Book Review: This is Not a Test

I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Jose Luis Vilson, at the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden in early May. While we introduced ourselves, Mr. Vilson shared with the group that he had recently published a book. Based on Jose’s charisma and strong views on education, I immediately knew I would want to read this book.

I came home from that luncheon and ordered the book on Amazon. I love Amazon because you can conveniently get almost anything delivered to your porch…and fast! I had failed to realize, unfortunately, that my mom’s previous home address – 45 minutes away from my front door – was listed as the delivery address from a previous order. When I put two and two together to find out that my copy was sitting on a some lucky new homeowner’s front porch, and not mine, I just looked at my husband and he exclaimed, “Road trip!” We pulled up to Mom’s old house and my book was still in the mailbox! (Whew! Crisis adverted.)

So, to start off, getting this book was neither convenient nor fast. Despite the unexpected time and energy it took to finally get the book, I had a feeling that it would all be worth the read.

I was right.

This is my first year as a middle school teacher. It is also my first year teaching in an underprivileged, urban school. On the one hand, I wish this book would have been available to me before I started my new teaching position this year – it would have taught me a great deal! That being said, I would not have fully appreciated nor valued Vilson’s take on (inner-city) public education before being thrust into the experience first-hand. Our experiences in urban school settings are different and they are real. Real to the point of surrealism. Our students experience hardships that middle-class suburbanites and rural folk cannot relate to on a personal level. These kids come to school with worries far greater than what our lawmakers expect of them on standardized tests. I guess I say all this to make the point that Vilson understands all of this and preaches it in his own unique teacher voice. His observations are quick and he calls it as he sees it. It was comforting to read his vignettes and realize that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that this struggle is universal. This retelling of his struggles and triumphs gives me hope that there is even more hope for our students and the communities that support them. We just need to raise our voices.

Anyways, back to the book. There were two chapters in this book that stood out to me the most:

1. White Noise (On Behalf of Ruben Redman) This chapter, about a young man in a classic scenario of “wrong place, wrong time,” gave me chills. I know many of my students could easily be victims of this same scenario, and it just isn’t right. And, of course, there is little you can do to prevent this from happening other than trying to influence our kids’ choices positively. Yet, we continue to pour our hearts into their educational lives and futures, hoping that our efforts can help magically lift them out of their life’s circumstances.

2. Where the Hustle Comes From What do you do with the student who can’t see past the drama at home – whether it be absent parents, lack of food, sketchy neighborhood, gangs or some other instability – to focus on school work? How do you reach him and make him realize that the time he puts in at school can create opportunities to lift him out of his neighborhood one day and provide him with the American Dream? How do you show him that, although you may look different on the outside you look much closer on the inside, and that you want nothing but the best for his future? Can you reach him? What can you do? Well, Vilson lists some excellent tips for educators in this chapter, including ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE and DON’T TRY TO CHANGE THEM, GET TO KNOW THEM.

Other points of Vilson’s that stuck out:

  • There is a clear-cut dichotomy between schooling and education. Education is for everyone. Schooling is not. (What Happened)
  • There will be times when you let your students down. Times get rough and it will happen, sooner or later. But don’t let it affect you. Learn from the experience, get back up, and try to do better the next day. (The Homeroom is a Home)
  • Students NEED to know that underneath that mask of professionalism, you are a compassionate human being who cares for them.  (God Got Jokes, Son)
  • Change in education starts with teachers, not with policy makers. (How to Drop the Mic)
  • Despite how hard you try, there may always be that 10% you cannot reach. [SIGH] (Every Day Above Ground is a Good One)

This book – now plagued with highlighter marks and jammed with make-shift Sticky Note bookmarks – will stay on my teacher’s desk next year as a reminder of why I teach and that, despite the many obstacles of NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core, standardized testing, or any other asinine education policies they throw at me, I CAN and WILL make a difference in my students’ lives. I always thought this, but now I know because Mr. Vilson says so.

If you want a copy of Vilson’s book, you can visit his website: 

You can also purchase the book on Amazon:


On a scale of 1-5, I rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads and added it to my list of Favorites. Yes, it is really that good. 🙂