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Fort Worth ISD math teacher helps students ‘express themselves’ through original math songs

Education

Fort Worth ISD math teacher Thomas Mayfield Jr. dressed as Dragon Ball Z character Goku to motivate his students to learn.

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An elementary school classroom has not been this exciting since the fictitious teacher Miss Frizzle took her students on adventures in the 1990s-era educational cartoon show, “The Magic School Bus.”

And while Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD) fifth grade math instructor Thomas Mayfield Jr. is not likely to be carting his kids around on a flying bus through time and space anytime soon, this teacher makes one thing for certain in his classroom: Learning math doesn’t have to feel like, well, learning math.

“I just want to make sure I reach all my kids,” Mayfield told Dallas Express. 

Last November, the teacher made a splash for his “Yep In My Math Tee” rap number, a catchy Mayfield original that had his students dancing at their desks while rapping about decimals and subtraction.

“I want to give them an opportunity to express themselves and learn in a way that is most comfortable for them,” he said.

Mayfield’s latest idea to mix entertainment and education was inspired by his two sons’ love of Dragon Ball Z, a Japanese anime known for the characters’ iconically spiked hair. All Mayfield needed was a karate suit, a costume wig from his son, some original lyrics and the week’s curriculum, and he could dress up at the Dragon Ball Z character Goku to teach his students through song.

“It was a couple weeks before the STAAR testing and I wanted them to get engaged,” Mayfield said. “I felt it was a good opportunity to do some themed lessons to get engagement.”

It’s about more than fun costumes and catchy music, though. While he grew up in a two-parent home, Mayfield said he knows children come from all walks of life and that many students are experiencing very different home situations from what he did in his childhood. That is why he strives to show his class the human behind the teacher.

“I want them to understand that teachers can be transparent,” Mayfield said. “I want students to know that teachers go through the same sort of things that they are going through in their family, home life and neighborhood. I want them to be able to understand they can make a better way for themselves and be successful.”

When asked if having the karate-suit-wearing, Goku-hair-sporting, rapping teacher as a dad was embarrassing to his sons, Mayfield laughed. His sons, Dillon and Parker, are in grade school themselves and in the thick of the STAAR academic tests, so Mayfield said his boys appreciate how their father has connected with his classroom.

“They enjoy seeing me on TV sometimes when we’re getting covered a feature for a story,” Mayfield said. “All in all, they want me to have fun.”

Mayfield’s Goku video has been viewed online a few million times. In 2019, The Ellen Degeneres Show picked up on his commitment to his students, earning the school a $50,000 donation.

Mayfield, an educator of over 15 years and son of a former principal, has several other exciting projects in the works, including another video showing appreciation for nurses and teachers. He also will be setting up a GoFundMe for college accounts for a couple former students soon.

At the end of the day, it’s helping kids and thinking out of the box that reminds Mayfield that he’s found his calling, and he reminds anyone considering a career in teaching how important it is to be a mentor for every kid in the classroom.

“Make sure you’re willing to explore, connect and be transparent,” Mayfield said. “Be willing and open to try new things to teach the whole student.”

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