Teachers Are Going Viral on TikTok. Is That a Good Thing?
Teachers are becoming stars these days on TikTok, that social media platform for sharing short videos. And some of them say the platform serves as a kind of virtual teaching lounge during COVID.
But is it a good thing for the teaching profession that classroom instructors are part of a site known for dance crazes, jokes and other irreverent content?
Teacher TikTok is now something of a cultural phenomenon. If you search #teachersoftiktok on TikTok, it says videos on the hashtag have more than 6 billion views. And last week a teacher who went viral on the platform appeared on the prime-time special for the presidential inauguration.
For this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we talked with two very different teachers who have gone viral on TikTok. OK, we weren’t able to get that teacher who was on national TV last week.
Brooke Rogers, who teaches at a private middle school in the San Francisco Bay Area, aims to spread joy about teaching and kind of boost the profession. In fact, she even helped start a group of teacher TikTokers called Teacher Hype House. The group even has a website, explaining that they meet up and “have fun and inspire teachers.”
Lately, some have worried that TikTok and other social media sites may actually be too hype, though. The critique, known as “toxic positivity,” is that all these happy glimpses of classrooms mask the challenges of the current moment when it comes to teaching. After all, we’re living through a pandemic.
Rogers, though, feels that it’s important to have a place to focus on the positive, even as times are tough. “I use social media to escape from my reality, so for me and my content, that's the purpose I serve,” she says. “I just want to make you smile.”
But you can find a variety of approaches among teachers using TikTok.
Arielle Fodor, a kindergarten teacher in LA who uses the name ms_frazzled on TikTok, says her goal is to give a more raw look at the life of a teacher.
“I kind of have a bad reputation in teacher TikTok of being the person that's just going to say things—and my administration is not shocked by this, they know who I am,” she says. “It's not like I'm saying anything bad,” she adds, but she works to show that teachers can be successful even if they aren’t showing up at 6 in the morning and designing perfect-looking teaching materials every day. “I'm like, I'm going to be late with Starbucks sometimes, and I'm not going to have makeup on, and it's going to be what it is.”
She says she isn’t worried about toxic positivity, or about people who choose to focus on the happier sides of teaching. “There's some days I need to go and see pretty rainbow classrooms and happy, uplifting quotes, because it's just too much,” she says.
But she has used her account to offer advice to teachers about the harder parts of teaching as well.
In one, she talks about the challenges of having conversations with parents who are upset by something going on in the classroom. “Not every conversation is going to be a fun one, but I can promise you that your mindset is going to change everything,” she said in the TikTok video. “If you go into that meeting thinking, they hate me, they're mad at me. You're going to feel like they hate you and they're mad at you. But if you go into that meeting thinking they want what's best for their child. And we are on the same team because I also want what's best for their child. You're going to have a much better conversation and a much better experience. … Really showing someone that you're there and you're listening goes a long way. I've said it before. I'll say it again. Their heart is walking around in your classroom. Right?
Fodor says she has found practical tips on how to use tech tools in her teaching. “I have learned more on TikTok than from any school,” she argues. One example: she discovered a Chrome extension that lets her put her face next to the image of a book page when she is making videos of her reading books aloud for her kindergarten students.
She now has more than 350,000 followers on TikTok. Rogers has more than 500,000 followers. And for both of these teachers, it’s enough so that they are able to make a little extra income. Fodor has merchandise she sells, like a sweatshirt that says, “This is how I use my teacher voice,” and Rogers has occasional product placement videos she makes and uploads when brands approach her.
And as Rogers notes, there are moments when she gets stopped like a celebrity. “A new student’s parent drove up and was like, ‘You're the famous teacher,’” she says.
But her goal is not for her to become known. It's for the huge number of people who look at TikTok to start thinking differently about teachers.
“The strict, authoritarian-type teacher … just doesn't work in this generation as much,” Rogers argues. “So I think that TikTok humanizes teachers a little bit more and helps students see that these teachers can actually be kind of funny outside the classroom or have a life. It connects us with students in a different way.”
Hear more on the full episode of this week’s podcast. Listen to this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.