A teacher’s defence of TikTok

It may have had a bad rap of late, but TikTok nevertheless contains a bounty of inspiring and entertaining content just waiting to be discovered by teachers, insists Nikki Cunningham-Smith…

Nikki Cunningham-Smith
by Nikki Cunningham-Smith

It’s not been great these past few months to be a teacher and in the vicinity of TikTok, that’s for sure.

This particular social media platform has been giving our great educators considerable cause for anxiety, sadness and even paranoia in our workspaces. As is often the case with social media activity, TikTok-related incidents have the potential to consume mindsets 24/7.

It goes without saying this is a far from healthy state of affairs, with some teaching professionals expressing worries over whether they’re going to appear on their students’ social media feeds without their permission being sought, or if they’re going to be a victim of the latest TikTok ‘challenge’.

Having said all that, I’d like to raise a different, but related point – that TikTok can be also an incredibly positive, collaborative, and uplifting space for educators to participate in. So before readers write off TikTok entirely, I’d just like to highlight a few of its more positive uses and potential impacts…

CPD opportunities

As an ICT and computing teacher by trade, I love seeing examples of how teachers have used tech to their advantage. In-depth teaching and instructional videos have been available via YouTube for years, but I’m at a stage in life and in a professional role where I’m often time-poor.

Being able to quickly view the concise, one-minute-max videos served up by TikTok has given me frequent injections of inspiration, as well as useful pointers I can choose to pursue or not, and highlighted potentially useful investments in learning tech.

I’ve watched an extensive range of teaching opportunities and learning activities accomplished with micro:bits and Raspberry Pis that I’d never have thought of myself. It’s been a wonderful source of CPD, without me having to attend (or indeed pay for) any courses. I’m regularly upskilling and feeding my knowledge without even thinking about it.

Live teaching

Watching teachers who have filmed their day, then edited together golden highlights to share with their audience, feels to me like a very privileged position from which to observe lesson advice from fellow practitioners. Really, it’s no different from the days when teaching professionals used to film their lessons over the top of pupils’ shoulders and sell the end result in the form of CPD videos.

I’ve often felt like a classroom observer, watching as teachers walk pupils through the use of self regulation skills so as not to derail the lesson. I’ve seen a teacher use press-on lights when discussing behaviour management with their class, and even curriculum-based examples – such as the maths teacher showing their TikTok followers how they helped their class grasp a concept they’d previously struggled with.

This ability to hear pupils in live examples is fantastic – listening to how they respond, noting what works and what doesn’t, where the excitement spots are and the areas to be aware of when delivering certain topics. I think it’s an invaluable tool for all teachers, but especially for prospective and student teachers who can now get real and honest insights to what classroom spaces can and do look like. They’ve been granted access to everyday, raw and unfiltered examples of what life as a teacher actually involves.

Sources of inspiration

The educational ideas you can find on TikTok aren’t just limited to the classroom. It’s also a fantastic space for seeing how other schools are engaging with national and international events, such as Children In Need, World Book Day and Black History Month. It can give you new ideas for using traditional spaces, such as libraries, calm corners, or playgrounds.

Whatever teaching idea or activity you might have in mind, there’s sure to be at least some information on there that you can use to try and get your project off the ground. The great thing is that many of the schools you’ll find are most likely facing similar problems as you, be it lack of funds or limited space, alongside an abundance of creative suggestions for how to tackle such challenges.

Static glimpses of the classroom spaces used by other teachers have long been available via Pinterest, but they’re now increasingly accessible as snappy videos that serve as great visual examples of what you can do (and often on a more reasonable budget than you might think).

Niche teaching connections

If, like me, you’re someone who works in a specialist area, your professional connections will typically be limited to others within your own school. TikTok has seen enough uptake by teachers that there are now numerous networking opportunities available at the touch of a hashtag. I can simply type ‘#behaviourteacher’ and there it is – teachers like me, working in spaces just like mine.

At my fingertips, in real time, are educators across the globe experiencing the same educational existence as me – who understand how intense the trials, tribulations and victories in education settings can be, and who are willing to share insights that validate my own in a way my equally amazing mainstream colleagues sometimes simply can’t.

Entertaining humour

As teachers, we’ll often get pumped full of information about the many negative elements to teaching. Yes, on TikTok and elsewhere you can easily find many videos and viral creators who enjoy taking the time to poke fun at teachers by exaggerating the things we do – from the way we carry an ungodly amount of keys around our necks, to the nature of our interactions with pupils whilst we’re trying to eat our lunch.

Though mildly triggering, such videos can often actually be quite funny. I’ve certainly watched a few myself and been able to laugh along, having sometimes recognised myself in the caricatures shown. However, some TikTok teachers give as good as they get, serving up a gentle ribbing for students – not to mention leadership, parents and dinner ladies…

For some teacher creators, no-one is off limits, and I’m here for it. Teaching is simply too intense to not find the fun in certain situations, and attempt to be taken seriously all the time.

With every resource, there’s always two sides to how something is used – but I’d urge readers not to write off TikTok completely. By all means, approach it with caution and protect your space – but there’s a lot to be gained from jumping in and seeing what you can take away for yourself. Get on the app and search ‘#teachersoftiktok’ – just don’t blame me if you blink and find that you’ve accidentally been on it for the past four hours…

Pick of the tiks

If you’re a TikTok newcomer, try searching these hashtags or users and see where you end up…

EVERYONE #teachersoftiktok #tiktokteacher #teachertok #teachersontiktok #edutok

SECONDARY-SPECIFIC @missenglishteacher @harrysurplus

SEMH @mrgteacher @mrscs8

EXAMS @firstratetutors @hannahkettlemaths @gcsepotential @revisionrecharge @revisescienceofficial

COMEDY @teachwithtadgh @mrdtimes3 @lovemsslater @teachersoffdutypodcast

Nikki Cunningham-Smith is an assistant headteacher based in Gloucestershire

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