Tomorrow May Never Come - The Jose Vilson

Tomorrow May Never Come

November 29, 2007

Mos DefToday, I had an emotional and heart-wrenching day at the school. I’m still unclogging myself from the excess amounts of frozen margaritas, quesadillas, and shrimp I had at Mama Mexico last night, and a weird morning in which I waited until the very last minute to leave my house and take my hour-long ride on the silver limos, one labeled “F” and the next labeled “A”. I had no reason to go into school other than pride, because I had a good lesson plan ready for my kids, and I’d prefer to teach my children rather than some random (and often confused) substitute.

In general, it started off auspiciously enough. My homeroom children (Team Orange as I shall refer to them as from now on) did their work, and the progress in their mathematical reasoning and explanation. Even with the little discussions going on, I still found the whole 2 periods successful on a few levels.

Fast forward to the fire drill. Unfortunately, Team Orange decided to lose their damn minds. Not only did they decide to make tons of noise while we went downstairs, one of the children (who I later found out felt distress over his mom’s hospital admission) completely showed me disrespect when he went BACK into the class after I called his name 3 times before I said, “We need to go!” My AP followed the class and yelled at them for them to keep quiet.

Of course, when we got out of the building, I had all types of things to say to the child, most of which includes a free call to his father and detention with me. I further thought of the ramifications if one or more of my children stayed behind, considering our homeroom’s on the top floor. We were the last class out of the building, and I felt a little shame, too, not because I hadn’t explained the fire drill rules carefully, but because the principal told us how well we did for that drill. I begged to differ.

So I let them have it for a while on the bottom floor after everyone went back to class. The aforementioned AP also had the same conversation, but those little eyes definitely welled up twice after what I had to tell them: about how if anything happened to them, I’d have to jump back in and rescue someone. If I lost them, I’d lose my mind. They’re not just a liability, but my children, and I’m responsible for their well-being.

I do concede that I have a bit of a “hero” syndrome when it comes to my homeroom children, but I also know that one can’t help but treat those children like your own when you see them more than you even see your own family five out of seven days. As much as fire drills make me ill, I instantly acknowledge how I’m an emergency respondent if I’m missing one of my students.

In the middle of her tirade, my AP said, “Mr. V, what would you do if this student was missing?”

I said, “I think I’d go back for them,” in an understated tone, because I felt my throat clamp up.

People don’t take into account how good teachers can’t and won’t sit idly while their students rot. We’ll push them when they prefer mediocrity. We’re magnanimous and scrupulous all at once about children’s shortcomings. We’re reflecting on how to make ourselves more accommodating to their needs, academically and usually personally, too. In other words, it’s a matter of life and death.

jose, for whom life is not promised …

This post was written by...

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.

For more about me, read here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelly November 30, 2007 at 7:36 am

What a moving post. Your warmth and passion for your kids is all too evident… Your efforts are not going un-noticed by them, I’m sure. No doubt they will look back with just as much affection and much appreciation for your efforts, as I do for the few teachers I grew up with whom I knew truly cared.

Keep up the good work, Jose.

P.S. I love that pic of Mos! The lyrics you reference are amongst my favourite ever. So much truth in them…

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Luna November 30, 2007 at 5:32 pm

Jose,
I just discovered your blog. Can’t wait to read more of your experiences and opinions…
(I am so convinced that education in general, and addressing inequities in education, in particular, is one of the top 2-3 issues facing this country–the others being getting out of Iraq and the generally screwed up right-wing direction we’re going in).
Best,
Luna

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leesee December 2, 2007 at 12:06 am

You are doing work that is more appreciated than you can ever know, the care and love you demonstrate teaches the kids they are worthwhile and deserving of good attention I have just been reading all about the culture of destruction surrounding young black men.
If you keep doing what you do, you will make a profound impact on their lives and perhaps save some children in the process.
We support your struggle and contribution 100%, you are without question, the man.

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Frumteacher December 2, 2007 at 2:37 am

Oh, those days…

When we had a fire drill, it made me quite emotional too. I saw my students rush out of the building (they did very well, I must say) and I felt SO resonsible for them. I only felt like that once before, when I worked with handicapped children in Israel and gas masks were distributed when Iraq was threatening with an attack.

At the same time, it struck me how my students thought it was just ‘cool’.

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Miss Profe December 2, 2007 at 11:11 am

I feel you, J. The youngins have no idea the immense responsibility we assume on their behalf.

I too, am digging the pic of Mos Def. Makes me want to go out and get a hoodie. Holla!

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Jose December 2, 2007 at 9:39 pm

@ Shelly, thanks. They don’t go unnoticed, especially since most of you have noticed :-).

@ Luna: Welcome to my humble abode. I’m convinced those three issues aren’t exclusive of one another.

@ leesee: thanks for the love. la lucha continua para siempre.

@ frumteacher: kids are good with the concrete, but it’s hard to get them to the abstract ideas like the profound ability to save a life.

@ miss profe: if you’re from the hood like me, a hoodie’s necessary and never in short supply. My word.

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LuzMaria December 5, 2007 at 9:06 pm

As I read this post, the responsibility that you feel towards your children is apparent. These young people do not realize how lucky they are to have a teacher who actually cares about them. Sometimes we don’t even realize as educators how emotionally attached we have become to our kids and that in many ways they do become our children. Through your writing, the dedication and desire to help them develop both academically and personally is something you strive for continuously in your classroom and the relationships which you have established with them. It is wonderful to “see” the impact you have on these young people.

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Tracy December 8, 2007 at 9:52 am

This is what teaching is all about, Jose.

If we can impart an iota of our compassion and caring towards our students then we are doing the right thing. In order to be compassionate one needs to have felt compassion, in order to be kind one needs to have felt kindness, in order to be caring one needs to have felt cared for.

We recreate who we are. We be the change. Modeling compassion, kindness, and caring may just help manifest change in that direction.

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