If you’ve hung out with a fourth grader recently, you know that it’s hard to impress them — or keep their attention. Now imagine 20 of them. That’s why Dayton, Ohio, teacher Tina Bailey is always looking for new ways to engage her students — and she did so this week with a little help from megahit Black Panther.
A video the Dayton Leadership Academies instructor shared — in which she’s wearing a Black Panther mask and greeting each child with a modified version of T’Challa and Shuri’s handshake as they arrive for class — has gone viral. In it, Bailey’s outfitted in a T-shirt that says, “Nothing to lose, everything to gain,” and she connected with each of her “babies,” as she affectionately calls them in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, as they walked into class on Tuesday.
Physical greetings are the norm in her class, which she dubs a “family,” and she’s always looking for new ones to get the kids excited on their way in, she tells us. After seeing Black Panther on Sunday, she was jazzed up about the flick and decided to do it when her students returned to school after the long weekend. She said that the kids actually knew the handshake before the film’s release (thanks to the internet), but she gave it its own spin with the two-handed slap. A fellow teacher recorded the video, which she later shared on a site called Black Educators Rock, and from there it took on a life of its own. (This version alone has more than 250,000 views, and that’s not where it originated.)
Of course, the internet is always a mix of the good and the bad. While most people loved it, it had its critics. Some suggested that the educator, a mom of twins, should instead try to teach the kids “real history.”
“A lot of teachers have been excited about it because they understand,” Bailey says. “And there were a lot of parents commenting asking, ‘What school is this? I’m sending my kid there. What grade do you teach?’ So it’s very exciting, but I just hope that people remember that it was for the kids. I don’t want them to take the focus off that. This is for our students.”
She continues, “Our babies are so stressed out in these areas. You have the low income, you have bullying, you have just different things that are going on in the world. We do one thing to get them excited and [commenters] have to take it somewhere else. They forget that it’s for the students. It’s not for you all.”
Some even made it into a race thing.
“A lot of people have different perceptions of the movie. They feel that a lot of African-Americans are taking the movie out of context and we are using it as a movement and not that it was just a superhero movie,” she says. “I enjoyed the film — all aspects of what it represents — and people need to just appreciate that the movie was well put together. It was a nice movie [laughs]. Now, whatever you take from it, just be respectful because I had some commenters say: ‘If she had white students would she have done it?’ If I had a diverse classroom, I definitely would have done it,” she says flabbergasted. “Some of the comments were really mind-blowing. I was like: You guys, no.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Bailey is a fan of superhero movies in general. She’s seen all the ones in recent years, except The Dark Knight Rises, which she skipped because of what transpired in Aurora, Colo. She has a collection of superhero figurines. And she liked Black Panther so much she saw it twice. After Sunday’s viewing, she went back on Tuesday — hours after making her viral video.
As for what her students who saw Black Panther gleaned from the film, which many of them saw, she said they weren’t having political or race-related conversations about it. They’re kids. They enjoyed the typical stuff in a superhero movie that a kid does — the action and cool special effects.
Bailey made it clear that her lessons aren’t all built around Black Panther plot points — though there are curricula related to the flick. Yes, haters, there is “real history” being learned in the class. In fact, on the evening of Feb. 22 there will be a whole presentation tied to Black History Month in which the kids come dressed as influential African-Americans. She showed off some of their other projects in a video tour below.
Despite some criticism of an otherwise adorable display, fourth-graders at the Dayton Leadership Academies aren’t letting any negativity get to them. Bailey recorded another video of them thanking the folks in cyberspace for sharing their video. Watch it to the end (it’s short) to see another Black Panther nod — the kids end by crossing their arms over their chests like Wakandans.
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