How Becoming a TikToker Made Me a Better Teacher
By Lauran Woolley, Elementary School Language Arts Teacher in Canfield, Ohio
Stuck in a Rut
Author David Alston said “Social media is not a media. The key is to listen, engage, and build relationships.”
As an educator and an entertainer-at-heart, I am forever seeking new ways to intrigue and amuse my students. But before I could begin to engage my students, I had to get to know them, right? Well, like most teachers, I used to scour Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for activities to help me get to know my students at the beginning of the school year. You know the kind. The typical “All About Me” worksheets and every type of student inventory you could imagine.
Little did I know, the simple download of an app would force me to rethink my own teaching practices.
The Bet that Started It All
It all began in February of 2020. I was faced with a challenging student, that I just couldn’t seem to get through to. I felt like I had tried everything!
I tried reward systems, behavior plans, you name it! But nothing seemed to work.
Until one day, when that very same student mentioned that he had recently gotten 8,000 followers on Tiktok. This singular comment sparked an idea. What if I make a Tiktok? Maybe that will grab his attention. All year long my students had been asking me if I knew what Tiktok was, and I would just scoff and say “no.”
But now, it seemed like the only option I hadn’t yet exhausted, so I gave it a shot. I bet my student that I could get more followers than he could by the end of the year. So, I did.
Welcome to My Life
With the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, I began my journey creating videos on the app, and slowly, my follower count grew and grew.
At first, I didn’t want any of my students to find my account; I didn’t want them to see my videos. I created an unwritten rule in my head that prohibited them from seeing me as a real person.
Then it dawned on me, Why couldn’t they? I think so often, we label ourselves as professionals, that we forget to show our students that we are actual human beings that also like to have fun, be silly, and laugh. I had spent so much of my focus at the beginning of the year learning about my students, that I had forgotten to let them learn about me.
Through my videos I am able to build lasting connections with my students. I can share funny moments with them as well as pieces of my life, but that’s not the only benefit.
You Help Me, and I’ll Help You
Tiktok provided me with a community of educators around the world with the same goal in mind — engaging our students.
I first discovered this when I found another teacher account on the app. Her name was Logan Hudak(@hellomshudak) and her video series that drew me in, “Teacher Tea,” had already amassed millions of views. In this series, she shared answers to her audiences’ most-asked questions about the hidden truths of the teaching career. I admired her candidness and her honesty. She opened herself up to her students as a real person and it was refreshing. Her account, as well as the discovery of many others, led me to some of the most brilliant teaching tips and classroom hacks I had ever found.
I also became a part of two of the most diverse and insightful groups of educators on the internet, School House Tok and The Teacher Hype House. These groups became a safe haven for my venting sessions about teaching during a pandemic and celebrating all the little victories. An app I previously couldn’t care less about had now connected me with thousands of other educators around the world.
It’s the Little Things
But let’s get back to the real reason I joined, for my students. Tiktok forced me to think of new ways to have fun in the classroom again.
Whether we believe it or not, the title of our job may be educator, but entertainer is a close second. The fact of the matter is, each and every day we set foot in our rooms, we are putting on a show for every student that walks through our door. It is our choice to determine what kind of show we want to put on.
Tiktok inspired so many of my new classroom practices, such as my rat in the corner, or “Corner Jim” as my followers would refer to him. Now before you start freaking out, no. It’s not an actual rat. It’s simply an inside joke my students and I have taken from my Tiktok. Corner Jim is a little plush mouse that moves to a different spot in the room each day. The students look forward to searching for him each morning to see where he’s moved to. My videos have also become a safe place for students to visit if they’re having a rough day. It still makes me smile every time one of my students says that my videos make them happy.
Be the Entertainer
Even though my Tiktok started as a bet against a former student (which I totally won, by the way), it has truly changed the way I approach my job. It has allowed me to relax and remember to have fun with my students. It has given me an endless support system of educators around the world. It has provided my students the opportunity to view me as a real person; but most of all, it has inspired me to truly love my job again. It has motivated me to be the entertainer and put on a meaningful show for my students each day. Now, Nine months and 2.7 million followers later, I’ve built better relationships with them because of it.
Lauran is an elementary school language arts teacher who aims to spread kindness and laughter in her classroom every day. She has been teaching for 4 years and has also served as a speech and debate coach at a local high school for the past 8 years. She believes in using new and innovative teaching styles in her classroom including the use of flexible seating, and various forms of technology. She began her journey on TikTok as a way to engage with her students, and break down the student/teacher barrier, but what began as a joke, turned into something much bigger. In just 9 short months on the app, Lauran has amassed over 2.7 million followers, created a Youtube channel, designed and launched merchandise, and built up her Instagram following as well. She continually engages her audience with her “My Favorite Answers” commenting series, teacher/student comedy sketches, and dance videos, as well as sharing special moments in her life with her “Day in the Life” series. She is well-known for creating many inside jokes with her followers, and her live-stream, get-ready-with-me(GRWM) advice rants.
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.
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