Wilson: Right. Right. Well versus elementary school . . . looks a little bit different than high schools, and so I luckily got to teach in elementary school. I didn't realize how lucky I was. What I've realized is true—through my wife's experiences and through the Me Too movement—are, I'm sure, are true in these spaces too. But it just seems so much more foreign to my experience. And of course I'm a white male talking here, so clearly it's more foreign to my experience. And at the same time because I'm in a school that is predominantly female staff, I believe that this school just doesn't make space for these kinds of negative, toxic masculinity kind of issues. I think that just that's not appropriate and doesn't come in.
HMH: What happens if you see it in your kids? What do you do?
Wilson: That does happen. We talk about it. We talk about it. You hit it head on.
HMH: You put language to it.
Wilson: That's right. Name it.
HMH: What's the most sort of poignant or important feedback that a student's given you about your teaching if you can think of a particular story or particular moment?
Wilson: I think about a student of mine named Charles who was not my student at first. He was in a classroom . . . He was in another fourth grade classroom down the hall and he had been essentially terrorizing the classroom. I mean he had . . .
HMH: How old was he?
Wilson: Nine. He had been in fights with fifth graders. He'd been fights with kids in his classroom, in fights with second graders. He broke a mirror in the bathroom. He lit paper on fire in the bathroom and all sorts of things and to me, as I was on my second year teaching, I was frightened by Charles. And so, it so happened that at the end of the first semester, the principal approached me and told me that Charles should move to my room. I protested and said, "This is crazy. I am a, I am not that good of a teacher. I'm not, you know where my class is finally getting going. We have kind of a community feel to our class. Please don't bring him in my classroom."
HMH: Why was he going to be moved to your classroom?
Wilson: Because the principal had a sense that Charles was not jelling with his teacher nor his class and needed a restart before being expelled.
HMH: Even though you're a second year teacher?
Wilson: Even though I was a second year teacher.
HMH: Or because you are a second year teacher?
Wilson: Maybe and also because I was a male, because I am male. They wanted Charles to have a male teacher perhaps for the first time, so they thought maybe that would work. And I begged, really, that he not be moved into my class, but my principal said well perhaps you should do a home visit first. Perhaps before he comes in, do a home visit. See how it goes. And so I visited Charles' house, and I got to know his mother, and I got to know his younger brother Royal. And Charles and I played Grand Theft Auto together, and I thought . . .
HMH: Are you any good at Grant Theft Auto?
Wilson: Terrible, terrible! It's also appalling. But anyways so Charles came into my classroom the beginning of the second semester, and we're talking about fractioned division or something, and he raised his hand. And I go, "Charles is raising his hand, this is good." So I call on him, "Yes, Charles?" And he says, “Mr. B, when are you coming back to my house to play GTA again?” And the other kids say, "You went to his house?" Yeah, yeah. So that not only started me “Oh I'll come to your house, too. Sure, we'll do home [visits].” So, I started going to more homes, whereas before I had been really reticent because I'm so scared that parents would find out I wasn't qualified to be their child's teacher.
HMH: Wow, you had imposter syndrome?
Wilson: Oh yeah. Believe it or not.
HMH: Because you're a young teacher?
Wilson: 23-year-old teacher.
HMH: Yeah I recall that.
Wilson: And so now I was visiting families and talking about whatever they want to talk about, playing video games, talking about . . . sometimes talking about schools, and I realized quickly at least that particularly for Charles there’s a lot more about these kids that I didn't realize. Like for example Charles, Charles had seen his father die from a heart attack in the front yard not but a couple of years prior. I didn't know that. No, no wonder he's breaking mirrors and lighting things on fire.
Wilson: I realize they had moved from St. Louis after some other traumatic events and then the same was true, well not the same, but similar things were true for other teachers, or other students rather. So it opened up relationships with students that I previously thought had decent relationships and it just opened up new doors. I was also able to use that in the teaching too, right? That came into the classroom. It wasn't quantifiable.
HMH: You're a really reflective practitioner. I often say that teaching is sort of the loneliest job in the world because even though you're surrounded by noise and personalities and you know they're kids and you're often not with other adults and if you are you know the bell is ringing, you're trying to get to the restroom. How do you learn and how do you create a community for yourself?
Wilson: Great question. I learn by doing a little bit of outside research. I can't say it's that much...
HMH: Like research, research, or . . . ?
Wilson: By reading research. I have some friends, including my mother-in-law, who forward me the latest article that they read about social emotional learning, for example, or differentiation, some EdWeek article about this, that, or the other. I think the best way, and even though I haven't done a great job this year, the best way that I've learned about instruction is through a program called Do It Yourself Coaching where I film myself, teach, and then watch that and I comment on my own teaching.
HMH: Like athletes, you know. My favorite story, Beyoncé watches her concerts every single night after she's performed.
Wilson: No, are you serious?
HMH: See you've got the stuff of rock stars and professional athletes.
Wilson: I think that is the best. I really wish we dedicated more time to it in schools. I wish we were filming ourselves [teach for professional development], more discussing the films more . . . in safe spaces, not with your evaluator.
HMH: Do you look at other teachers' videos and you show yours?
Wilson: I do. That's the program. Even two nights ago I was watching a teacher from a local charter school. And honestly had a little bit of an insecurity attack of “Oh my gosh, am I supposed to teach like this? It's so beautiful. I don't know if it's good or not.”
HMH: Performance anxiety right?
HMH: That's your perfectionism coming back right? Yeah.
If you could change one thing about what you're doing in the classroom today and try and keep that front of mind what would you, what would you wish to do better? Just one thing.
Wilson: Yeah, right. I think I would spend more time planning my work. I mean as sad as it sounds like that is such a central part of the job. As sad as it sounds, I don't feel like I do enough. I do not . . . in fact, I know I don't do enough. It's hard to know what enough is, but I would plan more.
HMH: Yeah that is so true. It's hard to know what enough is when you, when you're teaching you know, enough of the actual instruction, enough of the planning, and almost no time for reflection.
HMH: Well it's been a fabulous conversation. I feel honored to have met you and to witness your reflective practice in this conversation and I wish your beautiful class of fifth graders the best year can have and may they be good people. They'll do fine on the test.
Wilson: Thank you, I really appreciate your time.
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Research for this piece included contributions from K. A. Jagai and Ireen Hossain, Girls Write Now writers.