TSR Positive Images: The difference between good teachers and great teachers are ones who take an interest in what’s important to their students and teaches on their level. Trevor Boffone is one of those teachers. Boffone, who teaches Spanish at Bellaire High School in Houston, and his students have gone viral for their DubSmash videos in the classroom and were even featured on “Good Morning America.” Boffone said he always looks for ways to connect with his students by showing a genuine interest in what they care about.
“I quickly noticed that many of my students were making Dubsmash videos and so, after showing an authentic interest, they began to teach me,” Boffone tells us. “It became a way for us to build strong relationships and a better sense of community which enhanced the learning environment.”
We’re here for Boffone’s viral fame because the choreography is on point and you can tell the students love it. SWIPE to see why we love educators like Boffone and read his full interview with us below:
How did you start dancing with your students in the first place?
Boffone: Since I began teaching in 2008, I’ve always looked for ways to connect with my students by showing a genuine interest in their cultures–the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, and so on and so forth. When I started working at Bellaire High School (Houston, TX), it coincided with the re-launch of Dubsmash as a dance challenge app. I quickly noticed that many of my students were making Dubsmash videos and so, after showing an authentic interest, they began to teach me. It became a way for us to build strong relationships and a better sense of community which enhanced the learning environment. I believe that teachers can’t truly teach content until they know their students and Dubsmash/dancing with my students has just been one of the ways this has worked for me. Rather than disregard their dancing or music as inferior or less than the music I grew up with, instead I celebrate it and show them that their culture matters and has value. It is worth being a part of the school experience.
Have you always been a good dancer or did the students have to teach you these moves?
Boffone: I love this question! I’ve always loved to dance and I have always told people that in another lifetime I could have been a dancer. And now I just laugh to myself because here I am dancing for millions of people. The whole thing has been really unexpected! I like to think I’m naturally a good dancer, but I’d be lying if I said that these dance moves were easy for me to learn. If people think I’m a good dancer from my Instagram then the credit must go to my students. Usually they pick out the dances and teach me the moves. Sometimes I contribute, but I really try to let the students use their voices.
How often do you and your students upload videos and what’s the process like? Do your students help coordinate/produce the content?
Boffone: I usually make 5-6 Instagram posts per week, which can be a lot to keep track of because I try hard to engage with my followers by responding to comments and DMs. My students are basically co-producers of @dr_boffone. They often select the Dubs or the music that we dance to. In the beginning they had to teach me a lot about how to use the different apps and how to manipulate the lighting so everything looks just right. As the account has gotten bigger, I find that I am doing more, but I think it just speaks to me engaging with more students, many of which I don’t actually teach. For the students who are regularly in my video, they have a more hands on role. But there are many students who I have never met who will just show up before school or during lunch and ask to make a Dub with me. Our school has about 3,500 students and I try to serve as many of them as I can.
Are you a native of Houston? How does the city’s rich cultural background play into your movement and what you’re doing?
Boffone: I’m from New Orleans. I moved to Houston in 2012 to go to grad school and I just never left. One of the things that has kept me here is the diversity. I love being around different cultures and peoples. There is always something new to learn when you live in that type of environment. I think Houston definitely reflects in my work as a teacher (and a dancer!). I have had an incredibly privileged life and I try to use that privilege to be a better teacher. Being in a place like Bellaire HS that reflects Houston’s rich culture and diversity allows me to continue my learning process and find ways to better connect with different types of people.
What was it like going viral and how have you and your students dealt with that new found fame?
Boffone: Teachers aren’t supposed to be famous. It’s not a job that anyone expect to get notoriety for. At least that was my experience for the first ten years I taught. And then overnight I went viral. Overnight, I went from a teacher that had a very low profile at school to what felt like a bonafide rockstar. I would jokingly tell people that I felt like Beyonce at school. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s honestly how I felt. I could not longer walk down the hallway like a regular teacher. All of a sudden students were throwing me the woah or taking pics with me. And the whispers! I still have plenty of students who talk about me while I walk past them! Students, I can hear you! They are always saying positive things, but it’s just been one part of this whole experience. To be honest, there are days when I wish I could just have a quiet day. But I love my job and I love what my job has become. My students have been amazing, too. While some may have been starstruck at the beginning of the school year, the students in my class know me and to them I’m just a teacher who happens to have this other side of him. I always try to incorporate my students into everything. This is another part of using my privilege. For instance, when Good Morning America called me, they wanted to fly me to NYC for the show and I responded by telling them, not asking them, that my students needed to be involved. This was a bit more work on the producing end so they ended up sending a film crew to our school. I also have companies that ask me to wear their clothing and I always say that if they get me then they also get my students. So there are some definite perks to being in my classes. But honestly, I just work to use my privilege to bring my students into the circle. I may be the face of the account, but this is really about them. If you notice, I am usually in the back of my videos. The students are front and center. This isn’t by chance. It’s intentional. It’s not about me. It’s about giving them a platform.
I see you’re writing a book about using Dubsmash to break down cultural barriers in the classroom. Can you talk a little bit more about that theory and why it’s so important for teachers to be invested in what their students are interested in?
Boffone: The book is finished. Right now I am pitching it to literary agents.
I think many of my students (and in general, students of color in urban schools) feel invisible. They don’t feel seen by their teachers. They are consistently told that their identities or cultures aren’t important to the learning experience. If we look at school rules and the way the school day operates, we can see how many schools are places that reinforce white supremacy. Sometimes this is explicit, but many times it is something undergirding the school experience. So many teachers, especially white teachers, come in with a savior mentality. Our students don’t need saving. What they need is to be seen and heard. Oftentimes, teachers will make comments to students about their cultures–“That’s not music!” “That’s not a real word.” “You call that dancing?”–and every time a statement like this is made it furthers the divide between students and teachers. Contemporary slang, dancing, and music is not inferior to what previous generations grew up with, it’s just different and it deserves to be respected.