Kevin Adams and Gerardo Muñoz, creators and hosts of the podcast “Too Dope Teachers and a Mic,” have an on-air energy and rapport that might lead you to think they have known each other since childhood. But if it were not for one student they each taught at different schools, they may have never crossed paths.
In the fall of 2013, Adams and Muñoz were both teaching in Denver public schools. As educators of color, at schools where almost all of their colleagues were white and the majority of their students were not, they were having parallel but separate experiences and conversations. Each felt isolated, and increasingly frustrated by systemic inequities they saw in Denver schools.
“Too Dope Teachers With a Mic” Facebook Live broadcasts from the 2019 NEA Conference on Racial and Social Justice:
- With Boots Riley – July 1, 2019
- With Terry Jess and Micah Kruser, who discuss “effective and disruptive white allyship.” Followed by Freedom Educators of the MAPSO Freedom School, in Essex County, New Jersey – July 1, 2019.
- With Karen Reyes-Lozano, DACA teacher from Austin, Texas – July 1, 2019.
- With Jesyca Mathews, Flint, Mich., educator and activist – July 2, 2019.
- With Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo, co-Founders of Choose and co-authors of two books, most recently “Tell Me Who You Are,” an exploration of identity in the United States – July 2, 2019.
They didn’t know each other yet, but they had a student in common – she had gone to the middle school where Kevin taught and she was now at Gerardo’s high school.
“She told me about Kevin,” says Gerardo. “She said we were gonna be BFFs… One day Kevin came to my planning period and said, ‘I notice you’re the only teacher of color at your school’ ”
Kevin recalls: “My first question for Gerardo was: ‘How have you made it? How have you survived?’ ”
Gerado says he immediately knew “this is a guy who has experienced the same kind of things I have.”
From those initial conversations grew a friendship, as well as many discussions about race and educational equity. Soon after, Kevin moved from the middle school where he had been teaching, to the high school where Gerardo teaches – the Denver Center for International Studies.
“We would share thoughts about things going on in school that maybe white teachers didn’t share,” says Kevin. “We would come out of faculty meetings, talking about micro-aggressions…”
“As teachers of color,” says Gerardo, “we learn to compartmentalize our identities when in our school buildings, because we may have opinions and a perspective that the majority of people in school can’t relate to.”
One week, they were both listening to a fan podcast about Denzel Washington. It was fun and goofy and educational. A lightbulb went off in Kevin’s head. “I told Gerardo: ‘We could do this, but let’s make it about being teachers of color.’ We thought it would be cool and fun. So we just sat down and did it.”
Gerardo was initially less enthused. “My first thought was: ‘Who’s going to listen to us? Who cares what we have to say?’ ” But he was soon 100 percent on–board. And they quickly discovered that a lot of people did, in fact, care about what they had to say.
The first episode focused on Black Lives Matter @ School. “We recorded that first episode,” says Kevin, “and then we actually lost the episode!” He laughs about it now. “We kept going and we started recording more. And we got a response.”
Gerardo says they didn’t start the podcast with activism in mind. “We joked that recording the podcast is like therapy. We’d record, and then we’d just feel better afterwards.
“We built it from the ground up, on a shoestring, paying for everything out of pocket,” he adds. “We realized pretty quickly that people really enjoyed what we had to say. A lot of teachers told us things like, ‘I am so glad you are raising these issues. I thought I was crazy. I thought I was the only one…’ ”
They also received positive feedback from students, and from their principal, who once told teachers at the school that if they wanted “real PD” – or professional development – they should check out the podcast.
Gerardo says he doesn’t actively promote the podcast in his classes, but if students ask about it, or if they are addressing a topic in class that was discussed on the podcast, he will tell them about it. Because he keeps the microphone they use for the podcast on his desk, he says “a lot of my students think I’m a rapper.”
For one episode, their featured guest was a Mexican-American student who spoke about Latinx history month. In the winter of 2018, the Colorado Education Association took notice of the podcasts and said they’d like to work with Kevin and Gerardo. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association expressed similar support.
“Through the podcast, you can organize and take action in an easy way,” says Kevin. “To spread a message and do something about an issue of concern to you. I like to set a good example for my students in that way.”
During the February 2019 Denver teachers’ strike, Kevin and Gerardo featured striking educators on their podcast and hosted a couple of teachers’ rallies. They say many teachers approached them and told them they loved the podcast and thanked them for what they were doing.
Many of their students also took notice, both of the strike, and how the podcast was supporting teacher activism.
“Our students saw that teachers were standing up for their rights,” says Kevin. “They were proud of us. They kept asking about the strike, about the issues, and about how they could get involved. We had deep conversations not only about the strike, but about compensation, living wages, inequality, increasing the minimum wage, and more.”
In July 2019, Kevin and Gerardo broadcast via Facebook Live from NEA’s Conference on Racial and Social Justice. Featured guests included rapper and filmmaker Boots Riley, educator and author Jesse Hagopian, and educator and activist Jesyca Mathews, who spoke about her work helping students raise their voices in the fight for clean water in Flint, Mich.
“It was a blast. It was really cool,” says Gerardo of their conference experience.
“It was one of the greatest experiences we’ve had broadcasting with the podcast,” adds Kevin, saying it was tied for number one in his mind with what he calls their “Wu Tang teacher episode” — which featured 11 educators of color as guests.
As they juggle teaching and producing the podcast, both Kevin and Gerardo say it is their students who really motivate them every day. And they both underscore that student activism is key to the movement for racial justice in education.
“I think students are the vanguard of building movements right now,” says Kevin. “They understand the technology, they understand how to communicate. They are really creative… As teachers, we can’t be resistant to their push. We can’t hold them back and tell them to wait their time.”