Everybody appreciates an inspiring teacher movie: there's rule-bending Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, disciplined Morgan Freeman in Lean On Me, the Damon-Affleck launchpad Good Will Hunting, and the sarcastically cool cat Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. But if Hollywood is listening, they need to check out local Spanish teacher Trevor Boffone, Ph.D., who is connecting with students through Dubsmash.
It's too soon to tell if this story is destined for the big screen, but there's no denying the viral nature of those ten second videos showing a very white, kinda nerdy, Millennial teacher busting a move with his students.
Dr. Boffone, who always had an affinity for dance, says the high schoolers started teaching him their moves at the beginning of the school year and he started an Instagram account in February; @dr_boffone's Insta already has more than 160,000 followers (and counting).
"I would show them some moves and they would show me things; it took me awhile. The dance challenges are quite complicated: It’s like a puzzle, different pieces of the puzzle, now it’s putting them together.
"We take our time polishing them. They give me notes and that sort of thing, it's interesting to flip the tables and give them a leadership opportunity, teaching the teachers," says Boffone, though he was the one who suggested the Microwave Challenge shown below. They film the videos during lunch or after all their school work is done.
Even Dr. Boffone is surprised by the success of the Instagram account, which has been featured locally on Buzz Magazines and ABC13.
"On Dubsmash — part of why it’s so successful — the top users are almost exclusively black teenage girls. I’m the only, from what I’ve seen, the only person over 25 or 30 who’s like a well-known Dubsmasher, and one of the only white persons," says Boffone, who generally dances in the videos with talented students Ariana Tezeno, Takia and Talia Palmer, Reagan Boudreaux, Aeryn Thomas and De’Mya Robinson.
"It’s not by myself; it’s visually interesting. You want to click on it. It doesn’t look like the normal Dubsmasher," says Boffone "People that look like me are the enemy. White men, middle class white men are part of the road block in the United States."
Appearing on the local ABC affiliate got Boffone noticed by Good Morning America, where he played to his strengths by "wearing a cardigan and looking the part of a nerdy teacher" in front of five million viewers.
Connecting with his students through dance has made them more receptive in class, although he has not yet merged Spanish lessons with the dance videos. The videos also have opened the eyes of other students and teachers from around the country.
Boffone says teachers have reached out to say they always felt they needed to be one way in the classroom, and the videos have taught them to be more organic, to show more of themselves, and that by doing so the students have been more responsive and shown more respect," relays Boffone. He also credits the administration at Bellaire High School, though understandably not all principals would be as open minded.
"Every school has a different culture; the principal sets the culture. Bellaire Principal Michael McDonough is a great person to work for; he very much trusts the teachers. The culture is they trust us to do what we know is best for our classroom," says Boffone.
"What I'm doing, this Instagram account, most schools would have shut us down once they found out about it, for various reasons. My school is supportive; they like what is happening. People are happier to be there," says Boffone. "What I believe by building the relationships, by engaging with the students and showing that I'm interested in their culture, I'm actually elevating what they're doing and, by doing that, they are more invested in the [classroom] content."
Now that school is out, Boffone is looking forward to taking a break this summer and exploring the next chapter in his journey.
"Right now I’m going to pump the breaks and really think about what I want for this," says Boffone, who already had been working on a book about his teaching style. "It's not that what I’m doing is different, but now I have an audience. That’s interesting.
"I’m looking at how to figure out how to spread the knowledge. I know my school wants me to do a workshop, an in-service in August," says Boffone, who says he wants to help white teachers better connect with students.
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"For me teaching is about building relationships, and it’s about building relationships that find commonalities between teachers and students, like dancing, music and Dubsmash. What I’m interested in is helping others find and use content that’s organic: comic books, writing, poetry, film.
"People will tell me, 'Oh but I can’t dance, or I don’t dance.' It’s not about dancing. It’s about building relationships and investing in the students," says Boffone, adding that it goes beyond standardized testing or just passing students to the next grade.
To learn more and put a smile on your face, then watch a video — or ten — at @dr_boffone.