Before Gerardo Muñoz and Kevin Adams ever thought about starting a podcast, they were practicing for the part: They spent hours chatting about being the only male teachers of color at the Denver Center for International Studies, part of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) system. “It was cathartic, but it also reflected a perspective we weren’t hearing in staff meetings,” Adams says. In Colorado, 87 percent of public school teachers are white. Hoping to ease the loneliness they believed other educators of color also felt—and inform white listeners—the two started a biweekly podcast, Too Dope Teachers and a Mic, in 2015. Since then, their discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2019 teacher strikes, and more have been downloaded 25,000 times. They host guests, too, such as DPS superintendent Susana Cordova and activist Boots Riley, director of 2018’s indie hit Sorry to Bother You. Their frank approach has garnered praise from parents, students, and colleagues. With budget cuts and COVID-19 looming—and protests bringing racial justice to the forefront—they’ll have plenty to school us on when the fifth season starts mid-August.
5280: How did you guys meet each other?
Gerardo Muñoz: Kevin and I haven’t always worked in the same building. He was a middle school teacher in a building near where I was working, and we had a student in common. The student would visit him at his school and then come to my school and tell me, oh you need to meet Mr. Adams. You two would be BFFs. Kevin ended up applying.
Kevin Adams: We met early after I got the job at DCIS. We’d find ourselves talking at the end of staff meetings, and reflecting on things that principals or staff would say.
GM: One time, there had been a presentation about identifying whether there is gang activity at your school. Most teachers in schools don’t have great working knowledge of these dynamics. So, we sat pretty uncomfortably through the whole meeting and we met afterwards. That was one of those moments where I felt we definitely connect on this level. The other thing that drew us together was just the fact that we were both male teachers of color. There aren’t a lot of us in the profession.
So, how did you get to recording these conversations?
KA: At the same time we were talking after meetings, we were starting to exchange things that we were listening to. We found this podcast called Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. What always struck me about that podcast is it’s two black men, Kevin Avery and W. Kamau Bell, who are thoughtful and present a different perspective. One day we were talking and I was like we should just record this and put it out in a podcast. Finally, we got some equipment, a microphone, and Gerardo started to learn how to use Audacity.
What’s your process like? Do you just show up and riff, or outline the whole show?
KA: Well, usually we have these high-level production meetings that happen in the hallways or right before we press record. [laughs]
GM: It sort of depends on the moment. If we have guests, we map things out. Then there are other times where things are going on and we have to give voice to what we’re experiencing. If you listen to any of the teacher strike episodes, those are really emotional. A lot of people were getting information about the Denver Teacher Strikes from us and we were asked to emcee some of the rallys. I think we’re good at planning things, but also good at speaking to a moment. We probably do that more often than not. And it’s one of my favorite things about the show.
Was it intimidating at first to make public your opinions on touchy topics like the teacher strikes?
GM: When I came into the teaching game, I felt like the open expression of beliefs, even about teaching, was sort of taboo. Teachers from marginalized communities are often very, very isolated in their schools. You hear stories about LGBTQ+ teachers who say ‘I can’t have photos of my spouse on my wall because I don’t know how people are gonna take it.’ There is a feeling of isolation, which is why attrition, particularly among black indigineous peoples of color (BIPOC) teachers is triple what the attrition rate is. We wanted to give teachers of color a reassurance that they are not alone and we need them in this work.
What do your students think of the podcast?
KA: They think it’s cool! They’ll be like ‘Mister, I found your podcast.’ Other kids say, ‘I listened with my mom. I really like what you’re talking about.’ One of the best experiences for me is when I’m teaching something and a student will be like “Oh, it’s like what you said in your podcast.” We’ve actually helped students launch two podcasts. I think it’s important to show them they can be an agent of change and share their perspectives. Just that alone can transform the world.
Has it been tough for you to navigate COVID-19 on a personal level, while also trying to navigate it with your students?
KA: The first week teaching remotely we had a fair amount of students show up—but still not everybody. But then the next week, the number went down. And it went down. Then we started to get messages from kids about how they’re feeling inadequate and apologizing for not being able to complete work because they don’t have access to technology or they don’t have the internet. And then you start to realize that there are some kids you haven’t heard from in a minute, and they’re some of the higher-needs kids. But, you also had some kids who struggled in traditional classes and all of a sudden they’re getting stuff done.
GM: This has been the hardest and most frustrating thing I’ve had to do in 21 years of teaching. Like Kevin, so much of how I support my students is just being there for them and being a relentlessly encouraging force. One of my Google Meets a couple weeks ago, I told my students to wild out, and make a bunch of noise and laugh and talk and stuff. The thing I really miss the most is the noise of my classroom.