What A Time To Be Alive [The Secret Sauce]

Jose Vilson Jose

For those of you who missed it, I had two separate, equally potent interviews with both the Wall Street Journal and Slate. I didn’t expect them to come out in the same week, but here’s a couple of excerpts. First, I was asked to debate / converse with National Center for Teaching Quality’s Kate Walsh and The New Teacher Project’s Daniel Weisberg. I have little respect for Walsh’s rep because it behooves her to see this country’s teachers as failing. She practically speaks herself into necessity. I barely knew Weisberg, but, even in places where we merged, I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that he’s compartmentalizing the job in all the wrong ways. Here’s my excerpt:

“Teacher prep in pedagogy is critical in this discussion. It is less about “rigor,” but about the ways in which we connect what new teachers are learning in their colleges of education and what’s happening at their own school. Teachers often say they’re not ready for a particular challenge not because they don’t know the material, but because schools are different from building to building, staff to staff, child to child.

This idea of “teacher quality” would be better served if we opened the doors for teachers to have more voice in advancing our profession. Continuous, constructive feedback, strong professional development, and chances to determine one’s own path while still in the classroom are just some of the recommendations I’d make.”

Sounds fundamental, yet even the basic stuff can often be transformational given an audience that wants to give away public education to the free market.

In this next bit, I speak to a reporter about the Common Core State Standards for Slate.

“There’s a lot of advertisement on the part of Student Achievement Partners (a nonprofit organization that helps teachers implement the Common Core) claiming that there was a lot of teacher voice from the beginning. I don’t believe that was the case. It was very top-down and ultimately that caused some of the resistance, even from people who would otherwise be allies to this work. Some of us have always wanted a national curriculum so wherever people went, especially as students, they would still be learning similar material to where they were before. But you need to have teachers’ voice at the heart of this work, along with students and parents and community stakeholders. It can’t be driven by some aloof Ivory Tower so-and-sos, who come in and tell us what to do.”

I’m not sure how you read that and think I’m advocating for the CCSS, but whatevz.

The more I do this work, the more complicated this teacher voice is. For years, I, along with so many others, have fought for teachers to get a crack at speaking up and out about our profession in spaces that were often locked away from us for the last decade. Remember when the New York Times created a conference on education and didn’t invite any teachers? Yeah, me neither. Because after that blog post, they decided to open the flood gates, adding a handful of educators to panels and 50 teacher attendees. (I wasn’t one.)

Now that teachers get to speak to the media more frequently (and still not frequently enough), I bring my most thoughtful yet truthful voice to those conversations, knowing full well that I don’t just represent myself but perhaps thousands of others who won’t get that mic in their face.

What a time to be alive.

Concurrently, there’s been lots of discussion about what teacher voice ought to look like, especially as it relates to me. It goes like,

Them: “We want teacher voice in mainstream media.”
Me: “OK, here I go.”
Them: “j/k I wanted it to be me.”

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The whole point of having conversations with policymakers, mainstream media, and others with a modicum of influence isn’t to elevate oneself, but to assure the mess we call an education system is better for the next generation of teachers. If there are, in fact, two sides to the education reform debate, then I’m done with the debate as it stands. If you asked me even two months ago whether I’d be in a position to address and redress some of my colleagues for:

  • calling me a terrible descendant of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass’ activism
  • qualifying a blog share or an agreement with “I don’t usually …”
  • wanting their particular talking point addressed  into what I said on whatever platform
  • reading and responding to titles without reading the whole blog post
  • asking other people who I’ve openly lit up about my opinion instead of just asking me

then I’m nervous for the thousands who’d like to speak up as well. But most of this goes away when I’m teaching my eighth graders math or I get a note from another educator out there who just wanted a glimmer of hope, and a chance to have someone vocalize their experiences in and out of the classroom.

So please, ask not about how I get to do what I do if you’re not prepared for the constant backlash from people who are supposed to be allies. Ask whether the resistance is worth it in the service of elevating your students, your colleagues, and your society. If the latter is that much greater than the former, this is light work.

Best time for you to be alive.