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Week 4: All The Students [World Teachers Day]

On Friday, EduShyster visited my classroom, the last leg of her NYC tour. Anyone reads this blog knows I have a profound respect for her writing and her approach to talking about education, so much so that, when she asked if she could visit my classroom, I enthusiastically said “Yes!” Or something. Anyone who knows me gets that I believe in open classroom door policies (except during change of period), but it’s especially humbling when people who aren’t my colleagues want to visit my class.

In any case, the whole week forced me to see that the honeymoon was officially over. Students had stopped turning in work faithfully, so I had to hand them a serious dose of reality: their first progress reports. As they’re yelling in joy or despair, or simply pouting at the new paradigm that is my class, I just listened to the sounds, waiting patiently for them to understand the urgency I have for their work for the rest of the year. The things they may have felt were acceptable in prior math classes was officially over, and simply yelling at them wouldn’t work.

The words “I always get a 90 in math; why does this change with you?” rarely phase me. A few years ago, when I graded leniently, I never heard those words. Yet, I didn’t feel like my students were as sufficiently prepared for post-middle school life. I cared about them socio-emotionally, but I allowed their mistakes slide, hoping in time, they’d see their own errors. These days, that’s just not sufficient, and for that, it’s harder to get a 90 for things like nice handwriting and pretty pictures. I have to know that they know. I don’t need them to know things the way that I know it, but at least know it well.

Whatever “it” is.

That’s been the bubbling despair I’ve been working with in the past few weeks, the idea that I have to improve my lessons because they’re not up to snuff with my ideals. Inside the classroom, I don’t care for the talking points, the edu-jargon, the condescension, and the ranking of rank and file members in the school and in New York City. I care about whether or not I can do a better job for the students in front of me. I’ve failed miserable plenty of times, but I’m always hoping those days have less and less effect on them every year. Even as I write this, I have a handful of students I’m lesson planning for, making sure I can over-occupy their minds and waste not one brain cell in my room.

After class on Friday, which was interrupted by a lockdown safety drill, EduShyster and I got to talk about education reform as a whole. Shortly after she left, however, I started to think about why, even with some of the nonsense I think about, I’m so optimistic this year more than the last six years of my teaching. I have this enormous privilege in teaching. Yes, I fight for equity in the places mostly likely to be underfunded and over-stigmatized, but I’m equally blessed to have a profession and a calling all wrapped in one.

Then I got back to attacking the 11-pile monster, the sets of papers I had yet to grade because I obviously don’t like myself. 90 students, all with their individual needs. All the students. I got this.

photo c/o

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.

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