“Look, I’m a millionaire, but I ain’t used nothin’ in my life that my teachers taught me.”
Those words kick off Jake Paul’s rap “My Teachers,” which has more than 16 million YouTube views. Some of those views came from Hawley ISD educator and ATPE member Matt Preston who, after hearing the song, decided he wasn’t going to ignore Jake’s insults. The result was a school-wide Teacher Appreciation Week video production that landed Matt, and Hawley (pop. 619), in the national news. Matt’s parody of “My Teachers” was so popular that Jake flew Matt to New York City to join him onstage where Jake ultimately apologized for dissing teachers.
For Matt (AKA m.a.double), the positive response to the viral video is less about his music career and more about defending educators. He isn’t looking for fame as a hip-hop artist; he’s more interested in connecting with kids. The third-year special education inclusion teacher and coach says building authentic relationships with students and other educators is the key to success in schools.
ATPE talked with Matt about his music, his experiences as a new teacher and coach in a small school, and the connections between the two.
What is your experience as a hip-hop artist?
In high school, some of my football buddies and I started making our own songs. Once I got into college, I made more songs and tied some of that music into my youth ministry work. Now I’m teaching and writing songs for pep rallies and the football team. Last May, Jake Paul put out a teacher diss track and it came up on my radar. As soon as I saw Jake’s video, I was already thinking of lyrics for my own response. Cort Arthur, Hawley’s computer teacher and a coach, set up the cameras and helped me shoot the video scenes with students. We posted on YouTube, and the right people shared the video. Whoopi Goldberg talked about it on The View. It just blew me away.
What are you trying to say with that song and video?
Jake Paul is a big social media influencer and has a huge following of, mostly, younger kids. He made a teacher diss about how he didn’t like school. And, in a way, I understood because I see kids every day who feel like school is not for them. Jake obviously had that experience and made a song about how the stuff he was taught wasn’t useful. I made a response defending teachers. We don’t always have a say about what we teach because curriculum is state-mandated. But curriculum is just a small part of what teaching is. Like I say in the song, having the ability to intervene in a kid’s life when they don’t have a role model or don’t have parents involved in their lives is important. I wanted to defend teachers who put a ton of effort and energy into being a positive influence in kids’ lives and don’t just teach curriculum. My grandad was a teacher and a coach for nearly 40 years. I wanted to defend teachers like him who give their whole lives to it.
How important is it to broaden the ways we interact with students?
It was fun making the music video. Just getting kids in a different environment and doing something they don’t necessarily expect can really help them. Sometimes it ends up being awkward, but you just have to take those risks. We didn’t know if the music video was going to work when we recorded it, but it ended up working out really well. You have to put yourself out there a little bit. That moment may be one of the most memorable things the students do.
Do you have plans to create more hip-hop?
My hip-hop work has definitely been on the back burner, but when I feel inspired to write, I’ll try to find some time. I also feel that my teaching is making just as much, if not more, of an impact than my music. If an opportunity presents itself, then I might pursue creating more music, but I don’t feel like I need to do more than I already am.
What is it like teaching in a small school?
In a big school, it’s not as easy to know every student. There are just over 200 students in our high school and nobody goes unseen. You still have to make an effort; otherwise, students who are shy can feel unnoticed. But as a teacher, you don’t have any excuse to not know everyone. It comes down to making an effort to learn their names and get to know them. Hawley is small enough to feel like a family. That doesn’t mean there aren’t family issues that get messy, as all families experience, but there’s the potential to be really connected to each other.
What skills make you well-suited for being an educator and coach?
I’ve been working on the relational side of things since I was doing youth ministry, and that definitely carried over to working in Hawley. I focus on building relationships with kids. They respect me and are interested in what I have to say, and I can challenge them. I know the kids are going to make mistakes, but I don’t want them to feel like they have to hide mistakes around me. I want them to feel like they can be transparent and real.
Any advice for first-year educators?
The biggest thing is to be yourself. If you’re not authentic, kids pick up on it very quickly. Don’t feel like you have to be something just for the kids’ sake. Put the time and effort in to getting to know them, learning their names, and being present. You may not have a great connection with every single student, but if you’re being yourself, the students who need to be around you will be drawn to you, and a connection will form with time. That first year is tough, and having people you can go to is so important. ’If you find just one teacher who you can share real struggles with, that’s very important. I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like I can be that mentor for a new teacher.
How important is building relationships?
Relationships are the name of the game—they don’t go anywhere. Curriculum is always changing, but knowing how to build healthy relationships is lifelong. If a kid leaves school and never got that A in math, but they learned patience or developed relational skills that they’ll carry on for the rest of their life, then that’s a big deal. Relationships should be a huge part of the school system.