Hector Lavoe, "El Cantante"

Yo Soy El Cantante (I Am The Singer)

Jose Vilson Jose 3 Comments

Hector Lavoe, \"El Cantante\"

The first question I got asked was from Frumteacher, who looked forward to me answering these questions:

Two requests for you to delve into, Jose:

1) What made you become a teacher?

2) How do you feel when you stand in front of the blackboard?

Most of you are privy to my Vilson Manifesto in which I detail, and divulge, my purpose as a teacher, and how I wish to do this for as long as I possibly can. And it’s been linked over and again, in blog carnivals and other articles, possibly passed along through friends and family, and maybe even printed out as an inspirational post, most of which I’m grateful for.

But this weekend, I had a mental lapse.

Like so many of us going through these days and time, the pressure to maintain oneself while the weather gets warmer and the kids get ready to levitate off their seats is building to steam-pot proportions. No sense of relief comes to me from knowing that I have a conference in a couple of days nor that there’s realistically only a couple of months left until the school year’s over, and I’ll get to truly reflect on my position as an educator.  Despite my years of teaching now, I can’t help but second-guess myself just a little. While I understand that it takes more years to truly grow into that master teacher, my idealist visions for entering the profession have come into conflict with my utter confrontation with reality. I can’t dream up ideas without understanding where they came from much the way I can’t argue / discussion something with anyone without understanding where that reasoning comes from.

But I became a teacher for this: I have the necessary temperament for the job, I come from where my students come from, and without the teachers who so readily became educators for me and many of my brethren, I wouldn’t have been the man I am today. The idea of paying it forward is alive and well in me. That’s why I keep ruminating on the roles of our former Civil Rights leaders even when others find it cliche, or why I might deviate a little from math with my kids, and have these moments of second-guessing. If someone asked me that giving it my all was what I would need to cause a revolution, then I have no reason to go there.

In front of a classroom, I can make that happen, even when it’s all very subconscious. I’m not directly saying that being able to solve two-step equations is how my students will become the greatest people they can be, but my ability to transmit positive thoughts and affirmations of their own ability to work will have positive effects on their own self-esteems as well as my community, and I sincerely believe that. When I’m up there, I’m a stage performer, but I also have to get up there and give the most convincing performance I can day in and day out, or else I risk losing my audience.

Nevermind that I curse out in real life, and really, I’m a bit disorganized. I also don’t always think carefully about what I might say, and I’ve sometimes said inappropriate things to different people. To wit, I’ll even let out some nasty sarcasm at someone testing my gangsta. Yet, I know how critical my job is, and if, as an educator, you don’t have a belief in the importance of your career, then you’re probably the reason why the rest of us have to justify why we get summers off, tenure, and health benefits.

To wit, everytime I have a poetry performance, I have similar routines to what I do before I teach (or when I was in some high school musicals): I look at myself in an imaginary mirror and rap along to a little Talib Kweli or Rage Against the Machine, or sing along to some Juan Luis Guerra, Hector Lavoe, or just let U2 aurally serenade me until I’m a few steps away from the school building. I’m going to rock the crowd as hard as possible, make sure everyone in the building is listening to what I’m saying, maybe even get a little feedback after my performance, and hope somehow that whatever I’ve said resonates with the audience. If it didn’t, I gotta go back and work on my rhymes once more …

jose, who’d like to thank his girlfriend for just listening while I rambled and sobbed over some coffee before I came back to Earth …

p.s. – Maybe I’ll post a bit of that rant on Thursday while at the NCTM Conference in Utah. We’ll see.

p.p.s. – As a poet, should I be hitting y’all up with more poems? It is National Poetry Month after all. Hmm …

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 3

  1. Frumteacher

    Thanks for answering those questions! It’s encouraging to see that even when the teaching gets challenging, you still try to look at the broader picture. I learn how to do that more and more, although on some afternoons, when coming home, I would just love to choose a different profession.

  2. Shelly

    Nice to get some more insight into your motivations and frustrations, Jose. Always fascinating to walk with you a little…

    Also, who is the guy in the pic? I’m diggin’ those glasses, man! Lol.

    And look forward to seeing more of our poetry up on here :-)

  3. UrbnEconomist

    Y porque no? Nosotros estamos en la tierra para ayudar a los que no pueden, June 2008 I will begin to leave my mark….

    Look out, NYC High Schools will be turned upside down! If granted this opportunity to be a Fellow, I have my outline, my constitution, those in my classroom will know, all will be clear, why?

    The UrbnEconomist

Leave a Reply