The Holiest Redeemers

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

She looks at her paper, rubs her head a little bit, and looks up at me, and says, “6?”

“Yes,” I nod in a bit of a proud moment for one of my holiest redeemers.

This year, in all of my classes, I have students who have a chip on their shoulder and have come out with a significant vengeance against their own struggles and against my well-placed challenges to them. My first class today has a roster full of runaways, victims of sexual abuse, and people who only recently came to the country. This assortment of students who rarely speak English or rarely speak Spanish is probably my hardest class, and I’m often at a loss for what works with them behaviorally. Yet, today, even with my bit of uneasiness about their dispositions, I did the exact opposite of what I’d usually do, and they blazed through my material. They chewed gum, talked to their friends, and had their Sidekicks in their desks, and I still found that 90% of the class had their attentions on me and my instruction. I didn’t get loud once (I never scream, but I have a big voice), and they responded rather well. One student in particular, whose reputation as a ringleader for all kinds of inappropriate behaviors precedes her, has led her group of girls to push for excellence, and that says a lot.

In my ELL class, they’ve all matured so much, they’re no longer considered the “worst” class. I’ve become one of the go-to teachers for the harder kids to teach, and now I see why. The class that was once regarded as the hardest class to teach has become a little more docile, and much more responsive and responsible. They’re the leaders on the floor, and they’re the only kids that consistently put a smile on my face. I literally had to scream “GET OUT!!!” to stop them from making me laugh so hard after school. Yet, they’re getting the work done, and they’re getting the homework done, and they’ve gotten good reviews from all their teachers. It’s like they’re seeking a chance to do well for themselves.

In my advanced class, there’s usually not a problem with academics, except with one girl, who has gone through her own issues in her rather short life. I find it telling how we seek out popularity so thoroughly but when we find it, we’re not fans ourselves. She found some rather dubious distinctions last year around the school, and seems to have decided on a whole different approach to her academics. She’s someone who I struggled with, and the only one who took her to task on some of her transgressions last year. The fights were often public, never disrespectful on my end, but certainly looked like …

… what it might look like when I have my own daughter.

And so it’s with that spirit that I look upon some of my children, my students, my educational confidants, and my captive audience. Whether it’s a battle against their own trepidations, their own insecurities, or their own reputations, they’re fighting and fighting hard, and even I have to play their opponent, they’re certainly winning in my eyes.

“Because when you see the bases are the same and the exponents are different, and we’re multiplying, we can add the exponents.”


jose, whose students reminded him these last two days why he loves his job …