Interview with Jose Vilson, New York Math Teacher and Co-Author of Teaching 2030
We recently had the great fortune to interview Jose Vilson, an eighth grade math teacher in New York City who co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future. Jose, an eight-year veteran of the classroom, attended Syracuse University and City College of New York, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and a Master’s degree in Mathematics Education, respectively. During the interview, we discussed how Jose integrates technology into the classroom, the techniques he uses to make his course subject matter relevant to his students’ lives, and finally, his words of wisdom for those who are preparing for their first teaching jobs.
Please describe what a typical day looks like for you.
A typical day consists of me getting to school 45 minutes to an hour before the 8 a.m. start time for school, getting my mind and papers ready for class for the day. I usually teach first period either as the only teacher for one of my eighth grade classes, or as the co-teacher for another one of my eighth-grade classes. During the day, I’m either meeting with students who are helping me to develop a student ambassadors program, or with other teachers around curriculum and pedagogy.
During my periods where I’m on my own, I’m either working on curriculum, working on our website, or monitoring our data management system on Google Docs. If I’m not in a classroom after lunch, I’m also finding time for Penny Harvest, one of our service learning projects at the school, then working on STEM projects with fellow math and science teachers.
How do you use technology as a tool for learning in your classroom?
I usually use technology in one of two ways: for grading students in my classroom or developing electronic teacher assessment notebooks for every teacher in the school. In the former, I use EnGrade, an application that lets me put my grades online so students and parents can see my grading in real time. It also keeps me organized by tracking attendance and other assessments. In the latter, I develop online spreadsheets via Google Docs / Drive so teachers can get a good sense of their students’ assessment information. In turn, they also have to enter their performance assessment grades so the teacher teams get a good sense of how students are learning in the class.
What aspects of your job are the most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of my job as math teacher and instructional coach is managing the different personalities and tasks I’ve been asked to perform.
What do you most enjoy about being a teacher?
The students are always the best part of being a teacher. Lots of people talk about small victories, but I like to think of them more as ‘sparks.’ When I see a student who normally doesn’t get it catch a spark of understanding, we try to hold onto it for dear life.
How do you create a successful home and work balance?
What’s balance? Seriously, I find that learning how to prioritize (along with shaving off a bit of sleep, unfortunately) plus having good time management skills and a sense of what really needs to get accomplished really helps me out. Plus, I dedicate certain periods in my day to certain activities. For instance, my blogging schedule gives me four days throughout the week for about an hour or so per piece.
Math can be a challenging subject for some learners. How do you make your lessons engaging, fun and also relevant to the lives of your students?
Making math engaging is all a matter of bringing as much clarity to the concepts and procedures as possible. Lots of that has to do with understanding what will bring students to the idea that, yes, they can get it wrong, but if they persist and keep trying, we can arrive at the correct solutions, no matter how many solutions there are.
What advice can you give to recent graduates who are preparing to start a teaching career?
Spend some time in the classroom. Learn some empathy. Get a nice watch. As the year progresses, start difficult, get easier if you must. Learn from other teachers, take what works for your personality, and apply it as early and often as possible. Good luck.
We thank Jose for taking the time to share his insightful comments and wish him all the best with the rest of the school year. You can view Jose’s TEDxNYED presentation on the topic of redefining teacher voice here, or connect with him via his blog, The Jose Vilson.
Read about how to become a teacher in New York.