Walk On Water

Jose Vilson Jose 14 Comments

robbie_williams_escapology_cover.jpgWhen it comes to my principles, I didn’t tell them who I quoted from, but I had a discussion around them. What’s great about these principles is that I get to discuss them while secretly learning more about who they are as people and as students. I tested their ability to follow procedures and respect others’ opinions.

Of the few passages I’ve taken with me from the 6 years of Catholic school and the extra 4 dedicated to Communion and Confirmation, it’s the miracle of Jesus walking on water. For those who aren’t Christian, the story goes that, after Jesus died and resurrected on the 3rd day, he started appearing to the disciples randomly wherever they went. One of those appearances was Jesus, walking to them on water, as the disciples were on a boat. Jesus calls out to Peter, the head disciple, and says, “Walk with me.” He starts walking to Jesus a little bit, looks down, and realizes how deep it is, and so begins to drown.

The story in itself is nuts, and I love it. Even in allegorical form, it transcends its religious tone into something that I feel everyone can learn from. It was even more ludicrous when Jay-Z, who often describes himself as Jay-Hova, said in one of his lyrics,

“How could you falter when you’re the Rock of Gibraltar?
I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water.”

I’ve never heard anything like that; not only did he just compare himself to Peter the Apostle, but describe his situation in the controversial breakup of Roc-A-Fella Records, a record label that at the time was dominating rap music, but he had to leave to get greater opportunities. In other words, he put one of Jesus’ miracles in terms that, while blasphemous in some circles, let people who don’t even follow Christianity could understand.

I interpret walking on water as not just taking a risk, but taking such a huge risk that it takes a lot of faith as much as it takes planning. While it’s not prudent to just jump at everything that comes your way, sometimes when the timing’s right, that leap of faith can earn big returns.

Personally, I use it with the kids because it’s too often that kids are afraid to take a risk. I took a risk with the kids I have, as many teachers this week told me how intrigued and confused they were by my selection as a 6th grade teacher, preferring that I stayed in the 8th grade with the “tough” kids. I countered that maybe I didn’t choose the kids, but certainly these kids were chosen for me.

I’ve never taught the grade, and now we’re both going through this journey together. While hopefully raising them up a couple of grade levels, I also hope to inspire them to become better people. That’s something I lost last year in some ways. My first year I did a much better job of inspiring young children to become better students, and even if I just planted the seed, that seed blossomed well into their 8th grade year. Oftentimes, I’d look down at my feet, and sink gradually, wondering if those piranhas were going to nip at my toes in the process.

With this new year, I’ve got the fantastic opportunity to get my kids into the right mentality for the rest of their lives. With an optimistic and positive attitude mixed with a little focus and management, I continually increase the odds of that.


“What does it mean when I say, ‘walk on water’?”[silence]

“Well think about this, has anyone ever been on a boat?”

[some hands rise]

“What do you feel when you’re on a boat? How do you feel?”

“Scared,” “sick,” “nice,” “safe …”

“SAFE! When we’re in a boat or a plane, sometimes, it’s really easy to just stay on it, and maybe even go back home. But if you never step off into that new land, you’ll never try something new. Some of you have never left this street, or even Washington Heights. Now is that time. Don’t be afraid to try something new. When my parents came here, they took a risk and never looked back. When it comes to this math class, I want you to take a risk and go into it headfirst. Try your best. I want everyone to get 100% on their grades, but if you don’t, all I’m asking you is to try your hardest. Walk on water.”

mr. v, who feels comfortable going into any desk formation with his kids now that he has his procedures and rituals down

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 14

  1. Repairman

    Hope you don’t get tired of my comments, Jose, cuz I’m turning into a total fan. You are in the center of the center.

    And I hope your first book is about education as you’ve lived it and taught it. You are going way beyond 11 or 55 for that matter. ;-)

  2. Post
    Author
    Jose

    @ repairman: as a matter of fact, yeah, I’ve got some ideas as to what i want to write in my book. i want it to be truly heartfelt. that ron clark book had me choked up a couple of times, so i’m on it. im glad you’re appreciative of my stuff. thanks.

    @ bam: you’re totally right, but you know I had to make my statements flow with my central theme ;-).

  3. Dan Meyer

    Jose, man: love how you keep underlining hip-hop throughout all this. Keep that going. Might just try to hook you up with some clean-looking classroom posters one of these days.

  4. LuzMaria

    You certainly are going to teach your kids to take “risks.” It comes with time, but your students will learn to plunge into things in your class once they know you will be there for them. At this age, you will represent various things to them-teacher, math teacher, disciplinarian, the weird teacher, parental figure, counselor, “homie,” and the adult who listens to them. The latter is key. Even when they are telling you things that make no sense, the mere fact that you are actively listening and remember little details about them, will be the foundation of their belief in you. I can envision the story unfolding now: Mr. Vilson being followed by his munchkin disciples “walking on water.” Go for it. Show them that taking risks/chances is a part of life but create that safe environment for them to do so, which I know you will. (I know firsthand.)

    Keep enjoying the lil people.

  5. Repairman

    A word about risks…teaching kids about positive leadership has to include that part about risk-taking. Everything we read in ancient history includes literature about training kids to be intelligent risk-takers. Why shouldn’t we deal with the subject in the classroom?

    I’m talking about the emotional risks of putting your head above the crowd, setting a good example, being unafraid to advance when others are cowering. Yes, be ready for the tomatoes, but also ready to make the proverbial difference.

    Thanks, Bam, for the nudge.

  6. Frumteacher

    I totally agree with Repairman. I check your blog every day to see if there is a new post. This post, especially the discussion about the boat and how some children never left the neighbourhood in which they grew up, gave me goose bumbs. You’re a gifted teacher and writer.

  7. Laniza

    How did you know that I needed to read this today?! As always, I’m in awe of your ability to weave all of your roles (poet, professor, professional) into one. I’m printing this one for prosperity.

  8. Post
    Author
    Jose

    @ everyone, thanks for the lovely comments. I’m honestly in awe.

    @ repairman: yeah, and secretly, taking the risk of not teaching to the test, but teaching to their hearts and minds. Sounds cheesy but it’s the truth.

    @ dan: hip-hop is my ish. I’d appreciate those posters very much, man …

    @ frumteacher: wow. big compliment. Thanks.

    @ pissedoff: so true

    @ laniza: thanks for reading. glad to make your day …

  9. pre_k

    you my friend have found a very workable formula. more importantly you have discovered teaching beyond the content. and you have found a way to do it without the kids running all over you.. that my friend is a gift.

  10. ashley

    Your blog, to me, represents what people always seem to be looking for. Or maybe what I always seem to be looking for. In a world where people are so caught up in the race, and the world seems like its rushing towards some disasterous end, your blog reminds me that there are still people who take the time to give a shit about someone other than themselves. And in this life I havent met many like that. Around my area you dont meet a lot of deep critical thinkers who view life like you do. So I would just like to thank you for this blog and for how you affect the people around you. Thanks for keeping my hope alive.

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