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YOU’RE A JERK is the song students associate with Austin LeMay, a teacher at Tenaya Middle School in Fresno. But don’t be fooled; LeMay is beloved by students for his sense of fun and the hip hop dance moves that he performs to this song by New Boyz.

LeMay, a Fresno Teachers Association member, went viral on TikTok for dancing in the schoolyard, receiving more than 10 million hits since 2021. Snoop Dog even shared the video on his Instagram and LeMay was featured on Ellen.

The fame is nice, says LeMay, but he’s more excited about helping to change the school’s culture so students enjoy coming to school. And he’s doing just that.

“We are working to make sure students feel heard, seen and taken care of. We are trying to make it a great place where everyone feels connected.”-Austin LeMay

He transferred to Tenaya, a diverse, Title 1 school, in 2018 from Bullard High School in Fresno at the urging of the former Tenaya principal, who asked him to serve as “campus culture director” and activities director. LeMay jokingly calls himself the “Czar of Fun” for the spirit, energy and enthusiasm he brings to campus.

He organized Friday dance parties at noon, and students loved it. They were amazed when LeMay strutted his own cool dance steps with kicks, jumps and arms flailing. One of the staff members filmed the performance, posted it on TikTok and LeMay became an overnight sensation.

He teaches leadership classes and serves as a liaison between school staff and Associated Student Body leaders. He also organizes pep rallies, school dances and multicultural events. He encourages student leaders to advocate for things that matter to them, like the dress code. He helped create a Culture Team of staff and students to come up with “actionable steps” to make Tenaya a happier place. He is striving to make all students feel that they matter and belong at Tenaya.

“When I think of Mr. LeMay, three words/phrases come to my mind: the jerk, campus culture, and fun,” says student Elizabeth Akina.“He hosts lunchtime rallies weekly, where students can get their faces painted in Tenaya colors, play games, and dance to the music playing. Mr. LeMay has been a beam of light in our school.”

Innov Lemay & students

LeMay and Tenaya Middle School students.

“Tenaya needed a jolt of energy and some positivity,” says LeMay. “And that’s happening. Instead of students transferring to other schools, which used to be the case, students now transfer here from zip codes throughout Fresno. The word is out: Students are having positive experiences.”

When LeMay attended Tenaya Middle School back in 2003, he did not have positive experiences. He was bullied and often lonely. Most people wouldn’t voluntarily return to a place that holds painful memories. But LeMay says what he went through inspired him to work hard, so that things are better for today’s Tenaya students.

He was instrumental in helping to create the WEB program (Where Everyone Belongs),which encourages eighth graders to make seventh graders feel welcome at the beginning of the year. If someone is sitting alone, WEB students walk over and talk or eat lunch with them.

“We are working to make sure students feel heard, seen and taken care of. We are trying to make it a great place where everyone feels connected.”

The Culture Team has pushed to include social-emotional learning to improve students’ mental health. During advisory meetings in homeroom, held the first day of every week for 29 minutes, many teachers now focus on this.

“Before, during homeroom, teachers would do things like silent reading. But now many of us are using the time to offer SEL curriculum that the team has rolled out,” LeMay says. “We started anti-bullying lessons that delve into how we all come from different backgrounds. We talk about empathy. We hold class circle meetings where students let their guard down a bit to talk about what they are going through either at school or at home. We talk about  is going through something – and because of that we should be kind to each other, and we can help each other instead of pretending everything is fine.”

LeMay says that while “there is definitely a more positive vibe” at Tenaya these days, “we’re not perfect. It’s still middle school and there are still fights and kids picking on each other. But overall, the climate is much better and people are nicer to each other. Teachers are more united and have each other’s backs. Students come back to visit when they are in high school because they miss Tenaya.” LeMay never had formal dance lessons; he learned from watching MTV, back in the day when the station showed music videos. “I am an extrovert who is willing to get out there and be silly with the kids. The dance video was a happy accident. But I’m glad it happened, because it brought some positive attention to our school, where good things are happening.”

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