How Teachers Are Using TikTok® to Instruct, Engage, and Connect during Distance Learning

By: | 11/18/2020
Category: Distance Learning

In a recent online video, middle school English language arts teacher Meghan Mayer opens a door of her Florida school building and scowls at the bright outdoors. Music from Hocus Pocus, a classic Halloween movie, plays in the background as she declares in a crackling witch voice, “Glorious morning. Makes me sick.” She then pulls the door firmly shut, ending the video. This video entitled “Teachers wanting a day off like . . . ” (slang translation: “Teachers want a day off”) has garnered more than 2,750 “likes” and 40 comments. It’s just one of the many videos Mayer, a member of Curriculum Associates’ 2020 Extraordinary Educators class, has shared through the social media platform TikTok.

TikTok is a free social media app where members upload short-form mobile videos on any topic they want. It has approximately 100 million monthly users in the United States and has been downloaded more than two billion times around the world. In a September 2020 article in the New York Times, “Streaming Kindergarten on TikTok,” reporters labeled it a “booming new genre” for educators.

TikTok has earned a reputation as the go-to app for lighthearted videos where celebrities deliver jokes and updates, makeup artists and home chefs share tips, and young people show off their dance skills. However, since the widespread implementation of distance learning, educators, like Mayer (whose TikTok handle is @thecrazycreativeteacher), are creating videos that offer glimpses of teachers’ days, educator-to-educator resources and tips, educational tidbits and instructions for students, and more.

Engagement and Relationship Building

Many teachers tag their posts with hashtags such as #TikTokTeachers and #TeacherLife2020. Video viewers know that they can click on one of these hashtags and instantly see a webpage full of education-centered videos. Teacher hashtags have helped create a sense of community among educators during a time of social distancing and remote learning.

Examples

Mackenzie Adams, a kindergarten teacher in Washington state, who goes by @kenziiewenz on TikTok, has garnered more than 300,000 followers and was featured in the “Streaming Kindergarten on Tiktok” article. In her videos, she shares how she interacts with her young students during online learning sessions. Her exaggerated facial expressions, big hand gestures, and funny voices keep her young students entertained and excited about learning.

“Teachers Be Like . . . ” (Videos about the Teaching Life)

If you’ve been on the internet in the past six months, you’ve probably seen a lot of memes with phrases such as “Moms be like . . .”, “Cats be like . . .”, “[fill in the blank] be like . . .” When teachers use “Teachers be like . . .” on TikTok, it generally translates to “Teachers are/do/want . . . .” and means they’re sharing humorous aspects of the teacher life.

Examples

English teacher Brooke Rogers, known on TikTok as @thatnewteacher, creates relatable videos with gentle self-deprecating humor about being a newbie in the education field. In one of her videos, she performs a skit in which she plays a more experienced educator with veteran classroom management skills who forms an alliance with a new teacher (also played by Rogers) who is knowledgeable about slang and technology.

California educator @mr.mctiktok, who has 1.5 million followers on TikTok, shares funny (and often outright ridiculous) videos about the trials and triumphs of teaching middle school. A standout for me? A humorous video that covers teachers’ resilience (learning to teach remotely in no time at all), dedication (years of college and debt to go with it), and love for what they do. The post is captioned, “This one goes out to all my teachers who never did it for a paycheck. You are my heroes.” It ends with @mr.mctiktok's fantastic reaction to a TikTok comment about teachers being “overpaid.”

@thecrazycreativeteacher

It's the darn truth. 😂 #witchtok #hocuspocus #anothergloriousmorning #spooktober #boo #horrortok #octobervibes #disneyteacher

♬ Hocus Pocus Another Glorious Morning - Derek Yates

Mayer has more than 500k followers on TikTok and her clever videos about the teaching life earned her an appearance on CBS’ The Greatest #AtHome Videos.

Instruction and Assignments

Humor, it turns out, is great for community building and instruction. According to the research cited in the Edutopia article “Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention,” topic-related instructional humor activates the brain’s dopamine reward system and can stimulate long-term goal setting and increase motivation. The educators who are donning ridiculous outfits, dancing like the '80s never ended, and cracking jokes in videos in the name of learning are backed by science. Make kids laugh and they will learn.

Example

High school teacher @how_i_teach_high_school loves costumes. She’s dressed as Batman®, donned hair curlers to play “grammar grandma,” and played Harry Potter® characters to communicate what her students can expect for the week. If her outfits don’t get her students attention, I don’t know what will.

Educator-to-Educator Tutorials

Many of the videos described above could fall under this section because they show classroom management, instruction practices, and other skills. But some TikTok educators specialize in videos that focus solely on educating other educators. You can find some of these posts with the hashtag #TeacherTipTuesday.

Example

Tyler Tarver, a former principal who is known on TikTok as @sirtylertarver, has gone viral for his teacher-centered tutorials about Google Classroom, a free web platform that integrates with hundreds of education apps. It is often used by educators to create classes, assign course materials, communicate, and stay organized. Through TikTok, Tarver has shared digital notebook templates, bell ringers to get students to participate in class, as well as a Google cheat sheets for educators.

Concerns

Before you start practicing your dance moves and setting up your TikTok account, you should know that TikTok has been in the news lately because the Trump administration wants the app banned in the United States.

  • In August, the Trump administration alleged that TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, posed a threat to America’s national security because its parent company, ByteDance®, allegedly has close ties to the Chinese government. The Administration dictated that TikTok sell to an American company before November 12, or it would be banned in the United States.

  • Since the announcement of a potential ban, there have been a slew of arguments, court orders, lawsuits, etc. The November 12 deadline has come and gone, but TikTok is still accessible in the United States thanks to a preliminary injunction against the ban. It appears that TikTok is in the clear for the moment. However, the Trump administration could revitalize its efforts to ban the popular app using different tactics and arguments.

It should go without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that educators should research and understand how any social media app is using your data before you open an account. Read the small print documents: the privacies policies, terms of service, etc.

Perhaps you’ll decide that with TikTok, like so many other forms of social technology, pros outweigh its cons. The app has the potential to build bridges and elevate engagement regardless of where students may be learning. When combined with the passions and creativity of educators, TikTok can become another effective tool to inspire students along their educational journey.


TikTok® is a trademark of Bytedance Ltd.
Batman® is a trademark of DC Comics.
Harry Potter® is a trademark of Warner Bros.

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Shenique Mens-Smith

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