Being that he’s the recently anointed “Best Teacher in Nashville, Public or Private,” we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Mr. Nettles (a.k.a. the best teacher in Nashville, in both public and private schools!) for our “One-on-One” series. He teaches 7th grade language arts and socials studies, and we bet you’ll be surprised how much more there is than meets the eye!
Are you from Nashville, and if not, where are you from and how did you arrive here?
I’m from Cleburn, Texas, which is between Fort Worth and Waco. I have strong family ties to Mississippi and lived there a long time. My move to Nashville came out of bohemian burnout. I was done with living the small town artist/musician life and needed a change. I knew a few folks in Nashville, had always liked the city and decided to make this my new home several years ago.
Tell us about your family — human, furry or otherwise.
I’m an uncle, son, nephew and brother. The grandparents have traveled to the “undiscovered country.” My maternal grandparents were life-long educators, along with some of my aunts, uncles and my own parents. More than once I got close, but never settled down to start my own family — too restless for too long. I tend to enjoy my freedom; therefore, I have no pets. All that being said, I’m not totally opposed to being a family man someday.
How long have you been teaching and what made you want to be a teacher?
For four years I taught in Mississippi, near Jackson, back before 9/11. It was tough. I was in the Mississippi Teacher Corps. They sent us to the most beleaguered, downtrodden schools, with kids who lived in abject poverty. The first district in which I taught was in danger of being taken over by the state. Morale was terrible, pay ridiculously low. Still, I had some great times. Fourth year of teaching: the pressure of imminent state tests is really on, and I’m teaching class when an announcement comes over the intercom. We are told to report to the gym for a dance! Surprise! I was young, impatient and overwhelmed by disillusionment and cynicism at that point. Watching the kids mill around to late ’90s hip-hop when I needed to be teaching drove me crazy. I decided that day not to sign my letter of intent to return the next year. I needed to decompress and figure things out. I turned into Jonah on the run, living the next several years in Oxford, MS, where I had gone to grad school, as a regular local weirdo. I worked at the famous Square Books, met many great writers and musicians, was a door guy and bartender at the Longshot and started a couple rock bands. We were good, but we had no networking/self-promotional skills and didn’t move beyond minor regional acclaim. Fun for a while, but eventually it was clear I was in the belly of the fish, with no solid purpose or future. I had to do something meaningful, so I became dedicated to getting back into teaching. It’s in my genes. Armed with a new perspective and, I like to think, some wisdom acquired over the years, I’d grown up a little and was ready to re-accept the call. The big fish spit me out. I slugged it out and paid my dues in the sub world for a couple years while I was renewing my license. I worked at West End frequently and knew this was where I wanted to land my permanent job all along. Now, I’m in my third year at WEMS. Returning to teaching is the best decision I’ve ever made
Tell us about the most memorable student you’ve ever had.
There’s one from my first Mississippi year who stole from me and often threatened my life. His name and face I still remember. I won’t state his name. On the positive side, I don’t think I’ll ever forget many of these kids I’m teaching right now. They’re totally stupendous!
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing?
Being miserable. Or, maybe I could’ve made it as a park ranger. I already gave the artist’s life a go.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
Grading papers, planning lessons, filling out documentation … – Hah! Writing songs, seeing good bands, reading, riding the bike, pumping the iron, hiking, visiting family and being a man of leisure.
What is your #1 goal for your students this year?
I want them to be safe, confident and happy; to enjoy coming to class; and to be fully prepared for the next step in their education. I was miserable when I was in middle school – it’s a strange, tough time. I don’t want them to be miserable.
Want to know more about Mr. Nettles? Go straight to the source! Email him at Joseph.Nettles@mnps.org.