By LISA A. DAVIS
When Gerry Brooks appeared on computer screens streaming live the afternoon of May 21 to address an audience primarily of Florida private school educators, the first thing he did was pat his hair to fix a poof of gray strands that stood above his crown.
“Oooh,” he said, catching a glimpse of his misbehaving hair on the screen. “Look at my hair sitting this way. I should have done something beforehand.”
Brooks immediately brings a smile to your face and makes you feel as though you are old friends, even through a computer monitor. His accent is thick with a twang, perhaps a mix of his native Florida and Lexington, Kentucky, where he has built a successful 20-year-plus career as an educator.
Brooks has a lot of experience in front of a camera addressing a large audience.
Five years ago, his world changed when he posted a video on social media that went viral, and ever since he continues to post comical videos about his real-life educational experiences like this. Today, he has amassed more than 2 million followers on social media channels, including 1.7 million on Facebook. He has taken that fame to the national speaking circuit to encourage educators in their career to becoming the best they can.
On this day, he was speaking to a live audience of nearly 1,000 strong during Step Up For Students 2021 Choice in Education Celebration: Boosting Learning Through Laughter.
Despite his viral fame, one thing was immediately clear to the audience of mostly educators: he was one of them.
He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s down-to-earth. He knows what he’s talking about. His goal is to share that knowledge and empower other educators.
During Thursday’s event, Brooks taught educators about eight “object lessons.” Well, those and his love affair with the Dollar Tree, where he frequents.
“So, what I’ve done is I’ve gathered some of my favorite things at Dollar Tree and I want to share them with you to hopefully be able to encourage you, in the position that you are in, to be better in whatever it is,” he told the audience.
Lesson One: Reading glasses.
“I collect these for my teachers,” he said holding up a pair. “When we go back to school in August every one of my teachers gets pair of reading glasses.”
“You will never be as good as you are supposed to be or fulfill your calling until you can look through the lens of other people. Because when you are only looking through your lens, then you’re only looking at how a situation affects you as a teacher, as a PE teacher, as a music teacher as a classroom teacher because you are only focusing on how it affects you.”
Brooks said you have to consider the perspective of those around you: the student, the parents, and others. If you don’t stop to think about where they may be coming from when a child is late for school, (it could be because of a divorce, a job loss, an illness, not enough money to pay the electric bill), you might not interact with them in a way you should. When you look through other people’s lenses, he noted, you gain “sympathy, empathy and understanding.”
“You can’t be great until you start looking through the lens of other people,” he said.
Lesson 2: Light switch (not from Dollar Tree)
Brooks said a teacher he met would buy light switches for each of her students and have them paint them as an art project. Then they would keep them on their desks. If the children were having a hard time transitioning from recess to math, for example, she would have the students flip their light switch.
“She used this to remind students the importance of moving our minds from one activity to another” he said. “…Everybody turn off your recess light. Ok, guys we’ve got to get in our math minds. Turn on your math light.”
While it’s great for students, it’s equally as great for educators to remind them you have to turn off work on a regular basis so you can enjoy your personal life and don’t burn out on your professional life.
“You in education have to be able to turn off your professional mind on a daily basis because – here’s why – if you can’t turn off your professional mind, then you’re no good to no one,” Brooks said.
Lesson 3: Pacifier
“This represents someone’s baby,” he said. “Here’s the reason I give this to all the teachers because they are dealing with someone’s baby.”
Brooks said it’s important that educators remember they are helping raise someone else’s baby. When talking with their students’ parents, even if it’s a difficult student, you have to look at it from the parent’s perspective and think about that when you have a conversation with them about their child.
Lesson 4: M&M’s
His local Dollar Tree has a dozen varieties of M&M candies. He urges administrators to know which kind each staff members likes so they can buy them their favorites. This is an example of relationship building, he said.
“The number one thing to job place happiness and staff retention is relationships,” Brooks said.
Lesson 5: Butterfinger candy bar
This is a two-for lesson, he told the educators, and “BF” is key.
“Bye Felicia,” he said, referring to a pop culture reference from the 1995 film “Friday,” which is a dismissal of a person. In this case, Brooks said, it’s moving away from negative people. These are the constant complainers, he said, who talk negatively about the administration, policies, children and their parents.
“We need to get negative people out of our lives,” he said. “If you hang out with people you become negative.”
The second meaning of BF is for best friend.
“You need a professional best friend who you can go to,” Brooks said.
Because everyone has times they have to vent, this is the person you can go to who will give you “sympathy, empathy and understanding.” They will help you get through the bad days and not spread the negativity to the rest of the school.
Lesson 6: Magic 8 ball
Brooks remembers being a kid and using a Magic 8 ball to ask it all of life’s questions and receive all the answers. Unfortunately, he said, that doesn’t work in his professional world.
“Guess what? There’s no Magic 8 ball in education,” he said.
He said people need to realize that what works for one school, or one classroom, won’t necessarily work for the next. It’s the same with students. Education is not one size fits all. Beware of those who think there is a Magic 8 ball in education.
“When you try to push a Magic 8 ball on someone it’s going to backfire on you,” Brook said, reminding educators to consider what works for their students and their environment.
Lesson 7: Peanut butter and jelly
This P&J in this case is professional jealousy, Brooks said.
“If you allow P and J into your life as a professional, you can’t grow,” he said. “We need to guard ourselves from professional jealousy.”
Lesson 8: Peeps
Brooks said he enjoy the seasonal sugary treat all year round, so he has to plan ahead and purchase them around Easter and freeze them to have the rest of the year. The lessons here, he said, is “seasons come to an end” and “this, too, will pass.”
The pandemic is a season, he told the educators. And it’s been a rough one.
“I know some of you need to hear this,” he said. “We are in a season. And this season will pass. Hang in there.”
For more lessons and comical stories about being an educator, check out Brooks’ YouTube channel here.
Educators, have any friends, family or children who may meet our new guidelines for our private school scholarships or any of our Florida scholarship programs? Please send them to our website to apply for scholarships at www.StepUpForStudents.org.
Lisa A. Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.