Were You At The Protest, Too?

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

“Were you at the protest, too?”

I’ve had no less than four people ask my directly why I haven’t written about my classroom experiences lately. Some of it stems from speaking truth to the gaping hole I continue to see in education writing, namely the intersectional race lens of events like the Atlanta cheating scandal and the Baltimore uprising. At this stage of the game, these events deserve more attention than Apple Watch’s effects on the classroom and as much attention as the 200 thousand opt-outs in New York State. When people aren’t writing it, I do.

Yet, the other reason for my silence is that I’m going through what some of us might dub the doldrums of the year. It’s not just the teaching, but the internal and external fights between ideology and reality, and the idea that, no matter how much I do, no one woman or man can support every single child to succeed at their highest levels, and that’s only dawned on me this year. In previous years, maybe I allowed myself to process these things differently, and the walking into class felt reaffirming for that reason. This year, I put in so much preparation and thought into everything I did that I expected to see even more growth than ever before, only to be let down by change.

Change, change, change, and more change. Changes with students. Changes in students. Changes in program. Changes in room. Changes in adults, with adults, through adults, by adults. Changes in me, and not meeting the urgency those changes demanded and continue to demand.

I’m my own worst critic. I’m always asking if my classroom temperament meshes or clashes with my advocacy outside the classroom. The rubrics say I’m effective. My colleagues do too. Most of the kids like me (right?), but does that help me sleep at night? Do I wake up energized to jump into my class or do I drag my feet? And what’s the ratio between the two if it’s one of those weeks or months? The eighth grade state math test seemed simple enough. With all the worry that I only covered 80% of the material on time for the students, I left the other 20% to Pearson, Cuomo, and G-d. To some, these three entities might be the same.

But then I turn on my computer and read the news coming out of Baltimore, not from mainstream media, but from people on the ground, and it humbles me once more. Washington Heights right now is not Baltimore right now. They have had parallel histories in the past, but, unlike Little Dominican Republic, B-More has had an uprising as of late, with kids having to make sense of a country that universally demands patriotism while its executive brand subjugates their older selves by any means necessary. My kids still pledge allegiance with a clause that says “and liberty and justice for some,” residue from the conversations we’ve had in the past, and that’s well within their rights.

How will I tell the students that the things they’re doing now helps combat the racist visions of other adults who don’t see them for who they are?

But on a Thursday morning, with only 60% of the class arrived, I asked the red-eyed downtrodden students if they had attended the NYC protest from the night before. Knowing full well they didn’t, we began to engage some more in what’s happening in Baltimore and across the country. With math on the board, we had that conversation, again, without me giving away my own point of view, but they too seemed calmer for having let that off their chests.

That’s my current classroom situation, and, for another two months, I’m sticking to it.

photo c/o