The Vilson Manifesto

Jose Vilson 11 Comments

Mr. V The Ruler

The one question every person in this profession faces is the ubiquitous “Why do you teach?” (The most recent comes from Sherman Dorn). It comes from kids, parents, friends, and family. I don’t know whether it’s out of pride or pity. Everyone can list their favorite teachers and most hated teachers, and those people usually had a greater influence on their lives than the teachers even recognize.

After all, I can tell you how coming from the Lower East Side, growing up in the projects where one resident compared this area in the mid-90s as a modern-day Beirut with the residue of 1980’s drug warfare and Giuliani fascism, with so many Black and Brown faces falling that Chico might have run out of paint to make those famous murals for them. I’ve seen enough roses, hearses, ambulances, arrests, little blue bags, blue, green, purple, single mothers, and red caps to write my own gangsta rap. Some of my own cousins come in and out of jail like a revolving door, and even some of the kids I grew up with were crack babies wishing for some peace in their minds. I slept with the sounds of gunshots and arguments outside my window and woke up with the same elements. People in my hood actually killed each other over a pair of sneakers or some brand new toy. As proud as I am to have come from all of that, that’ll be enough for anyone who’s even caught a glimpse of the better life to want out immediately.

I was one of the fortunate few to make it out with some sense of integrity, though other more personal issues plagued my soul. At times the only sanity I had was the rituals and routines we had in school. I knew I could count on learning and expressing myself academically, and no one could tell me different. I can personally tell you every great and not-so-great teacher I’ve had since elementary school. I couldn’t tell you much about college other than the activism and the parties, but that’s all extracurricular. Yet, even the teachers I hated had some influence as to why I teach.

I remember my language arts teacher in 7th grade, who, for anonymity’s sake, I’ll just refer to as Mr. D (and no, D /= dick, but just the same). He was a tall man who always had some nervous head movement, probably from too much coffee, and he spoke so sharply, he could’ve scratched his chalk against the board and that might have been more pleasant. He didn’t have a nurturing bone in his body. Rather than help me out when I tried to understand the present participle, he would just argue with me and act like I was trying to best him. Rather than showing me the difference between saying “What happened?” versus “Excuse me,” he’d make me write “What happened?” 1000 times (no hyperbole here, folks). Thanks to him, I not only remember the lack of efficiency in that assignment, I learned the meaning of carpal tunnel very early.

He’s not the only one either. There’s the dozens of teachers who opted to ignore me because it’s easiest to ignore the only “Black kid” in an all-honors class, who would rather throw me out of class than hear me out, or who found it easiest to suppress my inclination towards knowing my history because it’d be much easier to express their conservative views for their own pleasure. Easy pickings for a teacher when the student’s submissive.

Yet, without a doubt, I can honestly say that I’ve had some of the greatest teachers from elementary school onwards. To simply list them would be a disservice for everything they’ve done for me. And this is why I teach: not only is this a job for me, but it’s an understanding that I’ll pay forward what I’ve been given. There are teachers in our system who are case studies for the retraction of tenure, but the teachers I’ve had by and large not only made me the man I am, but gave up so much of themselves to be figures of inspiration for me. I did my end, working hard to achieve the heights I did, but when I got out of line, they disciplined me. When I needed the encouragement, I got it and tenfold. I remember their ability to make me feel like everything I had to say was important, and my thoughts mattered, and for someone with the aforementioned history, it means a million.

That and all the vast experiences from acting and singing in front of thousands to my activism and organizations helped me hone my strongest qualifications for teaching. And NYCTF almost didn’t give me a chance, but I must have lucked out. Either way, I took the opportunity, and ran with it as far as I could. I’m still running, too.

Because despite my difficulties with my homeroom, my administration, or other teachers, when I walk into my classroom, I’m given another reason to love what I do. Whether it be a student who, for a day, had an epiphany that he or she would be the best student in the class, or the teacher who’s got another student anecdote, I’m loving it. I’m not just a teacher who gets off on random praise from people. I love the feeling of an accomplished lesson. In some ways, I even love my failures because they teach me something about me as a person, not just a teacher. I’m overwhelmed usually with the amount of work I have to do with my kids, but I can never complain about this job getting too boring. I get a thrill knowing I have a set of audience members for my show from 8-3. Quite the contrary, I like how everyday there’s a new set of problems for me to solve, and even as I’m teaching my kids math, I’m learning along with them.

Now, I’m in the process of refinement, making steady progress towards getting my kids prepared for the state math test coming in March. I want to seek victory from the experiences I’ve gained this year, but it’ll come one day at a time. And to think, I was told by another teacher that it was my idealism that would prevent me from becoming the best teacher possible. To paraphrase Bobby Knight, “When my time on Earth is gone, and my activities here are past, I want that they bury me so they can kiss my ass.”

jose, who was just given the best blog of the day. i think i’ve arrived

Blog Awards Winner

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 11

  1. e

    i really liked this blog. so inspirational. only you. i maintain, i could not be a teacher so i have to give props to those who can (and more to those who do it well). :)

    sidebar: i love the colors in the pic. your classroom reminds me of the islands.

  2. L Dizzle

    Hey honey.

    That blog was the usual Vilson wow. :)

    I can tell you about many stories of the wiles of the school system. I remember being the only person at an all white school. My white teacher constantly felt the need to throw his eraser at me. Yes the chalk eraser. So he can get attention. I thought it was him just being goofy, until I was the only student he threw an eraser at.

    It was really hard ignoring me when I scored the highest on every state exam, and that my gpa was the second or third highest in the grade. But they always tried to single me out and label me. I got really alienated.

    I came to seventh grade in the city, and received reverse racism. Black kids telling me I’m too white and not good enough. I could not focus in school, and my grades were barely scraping the low 80s.

    I think my parents wished I was still at the all white school, getting erasers thrown at me.

    *sigh*

    -LD

  3. NYC Educator

    Very nice piece, J. I’m disgusted by teachers who don’t like kids, and they’re the worst there are. I also object to language teachers who toss about grammatical terms as though native speakers, who use them correctly but have never needed to describe them, will understand them instantly. I never learned much Spanish in high school, partially because my idiot teacher, who spoke only English, spent weeks conjugating the preterite tense—but never mentioning to us that it was the past tense.

    I didn’t figure that out till years later, when I did some serious study with a serious teacher. Anyway, I also draw inspiration from kids, who are the very best part of this job. Despite the fact that I complain endlessly about all the red tape and nonsense and bureaucracy, they’re what keeps me coming back.

    And it sounds like that’s true for you too.

  4. Post
    Author
    Jose

    I liked my color scheme last year, too. The old paper made for a nice ripple effect, e.

    Thanks, AroundHarlem.

    LD, why don’t you tell?

    NYCEd, the kids do keep me coming back. I’m addicted to it for sure.

    pissedoffteacher, thanks. i do what i can. And after one of my fellow (and senior) teachers called me a superstar teacher, I laughed. But yes, thanks …

  5. Frumteacher

    Didn’t have time to catch up on your blog these past days, but I look forward to reading your posts this weekend. Especially looking forward to reading the manifesto. Love the pic’!

  6. Frumteacher

    Great manifesto! Sometimes it’s hard to always feel that inspiration, especially on busy days with loads of work. On those days I visit your blog and know why I do this work :-)

  7. Jackie

    Beautiful. You summed up why I love teaching. I also started as a NYCTF. I just finished my two years with them, but I’m not leaving. :) Great post.

  8. Pingback: If It’s Not About The Students, It’s Not About Me

Leave a Reply