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Member Spotlight

TikTok Opening a Window into the Teaching Life

Videos posted by teachers to TikTok, a wildly popular social media app, have been viewed at least 5 billion times. They are finding fun, new ways to talk about their profession while also offering teaching tips, student-teacher connections, and more.
Published: 12/10/2020

You’ve seen the millions of middle-school students, recording their choreographed dance moves for TikTok.

But the wildly popular social media app isn’t just 13-year-olds, hitting the Quan. 

Videos posted by teachers to TikTok have been viewed at least 5 billion times. More than 12 million have watched Ohio teacher Lauran Woolley as she caws — literally caw-caws — for her fifth graders to return from recess. More than 27 million have watched Florida high school teacher Casey Hamilton, a beam of positivity, in a “duet” video with Lizzo.

At the same time, the videos also are opening a window into the teaching life for non-students and non-educators. These past months, TikTok’s 850 million active users see the jaw-dropping lengths that educators are going to connect with students during the pandemic, even when they're not in the same physical space.

Where the Kids Are

Before the pandemic closed schools last spring, educators saw the incessant dances, hastily assembled in school hallways; the groups of students huddled over phones, giggling hysterically.

More than a third of TikTok’s users are estimated to be 14 or younger, according to an August report of company data.

While some educators get “TikTok famous,” and even make money while doing it, most #teachersoftiktok are simply having fun. Some are sharing teaching tips and improving their practice. Most say they got into it to connect with students in new ways — something that has become especially valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as educators work harder than ever to build relationships with students.

Arizona Teacher's TikTok Video Goes Viral

Arizona high school history teacher Dustin Williamson, 27, has had a similar experience. “Back in February, right before COVID started, TikTok was taking off and it was all that my students were talking about,” says Williamson, a.k.a. mr_williamson23. “So I downloaded it to find out what it was all about, scrolled down for like 3 hours — and it was like ‘holy crap, now I’m addicted!’”

Williamson told his students, “you know, I think I could do this,” and they told him, “yes, you totally could.” (For proof that his students made the right call, see Williamson’s “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” video, viewed more than 3 million times.)

“My students support me. They follow me on the app. It’s been a great way to build relationships with them,” says the Glendale Union Education Association member.

Williamson and other TikTok teachers say their administrators also are supportive. In the absence of district policies about TikTok, they use common sense — no profanity, no participation in risque dances, etc. Administrators are encouraging teachers to find ways to connect with students, teachers say, and they see that this is effective.

TikTok as a Teaching Tool

In addition to building teacher-student relationships, some teachers are using TikTok videos as teaching tools, especially during virtual learning.

Many teachers are learning from other teachers on the app, whether it’s how to teach an algebraic concept or what to do with your Halloween bulletin board. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic, “when we’re all like new teachers,” says Williamson.

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Keeping the Promise of Quality Public Education

With more than 20,000 members, the Arizona Education Association (AEA) is the largest professional association for public school employees in Arizona. AEA members are teachers, community college professors, counselors, speech pathologists, bus drivers, secretaries, retired educators and student teachers and they belong to more than 150 local affiliates across Arizona.