Organized. Tough. Dedicated. These are just a few words to describe 26-year-old high school teacher Jon Avery.
But don’t worry — if you aren’t lucky enough to have a child in his class, you can find him on social media. With almost 10K Instagram followers alone, Jon is known as “The Dapper Teacher.”
The name is well-earned. By day, Jon teaches freshman and sophomore English classes at Western Branch High School in Virginia, and by night, he dabbles in graphic design and culinary arts while raising his dog Judah. But all the time, Jon captivates his students and social media followers with his incredible sense of fashion and mind-blowing captions that are so much more than trending hashtags.
Jon has been teaching English at a predominately white school for four years. And in the midst of Black History Month, he’s been confronting race and history head-on. Recently, he posted a photo of himself dressed in Afrocentric clothing, captioned with, “I will not leave my culture in the closet because it makes you uncomfortable.”
Jon says that while people at school respond to him positively when he’s dressed in a shirt and tie, the reaction is not always quite the same when he’s dressed in Afrocentric attire.
“Some will not speak to me, only stare,” he says. “Some whisper quietly to each other when I walk by. Some people treat me as if my wearing of Afrocentric attire is an all-call for an uprising. I just laugh. Black history, as most people know it, has been so diluted that people, for one reason or another, find the unadulterated truth offensive.”
However, he’s not allowing the truth, both about history and life skills, to be hidden from his students. Comparing himself to a cross between Mr. Joe Louis Clark from Lean on Me and Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World, Jon says that while he’s the minority in his classroom, he’s also the voice of authority, which makes for an interesting dynamic.
“I have an ‘it is what it is’ philosophy when it comes to the way I run my classroom,” says Jon. “I’m very organized and regimented, and for many students, I’m a large adjustment. At the same time, if I see a student slipping, I have no problem sitting on my desk and ‘dropping knowledge’ (as they say). I talk to my students like the adults they’re soon to be, and they appreciate that.”
One day, Jon showed up to class in a “king of the classroom” graphic tee.
“I wore that after a day when my students seemed to have forgotten whose name was on my classroom door,” he says.
He also talks to his students about respect and staying in their lane. The goal, he says, is always to pull the best out of his students by expecting them to accept responsibility for themselves. And that puts them on the path for future success.
“The students in my class gain far more than an education in English,” explains Jon. “When they leave my class, they’re stronger, tougher, and they hold their heads a little higher. During the semester I have them, besides getting them to master concepts, my main goal is for them to know that nobody owes them anything and effort is always respected over excuses.”
Though Jon means business, often going to work wearing a suit, he also likes to surprise his students. For example, on kindergartner vs. grandparent day, Jon went into his classroom wearing red suspenders, a SpongeBob tee, and red sneakers. He captioned the photo, where he appears with a smile and his ankles crossed in front of him, “I was a 6’4, bearded, tattooed kindergartener.” Another day he wore a button-up shirt, jeans, and a pair of Jordans. And another day? A graphic tee that said, “Teaching English is so lit.”
Several of the photos Jon has posted this month also focus on black history.
“As a black man and a teacher, I take Black History Month very seriously because I want all of my students to be knowledgeable about the Black narrative,” Jon tells Babble. “When students, especially students of color, have an appreciation for their cultural past, I believe they are more likely to make better choices regarding the future. I take February to really focus on Black history, but it doesn’t begin or end with this month. I incorporate Black history in my class all year.”
Jon is not only educating, encouraging, and inspiring his students, but all of us who follow him on social media, waiting on the edge of our seats to see what he will surprise us with next. One goal of his? To become a school administrator, taking his skills and experiences to the next level.
Perhaps my favorite photo of Jon is one that is most telling. He’s wearing a sky blue graphic tee that says “he believed he could change the world so he became a teacher.”
As all parents know, teachers are everything — and we’d all be so lucky to have someone like Jon leading our children to a brighter future where race is appreciated, respect is pursued, and inspiration is always in style.