A teacher having his nails painted and hair done by students. There is text in the bottom right corner that says 'Main Character of the Week' in a Daily Dot newsletter web_crawlr font.

@thilluminatin1/TikTok (Fair Use)

Main Character of the Week: Teacher who let students braid his hair and paint his nails

At question is whether his interaction violated classroom policy on boundaries.


Ramon Ramirez


Main Character of the Week is a weekly column that tells you the most prominent “main character” online (good or bad). It runs on Fridays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

The internet is a stage, and someone unwillingly stumbles onto it weekly. This makes them the “main character” online. Sometimes their story is heartwarming, like the woman who regrets buying a Jeep Wrangler; usually it’s a gaffe. In any case, that main character energy flows through the news cycle and turbo-charges debate for several business days.

Here’s the 
Trending team’s main character of the week.

It’s the Maryland middle school teacher who let students braid his hair and paint his nails and then was suspended for it.

Last week Marquis White posted a video from his classroom where his students, most of them female, were braiding his hair and painting his nails. Depending on your viewpoint this was either inappropriate and risky because it was not mindful of student boundaries, especially pertaining to preteen girls. Or, it was a tender and vulnerable moment between the educator and the students who see him as a big brother figure and role model.

White is under investigation by Prince George’s Schools, the Maryland district where he teaches. At question is whether his interaction violated classroom policy on boundaries.

A Maryland CBS affiliate got its hands on the code: “WUSA9 read the code of conduct and while it doesn’t say anything about braiding hair or painting nails, it does say staff must respect students’ personal boundaries by maintaining proper space and demonstrate appropriate behaviors. It also says staff shouldn’t record student faces and voices, unless when teaching a Performing Arts class or a Career Technology.”

Detractors say he should know better and be more self-aware and that he should have anticipated this backlash. For a grown-up to leverage TikTok viewership from such an intimate moment was always going to trigger a response from superiors. The viral video also brought some of his previous social media activity under further scrutiny.

In White’s narration of the original viral video, which has more than 7 million views as of Thursday, he makes a compelling point that as a teacher his goal is to care for the “whole child.” He says he strives to provide a classroom experience that he never had. And, as someone observed in the comments, he seems to be in touch with his inner child and therefore in a position to connect with young minds.

I can relate.

During two 13-week stretches in the spring and fall, I coach youth soccer six days a week, part-time. I work with children ages 6 to 10 and regularly balance the challenges of a meaningful curriculum, difficult conversations, and whether or not I should escalate matters to my program directors. Finding appropriate boundaries and working with them is a daily consideration.

Sometimes the boundary is as easy as “do not berate the referees after a terrible call because they are 12 years old.” But sometimes a child will come to me crying because his parents just got divorced. Or because he’s distraught that all of his friends are on a team with better overall talent and he’s smart enough to realize that he’s on a lower-ranked team because he isn’t at their level. Sometimes I let one of my best 8-year-old girls practice with the boys because she’s up for the challenge, and an hour later I wonder if it was the right decision when the boys begin teasing and not passing her the ball.

Sometimes I’m too soft on the kids when they should be focusing on their first touch. Sometimes I get too competitive at a tournament and project my desire to win at any cost onto the field. And then I remind myself that we’re here to develop players above all and so I’ll make a substitution that allows a slightly less advanced player to get more touches on the ball at the cost of taking out our best and most dangerous scoring threat even though we have only 6 minutes left to equalize.

Sometimes a parent invites me over for dinner and I politely decline. Sometimes a parent is routinely late picking up their child after practice and it’s on me to create a safe environment with other adults around until they’re picked up.

Mr. White’s story resonated with viewers because the truth is in the eye of the beholder and it’s dicey: He broke protocol, but I believe he did so from a loving place that puts the child’s best interest at heart. In a subsequent TikTok, White read aloud messages of support from students he received during his suspension and himself began sobbing.

I believe that we all have a duty to be positive influences on the children in our community, especially as minority men who battle stereotypes about being closed-off from our feelings and regressive in our social values, Harrison Butker-style.

While the optics may be fuzzy here, it’s most likely that his intent was so selfless that he didn’t mind getting in trouble to prove a point.

Hopefully, this road leads back to whatever is best for the students.

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