Classroom Technology

Teachers Spend 2 Hours a Day on TikTok. What Do They Get Out of it?

By Alyson Klein — March 27, 2024 5 min read
The TikTok app logo appears in Tokyo, on Sept. 28, 2020.
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TikTok, the social media video platform that’s a hit with teenagers and under fire in Congress, is the bane of many educators’ existence.

For others, though, it’s a friendly corner of the social media landscape where they can find ideas for their classroom practice, sprinkled with some much-needed LOLs, according to a report published recently in the journal of Teaching and Teacher Education by researchers at Elon University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of the Redlands.

“Teachers are superbusy. TikTok likes content that is digestible and quick,” said Jeff Carpenter, the lead author and a professor at Elon University. The platform makes it easy to find “bite-size nuggets of thought-provoking content that maybe is also pretty funny sometimes,” he said.

The report’s findings are based on a survey disseminated through various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and via email. The researchers also contacted educators with large followings on TikTok and invited them to share the survey link. The findings included responses from 415 current and preservice educators.

Overall, teachers were divided on their opinion of the platform. In an open-ended response, one teacher called it “the greatest teachers’ lounge!” Another said it is “as stupid as the internet gets.”

Here are four key findings from the report:

1. Teachers don’t have a clear sense of TikTok’s privacy rules or of their own school or district’s policies regarding use of the platform

The educators who responded to the survey said they spend about two hours a day on TikTok. Despite that time investment, more than half—53 percent—said they weren’t aware of their school’s policies, if any, regarding TikTok use. Another 13 percent said they were just “minimally aware of those policies.”

Educators were also largely unsure of how their data are used by TikTok, with nearly two-thirds saying they were “unaware” or only “minimally aware” of what happens to the personal information they give to the platform.

To be sure, social platforms’ terms of service are “often inscrutable,” the report says. And school social media policies can be inadequate or change rapidly.

Still, there’s a lesson for administrators: If your school or district has rules on how educators can use TikTok, make sure staff are clear on what they are, author Carpenter said.

“You don’t want some teacher to get in trouble [because] they didn’t quite understand the policies,” he said.

2. Educators are getting lots of ideas for instruction on TikTok

Ninety-four percent of educators surveyed said they use TikTok to find ideas related to education. And nearly as many—90 percent—said they had used TikTok to inform their classroom practice.

On the upside, teachers may be learning techniques for presenting information or keeping their classrooms running smoothly, Carpenter said. And they may be getting ideas for how to engage students.

“TikTok culture is very much entertainment-focused,” he said. “And there’s a degree to which teaching is performance.”

But there’s a potential downside, too. The platform “may overfocus on teaching as performance,” Carpenter said, leading teachers to focus less on designing high-quality lessons and offering students feedback.

He worries that the platform might give early-career and preservice educators the incorrect impression that “teaching is just about being charismatic.”

3. Teachers see being on TikTok as a way to better understand their students

Most survey participants—79 percent—have used TikTok to get a better sense of youth culture. But only about a quarter have used it to directly connect with their students.

Madeline White, who teaches gifted education at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, Mo., spends about two hours a day on TikTok herself. But she doesn’t make it easy for her students to find her on the platform.

“I try not to talk about [TikTok] a lot in front of them,” she said. “I don’t want them trying to find me on there. A lot of them have asked me to be in their TikToks.” She’s said no. “I just don’t want to be on the internet with kids. I don’t even let them film in my room, either. I feel weird about it,” White said.

Even though White, 24, is only about a decade older than some of her students, she’s unfamiliar with their slang. Case in point: She heard students using the word “glazing” in class recently and was perplexed. Were they talking about glazed donuts?

After a search on TikTok, she found that the term now refers to “sucking up to someone.” It can also be used to refer to male genitalia—which is the context her students were using it in.

“Kids were using it in class in front of me, and they’re [probably] thinking, ‘Oh, she has no idea what I’m talking about,” White said. “But now I know.”

4. TikTok is more about watching than creating or connecting

Educators may spend a lot of time on TikTok, but that’s not necessarily because they are making or posting their own videos. Nearly half of survey respondents—45 percent—said they had never posted on the site themselves.

Of those who did, 29 percent created content intended for other educators. Less than 1 in 5—18 percent—posted with their students as the target audience. And even fewer—7 percent—posted videos aimed at their students’ parents.

That may be partly because the site’s algorithm is more interested in showing users content based on what they have already engaged with, not necessarily what their friends or connections are looking at, Carpenter explained.

More than 60 percent of the educators surveyed said they use the site to network. But while Facebook and X —formerly called Twitter—have hosted numerous educator communities, that appears to be less common on TikTok, he said.

What’s more, there seems to be more “entertaining or funny content in Teacher TikTok, than maybe some of the other platforms,” Carpenter said.

Teaching has always been a tough job, he said. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, which negatively impacted students’ academic progress and emotional well-being, it’s understandable that many educators are just looking for a laugh.

“Teaching is just a bit heavier,” he said. “Teachers need some kind of break sometimes from that heaviness.”

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