A Conversation with Tell Williams: From Pre-K Teacher to Raising Awareness on the Education System

Photo courtesy of Instagram/ @mrwilliamsprek

Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. Yet, the educational system has recently presented more roadblocks to such change. 

Years ago, education was perceived as a wholesome profession, schoolhouses were second homes for many students, and there was an innocent aura to them. 

Fast forward to our current era, and the educational world is struggling to stay afloat. Teaching has become political, even if many don’t want to admit it. 

“When we have lawmakers who know nothing about education making policies for education, it becomes political,” Tik Tok creator, Tell Williams told BELatina News recently. 

Williams, who grew up in a conservative town in Northern Indiana to an American father and Puerto Rican mother, uses his access to over two million followers on his Tik Tok to raise awareness on advocacy around education.

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On his social account, Tell Williams expresses the roadblocks (and discrimination) he personally has faced and the current issues regarding education. 

And we can’t deny that they aren’t many. 

The risk of neglecting teachers

Every so often, teachers are placed on a pedestal, as was the case during the height of the pandemic. They were, then, national heroes and essential workers. 

But those who have navigated the educational world knew this praise would be short-lived – and it was. 

Before the nation could even grasp the details of COVID-19, teachers were pushed back to classrooms – either virtual, hybrid, or in-person classrooms to teach through the perils of uncertainty. 

“I went back eight weeks after the world shut down in March [2020.] There was no vaccine at all. We barely had masks. We do the same after the school shooting,” Williams said.

“‘Oh, my God, teachers are amazing.’ And then three days later, no one cares anymore.”

There’s often no advocacy for teachers since children are always a top priority – and with good reason – but let’s not forget that teachers are human beings too. 

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“I will always advocate for my students, but not many people are saying they’re advocating for the teachers.”

Williams became a teacher by accident. 

He is a communications major and, like most of us, explored what he could do with his degree once he graduated. Williams gave teaching a chance nine years ago and quickly realized how much he loved it. 

However, Ted Williams also felt the need to change things in the classroom once he saw the lack of representation schools had. 

Towards an inclusive and comprehensive education

When he stayed, Williams received little pushback in his Indiana classroom. 

“When I was in Indiana, I had to go by the federal standards and the federal standards said within the classroom, you have to teach about anything and everything.”

“You had to be as accepting as you can. Your walls could not just show white people. You had to have books on LGBTQ+, brown, and Black families as well because those are the families that we serviced.”

However, it wasn’t until he moved to Pennsylvania that striving to maintain a culturally-inclusive environment in his classroom that he got pushback. His new classroom was in a private school with an affluent population. He creates content around these experiences as well. 

“That’s when I was Othered again. By the time I left Indiana, some of the staff did look like me, and the classrooms were more diverse. We had queer staff members – we had Black and brown staff members, and it was great. Then when I came here, it shifted again. I was the only queer person on staff for a while and the only person of color on staff for a while. It was a challenge.”

Their willingness to work on creating a culturally-safe environment in classrooms was minimal. This affected their understanding of how important it was to understand cultural differences and the proper ways to celebrate them. 

“It was like pulling teeth to get them to let me do bilingual books in the classroom or to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.”

“And every Cinco de Mayo, they were like, ‘do you want to go have margaritas and celebrate your holiday? I’m like, well, that’s funny because that’s a Mexican holiday.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, okay, what’s a big deal.’ To which I’d respond, ‘do you think Canada celebrates Flag Day on July 4th?’”

It may seem mind-boggling to many, but being unaware of the importance of diversity and inclusion efforts is a reality that is present in many professional spaces, not just schools. 

Similar to Pennsylvania, other states have taken the stance to scrutinize culturally-inclusive types of teaching methods, which comes at the expense of others. 

“It just feels like there’s, like, an attack on education. There’s no better way of putting it. We’re attacking our future generation by not giving them the right tools on how to be able to live in a society with other people.”

If only these policymakers understood that many teachers are only advocating for families and children of communities who have not always felt seen – or loved. This is how we promote a future where everyone can win. 

“Teaching is a form of advocacy. So, every teacher out there is an advocate, and every teacher out there is political.”

It’s hard to read, but that’s what’s currently happening

As policies become more restrictive, teachers leave the profession to pursue something else. Williams, unfortunately, became part of this statistic. 

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“I knew that I had to take a step away when I saw what it was doing to my colleagues, and when I saw what it was doing to queer educators,”

The Tik Tok creator is now pursuing a degree in macro social work. This branch of social work helps legislators create policies and strike down policies that don’t advocate for people, among other things. He is also studying to get his clinical license to provide therapy services for children.

“I am still really advocating for these kids because that’s so important [to me].”

Tell Williams is a prime example of how to use social media platforms as a tool for activism. 

If you are an educator and would like to share helpful content with other educators, Williams left some tips:

  • Never take a video in your classroom, whether it’s before or after school. 
  • Don’t show students. 
  • Don’t say where you work.
  • Never use a student’s name. I don’t care if you have the parents’ permission. 
  • Play by the rules with your school and their social media policy.
  • Note: Advocacy is essential, but also is your self-care. Your safety and body autonomy is significant as well. So, do what you can and ensure that you are safe when you’re doing it.

Before we concluded our call, the educator turned social worker left the BELatina News with some words of advice:

“Our students are who they are – and our children are who they are. You don’t have to get it. You don’t understand it. You can be mad, but understand that pronouns are important. Use the correct ones, and validate that. If that child is trans, their parents are trans, or that child is queer, you don’t choose them, but you choose how you make them feel and how to celebrate them. You choose how you advocate for them.”

“The next time you have a child in your classroom or your own child coming out to you, it’s better to have that child –  that maybe you don’t understand – but you support and love than a child who is depressed.”

Loving and supporting children is at the heart of everything. Maybe this is what is missing in the nation at the moment.