“Yo, Mr. Lane got hella motion, dummy,” my student, nicknamed Roblox, blurted out as he hung with other sixth grade boys in the hall.
Not the law of physics motion. Or the motion proposed in court by a judge or attorney. But “having motion,” the type of motion I learned about as a teacher on this particular school day. A discovery that had me (yes me again) in the middle of yet another Gen Z-like reality TV show. Like when I tried to figure out earlier this summer how they wear hoodies when it’s hot.
“Look, dummy, look!” he yelled, inciting the growing crowd while pointing to his cracked iPhone, barely visible because of unusually large hands for his 5-foot-tall, 11-year-old frame. Then there’s his feet. His size 10 New Balance (my same shoe size), along with his wide head and brittle, cruddy bush are what you see first when you see him. All which make me believe he will soon tower over his teachers, peers and parents.
Roblox is a West Baltimore baby from head to toe. And this particular morning was proof of how he acquired his nickname, after a video game and because he’s full of games, energy and has influence over all of his peers. “Look! I’m trying to tell y’all, dummy!” he insists while rolling his Pooh Shiesty ski mask on his head.
“I don’t get paid enough, what the hell is having motion?” I contemplated while walking down the hall through a sea of curse words and Gen Z slang.
My students keep me young, and I am considered the “cool” teacher who catches on fast to the latest slang and TikTok dances. I pride myself on that. But this having motion business had me stumped.
“Let’s motion our way into that classroom!” I say while using my phone to look up “having motion” on urbandictionary.com. Sidenote, urbandictionary.com is still a great source if you’re old and can’t keep up with new trends.
Roblox reiterates his claim as I inch closer down the hall. “Motion man Mr. Lane,’’ he rebroadcasts to his cipher.
“Look, dummy, he got the Carti’s on,” he then says to his boys. I don’t have Carti’s, short for Cartier sunglasses, because I don’t have Cartier money, so I was clueless as to what he was talking about.
What could he be telling these kids about me? It’s not even 10 a.m. I must be a joke, bet!
I had heard the term “having motion” in rap songs and have seen rappers and influencers use it on social media. So I thought motion might mean making goals and success quickly. But how could I, as a teacher, have motion?
And then I got my answer.
As I moved in closer to their huddle, one student declared, “Ayo @wallykool!”
My Instagram handle.
These innocent, cute, inquisitive demons had found my Instagram and were now referring to me by my handle. The name I was crowned with in college for my cool demeanor, likable spirit and attractive aura. The same one I used through my 20s as an alter ego, go-to social media handle, stage name while performing and even one time on a dating app (which didn’t work out because several women I was dating caught on to my game). I will write about this another time.
At least they added “Mr.” to Wallykool, I thought while splitting up the raucous crowd.
Once I figured out what having motion meant, I was flattered, though still annoyed with the students’ antics. Normally kids their age consider rappers with blinding jewelry, crazy amounts of money in fanny purses and millions of IG followers to have motion. Not teachers.
Being a relatable teacher has always been my mission, and being crowned by students as a teacher with motion was a major flex to me. I poked my chest out with pride throughout the school day thinking, “I really got motion out here,” especially when students were not listening or became stressful to deal with.
But the more I sat with the term having motion, the more it actually bothered me, especially as the school day came to an end and I wasn’t around students.
In this culture of instant gratification, why do we praise the appearance of having motion instead of ever talking about unlocking motion? Do we value one and not the other? And why does having motion seem so exclusive and not inclusive for everyone and their talents?
Later that evening, I thought more about the term. I wanted my young people to realize that everyone, including themselves, is able to have motion, not just rappers, celebrities and people who wear designer clothes. I wanted them to realize that success and having motion is no different. And it doesn’t happen overnight.
It took Michael Jordan eight years to become a basketball god. Jay Z-didn’t release his first album until age 26. Steph Curry, the world’s greatest shooter, received zero scholarship offers from any major Division 1 schools. Toni Morrision was 39 when she published her first book.
While delving into the popular term, I thought about three ways to unlock motion.
- Give Thanks (gratitude): Gratitude allows you not to live comparing yourself to others and taking full advantage of the opportunities in front of you.
- Do the Work: Show up each day in whatever shape or form to do the work. The work takes no days off. The work is demanding, and the work is not biased. If motion is what you want, then you have to do the work.
- Get in your Bag (use your strengths to your advantage): With this step, you have acquired the necessary tools and skills needed to unlock your motion. The smoke begins to clear and the fire begins to settle. You notice it. People notice it. When you get in your bag with your motion, you gain freedom to create, which is what having motion is all about.
A lot has changed since that school day last year. I no longer teach in the public school system, and Roblox isn’t my student.
About a month ago, I saw him at a red light downtown squeegeeing windows, earning whatever money he could. I hopped on him at the red light, double-parking my car and holding up major traffic. I asked him what he was doing.
“You know me, Mr. Lane, I’m just out here trying to get some motion like you,” he said.