Mid promise, with his students hanging on every word, Will Earley realized he didn't know what the prize was. "I told my class, 'If you do well on your next geometry test, I'll have.... something for you."
Inspiration for the incentive was found in his Denfeld Hunters' earbuds. Will says they were always asking him to listen to rap songs and showing him videos, so the reward for good grades would be his transformation from math teacher into lyrical master.
There was work to do before the gift could be bestowed, some of it awkward. But for his students, Will was all in.
A+ in Insight
Growing up in Fridley, Will noticed his love of math was a solitary endeavor. "I wondered if having a really great teacher would make a difference." He also realized that, for a lot of his friends, just getting to class was a lesson in tenacity. "I could see how school wasn't their first priority. It just couldn't be. They just had too much going on outside of school."
That insight is what motivated Will to student teach at Denfeld, which has significantly more students receiving free and reduced lunches than Duluth East. After graduating this spring, Will plans on teaching in either inner city Chicago or Denver, where he knows to pause and get to the deeper issue. "You have to understand where kids are coming from before yelling at them for missing a math assignment."
Teaching much-maligned math to students facing adversity is not for the faint of heart. But Will is completely committed. "I've known since middle school that I was going to be a teacher. I always try to be a role model and encourage people to be the best that they can be. I hate to see wasted potential."
Math in his Honda
Like teaching, rapping comes naturally to Will, who says he has a rhyming brain. He writes math poems while his students work and also comes up with a math pun everyday– like, "What's Fetty Wop's favorite quadrilateral? A trap-izoid."
Assuming the role of a rapper wasn't a stretch, but getting it from vision to video was like trying to figure out what time the train would reach the station if it's going 60 sixty miles per hour but has to stop every three miles to pick up the cantaloupe falling out of its cars. A lot of factors had to line up to solve this problem.
First, he had to film himself. Imagine walking into a campus parking lot and seeing a guy rapping in his Honda, holding cue cards in the spirit of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Because he was working solo, "I had this random tripod set up outside my car."
Or imagine unknowingly walking into a rap video when visiting Will's office, "A couple of my coworkers came in and I said, 'I'm making a video for my students. Stay out... unless you're going to hold the camera."
Will deftly maneuvered through the questioning stares. After spending a couple of hours writing and recording, he buckled down for another five or six hours of shooting and editing. This, on top of school, student teaching, grading papers for a math professor, and being a community coordinator for Residence Life.
The video was posted less than a month ago and already has more than 3,000 views and comments like, "Lol this dude is sick. Wish he had been my math teacher."
Of that 3,000, how did the target audience respond? With silence, at first. "I played it and it was dead quiet. I looked at the screen and I looked back and every single kid was recording it on their phone."
Reaction to the video included awe that this is how their teacher spent his free time, "They see that I'm not just a teacher and it's over when I leave the classroom. I'm invested in their lives. That's what really matters to them."
And if that investment involves references to Fetty Wop's favorite quadrilateral? Drop the mic.
Watch Mr. Earley Production's "Math Rap"
Chapter 6 was so dang fun though,
I’m really kind of sad that it’s done bro,
I need it like my skin needs the sun yo,
Slope? Yeah that’s rise over run bro
Aye, you talking math yeah I got it,
Calculators all in my pockets
Flying through this homework like we delta,
You got questions Mr. Earley’s gonna help ya
Aye, I’m doing math in my Honda, 3.1459
Aye, I’m doing math in my Honda, 3.1459
Man I just love this math, give me lines shapes and graphs,
could study this all night long so bring me more polygons,
bout to get an A+, Denfeld they know us,
show my work I don’t rush, people hate math I say shush, aye, yeah baby
Moving on to chapter 8, you know it’s gonna be so great
We got proprtions and some rates and ratios I cannot wait
They like “Earley will you be my math teacher and I’m like yeah”
I got two pencils in my pockets if you need and extra pair
All you see is triangles they got three sides yeah everywhere
180 degrees you add the angles if you care
As you know so very well, check opposite sides if they’re parallel
You all should be so fluent on checking for congruence
Story by Lori C. Melton
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