There are a handful of reasons something goes viral. It’s usually inspiring, cringeworthy, infuriating, hilarious, or unarguably awesome. The video “Welcome to the 4th Grade” by Dwayne Reed nails both the unarguably awesome and inspiring categories. The clip is pretty hilarious too — with Reed taking on different personas and dropping an Obama impression on us. Most of all, it leaves you thinking: “His students are lucky to have him.”
The second Reed’s music video ended, I started looking for a way to contact the first-year teacher. Here, finally, was someone who had the charisma and social media clout to make the profession look cool. As a part-time teacher for 13 years, I’ve got some thoughts on the education system. You can’t teach that long and not have thoughts — both about how we support learning and how we support educators. So I called Reed and we spoke about schools, funding, his famous video, and another Chicago native, Chance the Rapper.
Pretty big buzz coming off the video, huh? What kind of feedback are you getting?
There’s been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, I’ve gotten emails and text messages, phone calls, Facebook requests. All my social media has blown up. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even remember to respond to all the things I want to respond to. There’s been some negative, too, but for the most part, the positivity has just been overwhelming.
What kind of negativity are you getting?
Some people are just saying, “Oh, he’s not going to last. He must be a first year teacher — that’s the only reason he’s got a smile on his face, he hasn’t been jaded.” Then there’s been the most insignificant, “Oh, the equations on the back of that board aren’t correct.”
As someone who taught for a long time, I saw your video and I really inspired, which I think is the key. I thought that if I was a 4th grader, I would be hyped. Have you had your students yet?
My kids came in and as they were walking down the hallway before we even talked, they would sing the song a little bit, or they would smile, or they’d be, “Hey, Mr. Reed.” My kids have been jazzed and then kids in other grades — 3rd, 5th, 2nd, 1st — were crazy. I walked into the lunch room the other day with the Kindergarten through 2nd graders and I felt like I was Justin Bieber or something. They were screaming “Mr. Reed!”
That’s awesome, because the other thing you’re doing — and the most important thing you’re doing, in my mind — is you’re making learning cool, right?
Definitely. I think when I was a student — with a lot of the teachers that I had growing up — you couldn’t have fun or cool mixed with school and work, and I feel like that’s so backwards. Why, if I’m going to be somewhere for eight hours a day, five days a week, why can’t I also have fun? Why can’t it be fun for me to be there, why can’t it be something that’s cool? If I feel like I can mix those two and find a decent balance, man, I’m set, and my kids are set.
I also saw your “Morning Song” — it seems to me like music is going to be a big part of what you’re trying to do this year. You have legit musical talent, but it also seems like that’s part of how you want to teach, is that right?
It doesn’t make sense to separate music from the rest of life, since music is such a big part of my life. Tell me one human being who doesn’t vibe with music. I’d be hard pressed to find somebody like that. Kids all the more, connect to music. You mention the morning song, if I can get us going early in the morning, remember and go, “We’re family, we’re a community.” I feel like love precedes learning, I feel like that song is about love. Not only the love for each other, but the love of learning, like, “Yo, I’m about to learn from my mistakes from yesterday and get things going.”
As far as a general curriculum, how many times have you tried to memorize math facts or states and different things like that and had a struggle. Memorize that new popular song, it comes easy. Why would I not incorporate music into my classroom? I have to do that.