Classroom Technology

Could TikTok Be Teachers’ New Best Friend?

By Elizabeth Heubeck — July 19, 2023 4 min read
The TikTok app logo appears in Tokyo, on Sept. 28, 2020.
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Teacher-generated videos are what’s trending on TikTok these days.

So says a recent study that examined the popularity of TikTok videos created by various professionals between 2016 and 2023. Those linked to the hashtag #teacher garnered 61.3 billion views—second only to those labeled with #doctor, which edged out those from educators with 61.5 billion views.

The study, conducted by Registerednursing.org, an advocacy organization for the nursing profession, showed that the short teacher-created videos (between 15 seconds and three minutes long) span a wide range of themes—from teaching-related tips, tricks, and hacks to venting on the challenges of the profession. Those that have gone viral include snippets of teachers showing grace to students, sharing strategies for teaching kids with ADHD, and offering tips for staying calm in a crisis.

“It’s nice to see something positive coming out of social media. It shows that teachers are not only on the platform giving each other tips, but also educating the rest of the world on what it’s like to be a teacher. Hopefully, that leads to more grace, or props, for teachers,” said Melissa Stephenson, a spokesperson for North Star Inbound, an agency commissioned by Registerednursing.org to collect and disseminate data from its TikTok survey.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence on the surging popularity of teacher-created content on TikTok. A doctoral fellow’s research suggests TikTok has become a popular source of information and learning for pre-service teachers. And, on sites like #teachersoftiktok and #teacher , which had a combined total of 96.1 billion views as of this winter, teachers are posting everything from comedic sketches to knowledge sharing, inspirational ideas, and more.

@bcholeman This is for all the teachers and students out there. Life can hit hard, and we all need some grace. #teacher #middleschool #fyp #foryou #studyhacks ♬ original sound - vision wise

The growing interest in teacher-generated TikTok content coincides with a critical juncture in the teaching profession, as ongoing teacher shortages, stories of teacher stress and burnout, and falling enrollment numbers in teacher training programs create an image of teaching as an unpopular profession. While there is no single solution to the challenges facing the field, social media apps like TikTok do appear to be serving as a new source of information and inspiration among teachers.

A balm for professional isolation

Most teachers perform their jobs in relative isolation from colleagues. When they’re not in their classrooms with students, the job’s additional day-to-day responsibilities leave little time for impromptu sharing sessions with other teachers. So, while TikTok may not be the perfect portal for all that confounds, frustrates, or inspires educators, burgeoning teacher-related social media channels can provide access to information that’s relevant to teachers.

Christine Greenhow, a professor at Michigan State University’s College of Education, led an analysis of a decades’ worth of research studying the impact of social media on teaching and teacher learning. She found that teachers use social media for a number of purposes, including informal learning, to join professional community networks, and even to garner emotional and social support.

“Connecting with people beyond your [immediate] school community,” said Greenhow. “That’s the real power of social media.”

Teachers in training prefer TikTok over traditional PD

Young adults were among the earliest to adopt social media, and they continue to use it at high levels, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s not surprising, then, that many of today’s teachers in training prefer TikTok videos over traditional presentations as a learning technique in their teacher prep programs or professional development sessions, according to Stefanie McKoy, the University of Arkansas doctoral fellow who researched the topic for her dissertation.

“What they liked about TikTok was that it was a short-form video,” McKoy said.

Greenhow also acknowledged the potential for social media as a source of professional development. “Teachers are turning to social media to build a professional community,” she said. “It’s not a replacement for formal PD, but this kind of informal, individualized content is something teachers crave, and they find, on social media platforms.”

Meeting students where they are

Like early-career professionals who grew up as “digital natives,” K-12 students readily and frequently navigate social media. Greenhow urges teachers to take note.

“Reading scores are falling. People are not reading books for pleasure as in years past. A lot of people are consuming information via auditory, moving visuals, etcetera, online, Greenhow said. “If these are the way kids are learning and consuming and creating content, then we as teachers will need to adapt.”

She referenced the popular YouTube channel, @NaturalHabitatShorts, as a source of videos that use an entertaining format to introduce fun facts about animals to young students. “I could see a teacher dropping this creative content into their class to pique students’ interest,” she said.

Proceeding with caution

In spite of the groundswell of interest in TikTok by educators, there’s little evidence of its formal adoption yet by school districts. McKoy suggested one reason why. “I think they’re scared of it,” she said. “There’s limited research on whether what’s [presented on TikTok is] high quality, right?”

That same rationale may cause teachers to hesitate before embracing it in their classrooms.
Greenhow cautioned: “Teachers need to ask themselves: How can I assess that this is something I want to show my students?’”

A version of this article appeared in the August 23, 2023 edition of Education Week as Could TikTok Be Teachers’ New Best Friend?

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