“Pre-K Pause!” With those words, Mr. Williams (A TikTok sensation boasting over 1.5 followers on the social media platform) has become one of the hottest Internet personalities around. Mr. Williams (real name: Tell Williams) spends his days shaping the young minds of America and truly redefining self-expression, by wearing his own nails painted (the reason why is truly heartwarming). Originally from the Midwest, Williams has partnered up with another former Midwestern-er & now has a custom-made nail polish line, aptly titled the “Pre-K Pause Collection” with BOITOI. I sat down with this burgeoning multi-platform maven to chat about his start on the social media roller-coaster, why expression for his young students is paramount, and what it has been like to see BOITOI and his own internet presence explode.
Michael Cook: How did your TikTok journey begin, which now boasts over 1.6 million followers?
Mr. Williams: It’s actually pretty funny. My siblings and I have a text thread and we would send TikTok’s to each other. Last October, my brother-in-law thought that I should do a TikTok about teaching and things that have happened to me. I mean, I thought I was funny in person but it wouldn’t read on camera. So I told him that I would make a video and if it did well, I would keep doing it. I made a video real quick, fell asleep, and when I woke up the next day, my brother-in-law said “your video has a million views”; What?! So I made another one and it just blew up from there. I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m thirty and on TikTok.
MC: The Real Housewives and dolls of RuPaul’s Drag Race have their own celebrity fans, so have you had any notable names slide into your own DM’s?
TW: I don’t now, maybe they’re often “teacher famous” if that makes sense. Mr. D, he was on Ellen and he reached out to me super early and helped me. Jan from Drag Race reached out to me, and I have always been obsessed so that was amazing to me. Those two are the ones that stick out to me. TikTok is weird though, I am finding out who’s following me now. I will click on a video and watch it and think the person is so funny, then click on their profile and it says “Follow Back”. I wonder how long they have been following me for (laughs)!
MC: Being a teacher is absolutely one of the toughest jobs in the country, and you are teaching pre-k! Do you ever hear from parents who think you should not be focusing on a burgeoning internet presence and should be focusing on their kids or are most parents all about your side gig?
TW: I think most parents are all about it. They think it’s fun, whenever I post about it on Facebook, I follow a couple parents on Facebook and TikTok, they think it’s great. I did have one parent lodge a pretty signifiant complaint about it, they did not think it was comical or that it was funny. As far as I know though, there has just been that one complaint, but it was a pretty significant complaint against me. It did seem though, that it was rooted in homophobia, so I think it was that more than anything else. I’m not violating any policies or any social media policies at work, so I just kinda say “eh I’ll get over it”.
MC: Do your students have any idea that their teacher is a social media phenomenon?
TW: My kids are really young, it’s pre-k so they dont really have any idea. A kid came up to me and said “I saw you on my dad’s phone”. At pick up, I talked to the dad and he said that he did show him some of the appropriate TikTok’s, which I thought was fun. Some of the kids know, I dont think they know the scale, I dont even think that my directors at the school even know.
MC: Your exposing children to a brand new way of expressing themselves, and that includes wearing nail polish. What has been the reaction from kids when they notice you’re wearing nail polish?
TW: The first time I actually wore nail polish to school was because of a student of mine. He had worn nail polish to school before and some staff members were rolling their eyes saying the student had worn nail polish. I heard teachers making comments and I got really pissed; that is not the environment that I have created in my classroom. I looked at his nails and I told him that I thought they were so cool, and the next day I came in with my nails painted with the exact same color and have done it every day since then.
My students notice, and when they comment I’ll say “well I’m a boy and I wear nail polish, or he’s a boy and he wears nail polish”. I’ve also shown them pictures of Harry Styles or Freddy Mercury wearing nail polish. I let them know that it’s okay, boys, girls, any gender can wear nail polish, it’s okay. I think they do notice those things, because they are taught “boys do this and girls do this” at that age. In my classroom, I am just trying to reconfigure what ‘norm’ is and letting them know that they can express themselves any way that they choose.
MC: You are originally from Indiana and it is super conservative and a very different way of living. You have taken your small town experience and merged them with your life experiences here and now have become a nail polish maven with BOITOI. Explain to me how this all came about
TW: This is a wild story. A friend of mine was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. He graduated and moved out to Los Angeles and done some start ups out there and done really well for himself in L.A. When I started becoming more popular on TikTok and wearing nail polish, he reached out to me and said that he had been trying to start a nail polish company, and asked if I would like to create a nail paint line and we could then choose the nail paint line that we donate the proceeds to. He is a straight white guy and even him coming from the same conservative town that I lived in, had the ability to say that we grew up in a very conservative area that we were not able to participate in the kind of expression that we wanted to. I was actually kind of humbled and had to check my idea of what I thought ‘hetero’ men look like; he was telling me that he thought that kids should be able to explore and express themselves no matter the gender. I definitely wanted to get behind it and do it with him. He came to me with the idea, and anything I can help with the idea, let’s do it! (The Pre-K Pause Collection is out now)
MC: As someone who is married, what is it like for your husband seeing you become a social media sensation?
TW: For the times that it does happen, my husband is very shy and he is a very big introvert. It didn’t happen a lot, we don’t go out too much where we live. The times that we do go out it does happen and when we went back to Indiana to visit family, it happened every single time we went out of the house. It was kind of a wake up call to both of us. He gets himself out of the way when someone says hi to me, he is such an introvert (laughs)!
MC: What do you do when you are not teaching or setting TikTok on fire with new content daily?
TW: I have been talking a lot about self-care, and now I have been trying to practice that. I have been trying really hard to go on runs and have moments of not talking to anyone and being by myself. Reconnecting with friends that we have not seen since Covid as well. I am in grad school right now also, so I have been doing homework and trying to get ahead of that before the school year starts again.
MC: You wear a multitude of hats, but when do you feel truly yourself?
TW: I would say when I am simply home. Playing Mario Kart with my husband on the couch in sweats.
Follow Mr. Williams on all social media platforms