As an emerging social media platform, TikTok has stolen the world’s gaze—one 15- to 60-second video at a time. With an algorithm unlike any other, the app allows users to watch new videos, without repetition, from creators of all backgrounds.
This video-sharing social media platform, created by Chinese company ByteDance, became available worldwide in August 2018 after merging with another Chinese video-sharing platform formerly known as Musical.ly. TikTok allows users to create videos up to one minute in length and features user capabilities for camera filters, shared music, and interaction with other creators’ and their published videos. According to CNBC, TikTok has been downloaded more than two billion times by Apple and Android users. In the United States alone, the app has over 50 million active daily users. Even through some controversy—including President Donald Trump’s call to ban the app, citing privacy concerns, in July 2020—TikTok has continued on, allowing ideas to be spread, dances to be created, and ordinary people to become viral sensations overnight—including educators.
For most users, TikTok is an escape from the world around them. The app provides hours of entertainment for users as they scroll through videos made by creators from all walks of life. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States, and stay-at-home orders became the new normal, Jayma Howard, like thousands of other Americans, found herself downloading the app.
“I think I was user four-million-something, and I was just watching [the videos],” Howard says. “But then I started getting into the teacher world of TikTok and I saw these videos, and they were so funny.”
Howard, a first grade special education teacher and ATPE member in Flour Bluff ISD, found herself immersed in the platform’s user-friendly algorithm—watching as other educators shared teaching tips, stories, and laughs during such a challenging time. The TikTok algorithm allows users to begin seeing content from other creators of similar interest after just a few times in the app. As long as users are interacting with the videos they enjoy on their “For You” page, content that piques their interests will continue to show up. As such, after watching hours of TikToks from other educators, Howard decided she would start contributing to the world of “teacher TikTok.”
“I started making videos just to make everyone laugh,” Howard says. “We got thrown into virtual teaching where nobody was told what to do and nobody knew what to do. I posted [videos] just to make my co-workers laugh.”
Howard, who goes by TikTok username “tinyhumanteacher20,” has over 84,000 likes and uses TikTok as an outlet to show the truths behind being an educator. The first grade teacher loves to post funny, relatable content and has created countless videos to share with fellow educators.
“I try to make my videos as real as possible,” Howard explains. “This is what’s happening, this is what we go through, this is the stuff we hear on a daily basis as teachers, and that’s why it is so funny to us educators because it can be so ridiculous that we just have to crack up about it.”
Numerous educators like Howard have taken to TikTok to show the world what being an educator during a global pandemic really looks like. They show the many triumphs of virtual learning, as well as the challenges—like the ongoing battle with the mute button.
“I want to show at least the people who aren’t teachers that this is what’s going on, this is actually happening,” Howard says.
One-Minute Professional Development
Although educators all over the country are turning to TikTok to tell their stories in the classroom—whether in person or virtually, hilarious or heartbreaking, inspiring or defeating—some educators are utilizing TikTok as a resource for professional development.
Bea Gonzalez, an eighth grade social studies teacher in La Joya ISD, uses TikTok to share the various technology and education resources she developed as an educational consultant.
“I love being able to help teachers, and when this pandemic hit, I felt like I had so much knowledge I just wanted to share it,” Gonzalez explains. “I love using TikTok because it is literally one-minute professional development. You’re forced to give so much information in that one minute.”
For Gonzalez, known as “mrstalktechie” on TikTok, using the platform to spread her love for teaching was a no-brainer. With over 13,000 followers and 60,000 likes, Gonzalez has several videos showing off her knowledge in technology and educational development, all in the name of supporting her fellow teachers—especially during virtual learning.
“If there ever is a time that teachers are seeking and wanting [resources], it’s now. We’re giving educators what they need, and it is just so easy to do—you can get professional development when you have the time,” Gonzalez says.
With a schedule more chaotic than ever, educators can also use the platform to enhance their classroom. Gonzalez and other TikTok users within the “teacher algorithm” help educators find resources to elevate their teaching as well as ease the struggles of technology. From showing ways educators can utilize social media templates to tricks for communicating over Zoom, Gonzalez provides a wide array of tips in under a minute that educators can use in the classroom day in and day out.
“There’s a wealth of information out there, and knowledge and people willing to share, and if you also have something to share—then do it,” Gonzalez says. “Don’t be afraid to get what you need and get the information you can.”
Technology is constantly evolving. From the invention of pagers to the release of iPhones, students of all generations have had the ability to grasp the latest technologies. While educators are enjoying the marvels of the platform—from creating to viewing—some are on the app to keep up with the fast-paced world of social media.
Andrea Keller, a librarian in Irving ISD and ATPE member, downloaded the app to check
out what was all the buzz among her students.
“I always want to make sure that I am understanding what apps kids are using and why they are using them so I can have those real conversations with students. It’s a very different online world now,” Keller explains.
As students continue to dive into the world of social media at increasingly younger ages, it is important to understand the safety, logistics, and content available on these platforms. Like other social media platforms, TikTok is accessible to all ages and enables people to interact with users, ideas, and stories with ease. It is crucial to remember that with these benefits comes potential downfalls.
And yet, a major benefit for educators is simply the ability to connect with other educators so easily.
“I love that I can connect with other librarians because, for a long time, people thought librarians were quiet. It has given us a great opportunity to connect,” Keller says. “Connections are more available on TikTok than they are on, say, Twitter and Instagram, because it’s a different style and different way of thinking.”
Under her account “akbusybee,” Keller publishes library content, including her weekly “Book Talk Tuesday,” where she recommends a new book to her followers, but she’s also never too afraid to keep up with the current trends and post a dance TikTok occasionally.
Eliminate the resources, funny videos, and inspiring stories, TikTok’s versatility has ultimately allowed educators to connect virtually when uncertain times have kept them from connecting face-to-face.
“TikTok is a whole extra unit of people that I have where it is like, I don’t really know them, but their videos are so positive and make me feel so supported,” Howard says. “TikTok can really help people, they just have to be open to it.”
Teachers of TikTok
- Jayma Howard is a first grade special education teacher in Flour Bluff ISD
- 4,300+ followers, 86,000+ likes
- Bea Gonzalez is an eighth grade social studies teacher in La Joya ISD
- 14,400+ followers, 64,000+ likes
- Andrea Keller is a librarian in Irving ISD
- 1,600+ followers, 8,000+ likes
Numbers as of January 5, 2021.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Teacher TikTok
Although TikTok is a great social media platform for harnessing creativity, sharing resources and stories with others, and pure enjoyment, it is important that educators know what not to do when creating a TikTok about school-related topics. ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp breaks down a few things to keep in mind if you are an educator on “teacher TikTok.”
- Use common sense. If it seems like something you would not share in front of the class, do not include it in your TikTok—including grade books and student accommodations.
- If someone can put the pieces of your story together and identify the person you are talking about, you can face repercussions.
- If you are not sure if it is OK, just ask! Contact your principal if you are curious. It is better to ask for permission than to ask for forgiveness.
- It does not matter how reasonable your video is in your eyes, all that matters is the reaction to it.
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) covers students’ personally identifiable information that is maintained by the school district. Always avoid sharing your students’ information in videos, as well as identifying traits of students during stories that you may be telling on the platform.
- Never embarrass the students, even if unintentional. Even if the students are laughing about it now, they may find it embarrassing in the future and you could face repercussions. Keep it light and positive!
- Know your local policy and parents. Is it OK with your school district and area parents that you are using TikTok as your teacher persona? Even if it is, ask yourself if it is worth the risk of complaints from parents, community members, and administration.
- Don’t make yourself an easy target. Anything that can be considered relatively controversial, but still OK with your district, can potentially be used against you in the future.
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided for general purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department. February 2021.