For the Love of Teaching: The People Who Inspire Series: Jose Vilson


The People Who Inspire series highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.

Today’s Post features Jose Vilson, Educator, Writer, Web Designer, and Advocate. Jose teaches mathematics to middle school students in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. In addition to creating opportunities for professional development for his fellow teachers, he writes about issues in education at his blog,

Jose’s writings on education can be seen in print and widely across the web.

Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work? How did come about?

I was born and raised in the Lower East Side of NYC, and I’m a Black Latino. I went through both public and private schooling, and found myself enthralled by the idea of teaching.

The idea grew on me after some of the work I had done in college around identity and activism. Around that time, I also picked up blogging under a pseudonym. The blog encouraged some of my confidants to push me towards having my own site, and thus, TheJoseVilson was born. I didn’t intend it this way, but the timing was perfect.

I didn’t think I would make it into a blog that got this much attention.

Some of it still wows me to this day. The people I’ve met and the opportunities it’s afforded me, I couldn’t ask for me. Back in 2003, I didn’t think a blog could get me published, or speaking engagements. Of course, most of that buoys up some of the work I do with students and fellow educators.

Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?

Mainly, I concern myself with equity and pedagogy, trying to find solutions wherever I can. It’s important to have a macro-perspective, understand the global vision of things, but the things we do on a daily basis to contribute to inequity also matter a great deal. I dabble in lots of different organizations, but I’m starting to find spaces where I feel comfortable, particularly on the web.

What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?

Teaching. Period. I love teaching. I’m not a fan of grading papers, but I am a fan of knowing that a kid who didn’t get something before got it, whatever that “it” is.

I love greeting students in the morning, and having the responsibility towards them every single day. When I get in my collared shirt, slacks, and sweater for those days, most of the other stuff outside of the classroom annoys me. Interacting with students around math, and building their math literacy empowers me to do a better job every day.

What aspects do you find challenging?

The biggest challenge is knowing that you can’t reach everyone 100% of the time. No matter how your class is set up, there will always be those one or two who you’ll regret not having taught more. It’s difficult, but if I didn’t have 28 other students to feel happy about, I’d beat myself up for it even more.

You are a writer, web designer, and activist.  Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might want to speak up and speak out about social justice issues they are passionate about in terms of transforming their ideas to action?

Yes. Do your best to say something new. Don’t just copy someone else’s vision and incorporate it into yours. Find out what you’re about first and then sample pieces from others to make yours complete. One can simultaneously believe that this world has a lot of issues and that in order to solve them, we have to be part of the solution.

What/Who Inspires you?

Life does. Every day is full of moments that push me to understand myself and the things around me better.

What have been the Keys to your success so far?

I’m not giving those away. Get your own keys!

Seriously, the key to my success is just an understanding that we have opportunities to create our own luck, to prepare ourselves for when the doors of opportunities break open ever so slightly.

Is there anything Else you’d like to add?

Yes. Time management only works when we learn to prioritize on the fly, and make adjustments as needed.

To find our more about Jose and his work, visit his website at

If you know any People Who Inspire that you would like to be featured in the series, fill out the contact form here.


Grace & Peace,

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

I'm a social justice worker interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

2 Responses

  1. October 20, 2012

    […] Originally posted at… […]

  2. October 21, 2012

    […] Thompkins interviews a few of us for his People Who Inspire Me series. Read our dialogue. [Relando […]

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