Mr. Potts: traveler, journalist, and teacher

Safya Biswal and Lily Carr

English and ESL teacher Randy Potts is in his first year at Jackson-Reed. He previously taught in Dallas, Texas, as well as in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Potts has spent much of his life traveling. In 1985, when he was 11 years old, Potts visited East Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He described taking a train to East Berlin and every hour seeing officials enter the train with machine guns and German Shepherds searching for passports and other documents. Potts also lived in Moscow after the coup in the Soviet Union. “I’ve seen some weird stuff like that but when you’re young, you don’t realize until you’re older what a big deal it is,” Potts said.

Originally from Oklahoma, Potts has lived in Minnesota, Virginia, Texas, Berlin, and Moscow. He often tells his students that he’s lived in every state starting with a C—Colorado, California, and Connecticut. He’s also spent time traveling across Western Europe and Russia. Through seeing many different places with a variety of cultures, Potts has developed a love of languages—namely German, Russian, and Latin.

Languages have opened many doors for Potts. While teaching at Conrad High School in Dallas, Texas where 80 percent of the students were immigrants, Potts used his knowledge of Latin to connect to some of the languages the students spoke. “ A really cool thing was just trying to find similar things that everybody understood.I’d say ‘Beyonce’, and half my kids, who had been in refugee camps, didn’t know who that was.” 

Potts loved working with kids from different cultures and backgrounds. While teaching in Dallas, he broke his arm and his cast contained not only nine different languages but also nine different alphabets including Arabic, Alaric, Korean, and Bengali. Potts’ love of languages inspired him to teach ESL. 

Teaching at many different schools has made Potts try to listen to students as much as possible. “I really think through [whether] every student in the class [will] know what we’re talking about before I teach a lesson.” One example he gives is poetry. “Even if everybody’s from DC, something like a poem can be so challenging, depending on what kind of home they’re growing up in.” 

While teaching at Conrad High School, Potts says that teaching students that speak many different languages is “more challenging, but it’s really fun. So I hope it’s made me a better English teacher here.”

But Potts originally didn’t want to be a teacher. Throughout his high school and college years, he was set on being a writer. He then became a journalist, writing for The New Yorker and The Guardian and reporting on locations including Lebanon, Ukraine, and his hometown, Tulsa. 

Potts has fond memories of reporting. “I’ve been writing for like 12 years and it’s really fun. You can get to do stuff that you would never get to do. I’m actually naturally shy, but as a journalist, I don’t feel shy. I feel like I have permission to ask, like, the rudest questions that you would never ask in person.”

In addition to writing, Potts is a photographer. In DC, he is an active protest attendee. “I love to be at protests, if it’s Muslims in the news, or Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, minority rights,” he said. “It’s interesting, and so I’m a photographer, and I love to run around and take pictures of protests.” 

Out of all the different places and school’s he’s taught at, Potts says that his current students are the cleverest and wittiest. “Wilson students are sharp, which is good,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.” •