it? In the pursuit of helping students to see themselves as capable, I agree that we have to practice letting go. Letting go of the idea that we hold all the answers. Letting go of the idea that we have to “fix” kids. The “beautiful teacher struggle” is finding that balance between teaching and learning every day; recognizing that our students have as much to teach us as we have to teach them. And, remembering not to get caught up in the mandates and the policies and the changes…thanks for the reminder.

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