When Calvin Nellum meets new students for the first time, he often starts by rapping, he said.
I’m a physicist, lyricist, been in this ridiculousness, he raps, quoting Columbia University professor Chris Emden.
I’m physicist slash lyricist. I smash ignorance…
Students’ jaws drop, he said. “They’re like, ‘That’s my teacher?’ And so after I do that, they recognize that I got some type of different thing that’s special.”
Nellum, a science teacher at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter school on Detroit’s northwest side, said he is writing a book called “teaching black males in science education and science classrooms.”
He was one of four Detroit educators who told their stories last month on stage at the Lyft Lounge at Musictown Detroit as part of the Tale the Teacher storytelling event.
Chalkbeat, which co-sponsored the event, has been publishing videos of the storytellers. Last month, we published the video of a teacher who views teaching as a way to bring about social change.
Nellum began his story with a lamentation about substitute teachers who don’t do their jobs well.
He recalled a particularly clueless sub who seemed to believe that his students weren’t able to do their work because he believed they were “inadequate.”
The students were not inadequate, Nellum said.
They just needed to be reached in a different way.
“If I’ma teach you,” he said. “I’ma teach you with the devices that you … are used to, whether that’s hip hop, whether that’s music, whether that’s dancing.”
Watch Nellum tell his story below. (This video contains some profanity.)