Spanish instructor Dylan Hooper is thriving in his first year at The Soulsville Charter School and was the lead faculty member to help organize and work with the students to put on the recent Black Excellence Gala. Here, he discusses the challenges of becoming a high school teacher, his philosophy for the classroom, working with the Student Council to stage the gala, and how area businesses and organizations can partner with the TSCS Student Council.

TSCS: How long have you been teaching at The Soulsville Charter School?

DH: This is my first year at Soulsville!

TSCS What college/university did you attend and what are your degrees?

DH: I earned my BA in Spanish and my BS in Psychology from Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Spanish from Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.

TSCS Have you taught at schools before TSCS and how would you describe the difference?

DH: I have taught at two schools prior to Soulsville. The difference between Soulsville and other local schools is in the name – our community has SOUL. It is clear from the moment that you walk onto campus that our school is steeped in rich history, embraced by a strong community, and bound by a commitment to excellence that has defined the Stax and Soulsville communities since their inception. 

TSCS: You teach Spanish. What is your philosophy for keeping the students interested and motivated?

DH: I believe that foreign language classes should be accessible to all students and relevant to the world around them. At the beginning of each year, I focus on the idea that all of my students are entering the space with different levels of exposure and affinity for Spanish, and varied perspectives on language learning. Spanish doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite class (after all, how many people remember the foreign language they studied in high school?), but the beauty of language lies in its flexibility. In class, we focus primarily on communication in the target language – speaking, reading, writing, and listening in Spanish – rather than more traditional grammar, vocabulary memorization, and drills. The goal is for students to learn Spanish the same way that they learned English: listening to spoken language, finding meaning through context and experimenting with the language, and by applying what we learn to meaningful, real-world situations. Because of this strategy, when a student is struggling to engage in class, we have the flexibility to talk about quite literally any topic they feel motivated to discuss. As long as we’re doing it in Spanish and the student can focus on creating meaning with their new language skills, we are still working towards our communicative goals.

TSCS: Are there any challenges to the job that have become opportunities?

DH: One of the biggest challenges that I have faced this year comes down to the transition to being a high school teacher. Previously, I have taught elementary and middle school. I loved both age groups, but the maturity, vision, and determination of high schoolers have been an inspiring challenge. There is a level of independence in the students that I have never been a part of as an educator. High school students, especially here at Soulsville, have plans for their future and know how they’re going to get there, and they hold the adults in the building accountable to our role in their growth process. In October 2021, this challenge became the opportunity to lead the TSCS HS Student Council.

TSCS: What was it like to work with the students on planning and executing the Black Excellence Gala?

DH: I definitely had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I couldn’t have been more impressed by the work the students did putting the Black Excellence Gala together. When we first came together as a Council back in October, the students wanted an elegant event with dancing, awards, and general merriment to honor Black History Month and the unique history and activity in Memphis and the Soulsville community. I basically told them to bring me a plan, and that I would sign the checks! It was so rewarding to guide the students as they worked with vendors, planned minute-by-minute logistics for the evening, and put in the leg work to make the evening a success. I’d especially like to shout out Student Body President Jacolby Rogers, the progenitor of the idea for the Gala, and our DJ/Photographer/Light & Sound Extraordinaire Jacorryae Rone! We started the planning process with the goal to create an annual event that will leave a lasting mark on the Soulsville community, and I think that we were able to do just that.

TSCS: How did the outcome make you feel?

DH: Thrilled! We had an incredible evening celebrating Black Excellence, and the feedback that we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but I am content in knowing that this year was a success and that next year will be an even bigger and more exciting celebration of Black Excellence.

TSCS: What is it like to be back in the physical school now that students are back?

DH: Slowly but surely, it feels like things are getting “back to normal“…whatever that means! The relationships, the joy, and real learning that we have missed over the last two years are finally making their comeback. I think we all had our concerns at the beginning of the year as we tried to negotiate the science, the politics, and doing what was best for ourselves and for our community. However, I think we also all learned that virtual learning is truly incomparable to in-person classes when we are able to hold them safely. I am SO glad that I was able to experience my first year at Soulsville on campus!

TSCS: Any plans for the future?

DH: The Student Council is always working to craft Revolutionary events and programs for the Soulsville community. Moving forward, I am excited to build more meaningful partnerships within the school and in the greater Soulsville community to be able to do even more for our students! If you have any suggestions for events or initiatives, or if you (or your business) would like to partner with the TSCS HS Student Council for future events, feel free to reach out via email (dhooper@tscsmemphis.org) or phone (901-286-3134) – we want to work with you!

TSCS: How would you sum up working at TSCS?

DH: Challenging, joyful, and Revolutionary.