#MNPSVoices: Nathanael James, Exceptional Education Teacher at Stratton Elementary

Music moves people and Nathanael James taps into the power of lyrics to make a difference in the education of his student. His secret weapon: mentorship through rap music.


“Becoming a teacher almost felt like an accident, but it was definitely meant to be,” James said, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theology. “Although my mom and sister are teachers, I never wanted to be one. I intentionally moved to Nashville to do gospel music and rap.”

Fast forward two years later, and the completion of the inaugural class of the Nashville Teaching Fellows, James found himself teaching exceptional education at Marshall Middle School.

“I incorporated music immediately through mentorship,” James said. “I used guitar lessons as a reward for positive behavior. It was transformational in some of my students.”

James is currently at Stratton Elementary. He feels he has found his niche working with K-4 grades, where he uses rap music to teach at the elementary level. He has written and produced kindergarten materials from everything to seasons of the year and hibernation. He even uses a parody of a Bruno Mars song to teach grammar and conjunctions in a fun way.

This is more than just a hobby for James; it’s a lifestyle. He has also found success outside of the classroom branding his music through Synchronization Licensing, a process where music is purchased for visual media like film and television. James’ music has been featured in network programming on Showtime, ABC Family and MTV, with his most successful song, “No Breaks” appearing more than 15 times in television and movies.

James’ talent was quickly leveraged inside Stratton which snagged him as the advisor to the fourth grade Rap Club. The club produces collaborative educational pieces that are performed for students and families.

“Our Rap Club has grown in popularity throughout the Nashville Rap community,” he said. “I receive request from DJ’s, rap artists, and break dancers to present to our students. They showcase the different elements of the hip-hop culture, share about their careers and demonstrate their techniques to students.”

James said his future goals include writing full-time and producing an educational album.