No conversation about education without teacher voice | Jose Luis Vilson

No conversation about education without teacher voice | Jose Luis Vilson


Good morning class. First of all, just an honor. Thank you for having me, I
appreciate this. A couple of years ago, I had the honor
of attending a panel, a conference at The Science Leadership
Academy in Philadelphia. A black male educator by the name of
Derek McCoy, was asked a question around
sustainability, and what are the things that constantly
keep him sustained as he’s working. And without missing a beat, the first
thing he said was, “Have you read Jose Vilson’s blog?
His posts just keep me going.” “Excuse me?” I was shocked, I didn’t know
what to do. I was just there at the panel, I didn’t
even know he was there, and I hadn’t met him. It was the first
time I’d met him. It’s thousands and thousands of miles
away, and here he is saying, I’ve inspired him by my posts
and through my blog. And so, when I talk about teacher voice
out there, I’m always thinking about
what it means to actually be a teacher, a full-time teacher. I’m a full-time math teacher in Washington
Heights, New York, and I’m proud to represent that. And I also know because of this, I need to be very thoughtful about
the things I say and do out there. Because there’s a lot of people who say,
“Well, teachers shouldn’t be speaking up. There’s no reason for them to talk when
we can do all the talking.” “Um, excuse me? Okay, so then we have some
work to do.” Teacher voice. The individual and collective expression of meaningful professional opinion based
on classroom experience and expertise. Now, these are the four guiding principles
when I talk about teacher voice there are four pieces that I always
concentrate on, when I’m talking about teacher voice. The first is the individual element. When people say, “The way you create true
change is by starting with the individual” our identities, our cultures, our ways of
being, inform our pedagogies and the cultures
that are in our own classrooms and so we have to constantly be thoughtful
about the ways we interact with our kids, in order for us to be the best
practitioners as possible, and in order for us to have a real teacher
voice about this work. And also, please keep in mind, we don’t always have to be the best
speaker in the classroom, because we ought to be the best listeners. Now, the second element is this collective because I can’t think about my own
profession, without thinking about the person that is
outsdie of my walls, not just the person next door, but
across the hallway and perhaps across the city, across the
state, across the country, right? And you think about this. If you’re a good teacher,
you know who you are. Even when you don’t speak
the same language, or you don’t always have
the same cultures, there are touchpoints about
all of our experiences that allow us to be good teachers
for each other and for ourselves. There are things that we know about
the teaching profession, that we know what that’s like. And so when I ask you for collective, I’m also thinking about not just everybody
who’s across the country, and even across the world, but across institutions too. So including our prisons and our museums, there are educators there too. We need to think about all of these
educators. And then, again, when we come together, whether we’re celebrating our
best and most accomplished teachers, or we’re protesting together in any
number of states, when our voices when they come together,
they often get to be the loudest. The third element is experience. And when I talk about experience, it
means that our stories matter too. When you think about research, policy,
practice, you best believe that a teacher
better be somewhere in there. You can’t just sanitize us, you have
to be able to include us. And then, when we’re not included, we
have to be able to fight back. What you see in front of you, two years ago, I was given a teacher
performance rating of developing. My teacher practices were “effective,” but unfortunately the data that had
come out was “ineffective,” so somewhere in the
middle was “developing.” And of course, mind you, four-fifths of my students’ data had
mysteriously disappeared, and it just confounded me, I just didn’t
know what was going on. But even still, it kind of hurt to think about the fact
that I had put in so much work and yet the assessments that were chosen
were not reflective of the people we were and the work that had been done
in our classroom. And that’s where expertise comes in. Because there are things that
we know about our students. There are things we think about
our students on the daily. We know how to not just write lesson plans
and do-now’s and closings. We also know how to create communities
in our own classrooms. We know how to get kids to ask questions
and to teach us, right? Cause that’s an important part
of the listening piece. We know, we know, and it’s okay
to say that we know. That’s an important part of all this work. Because everytime I’m talking about
whatever it is I’m talking about I always think back to my kids. I’m always thoughtful about the kids who I
have in my classroom. Children of immigrants,
children of workers, children of parents who’ve entrusted me
on a daily basis, and for years now, to make sure that their kids are
well-educated and well-prepared for the world
we live in. Human beings, right? The picture you see here by the way is a picture of my students with the
statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum
of Natural History. Now, at first I didn’t really want to take
the picture. But when I thought about it,
I said to myself, Well? Imagine if Teddy was having to sit
next to people, immigrants, who wouldn’t want to assimilate
into this country? Imagine having a teacher who believed
in students. So when I tell you that a teacher who
believes in students is core to our democracy, this is the picture I’m talking about. I think about all the teachers
who are passionate about this, who’ve sacrificed their livelihoods,
who’ve sacrificed their lives to make sure that our students feel social
justice within their classrooms, their neighborhoods, who’ve been
out there on a daily basis, who’ve visited the churches, gone to
parent meetings, who know what it’s like to be directly affected by so many
of the policies that don’t work for us. I work for them because they
keep me on my toes. They are the best educators. And speaking of which, the best
educator in our house also happens to be not just
in the audience but also, the best mother she could
possibly be to our son, Alejandro. And when I think about Luz, when I think
about Alejandro, they teach me lessons everyday.
They teach me constant lessons. And so I’m always thinking about,
“Oh my gosh, How am I gonna be a better teacher, when
they’re already so much better than I am at whatever it is that I’m trying to do.
But they keep me grounded even when my voice shakes. I think about the thousands
and thousands of students who I’ve had the pleasure,
the honor of teaching over thirteen-going-on-fourteen years now. A career that has spanned so
many lifetimes it feels like. And whenever I look at these students,
I’m always like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve taught you!” So many of my kids have gone to so
many different places. And even when they don’t go to places
that I necessarily am happy about? I know that I’ve done everything I
possibly could in my being to make sure that they felt like human
beings in my classroom. And that is the work. And it keeps me up at times. I know that when I go to my desk, and I wake up, and I think about failing
and winning and failing and winning, I also know that I’ve created lesson
plans that can engage my kids and bring them in, and I say good morning. And when parents come in, I’m always like, “A su orden.” Which means, I’m at your service, I’m here
for you, I’m here to teach kids. How welcoming is that? These are the things that
keep me up at night, these are the things that keep me
up early in the morning as well. This is the love work. This is the thing we’re
constantly striving for, So when I say Teacher Voice, it’s not
just about being the loudest. It’s about using our actions and
aligning them to the work we’re doing and that we say we’re doing. We want our kids to be reflected in
curriculum, in our practices, in our pedagogy, and we want them to feel like
they have a belonging somewhere. What is it like to feel like you
have a home? Not just your actual home. For so many of our kids,
they may not have one. What is it like to actually create that
and have the power to be able to do that? I don’t know, but I know
what I know. And furthermore, I also know, that I’m
willing to do this forever and ever. I’m so passionate about this, I gotta keep
going. Are you gonna join me?

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