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TikTok teachers balance privacy and misconceptions on social media

Social media platform offers chance to share issues and ideas important to the profession
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Middle school teacher Zahra Hassan is seen in a portrait in Mississauga, Ont., Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

Teachers across Canada are turning to social media platform TikTok to share everything from their daily experiences to learning tips and even their classroom outfits. As part of the wider online community known as TeacherTok, some of them have amassed a following that extends beyond the classroom.

The Canadian Press talked to three Canadian teachers, whose TikTok videos have collectively reached millions of views, about how they balance professionalism, privacy and addressing misconceptions about their jobs.

SWAPPING TALES

Julia Adams, a Windsor, Ont.-based occasional teacher qualified to work in both elementary and high schools, said TeacherTok allows educators to showcase their day-to-day life, connect with other teachers and help people better understand what they do.

“I think a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about what it’s actually like to be a teacher,” said Adams, who has more than 51,000 TikTok followers under the username @juliaadams.

Adams, an artist who aspires to be a full-time art teacher, said posting online allows teachers with similar lived experiences to share advice and help navigate various situations.

“You can figure out where to go from here and realize that you’re not so alone because teaching can be a very lonely profession.”

The 29-year-old describes teachers as “ever-revolving doors.”

“We put on multiple hats a day. You’re a social worker one second and now you’re a problem solver. Now I’m just gonna be a teacher. But then I also have to be a therapist and a nurse sometimes,” she said. “It’s just very quick paced so there’s a whole bunch of things that happen even in the matter of five minutes.”

For Thanksgiving, Adams posted a “gratitude tree” she created at her school, which got more than 600,000 views on TikTok and became one of her most viral videos. The activity involved putting up paper leaves and asking students to write something they are grateful for, creating a tree display at the front of the school.

“I got comments saying, ‘Oh I’m gonna show this to my principal,’ ‘This is a great idea,’” she said.

Adams also posts videos reacting to other teachers’ fashion choices, discussing pranks on her students and how she decorates her classroom. Going for a “very generalized approach,” Adams doesn’t record her students or mention their names and pronouns when she talks about them.

“I always make sure that I’m staying professional because it’s a public forum. You never know who’s gonna come across your videos.”

SHARING RESOURCES

Margaret Fong, 36, said her approach to TikTok is “being very candid and almost vulnerable to the sense of sharing what it’s like to be a teacher.”

“It’s sharing our experiences: our wins, our challenges and next steps of what we can do to be better in the classroom and as people as well,” said Fong, who has been teaching elementary school for 12 years in Toronto.

Fong said teaching is her calling, which inspired her online handle @mycalltoteach. She has more than 13,000 TikTok followers.

In 2020, when the new Ontario math curriculum came out, Fong said no resources were available to implement the work so she created her own digital slides, editable worksheets and assessments to meet the education standards, sharing both the resources and how she uses them online.

“I know what it’s like being a first-year teacher or even a 12-year teacher, we are always looking for new ideas,” Fong said. “All the resources I create I pour time, passion and experience into all of them.”

Outside of hopping on Tik Tok trends, Fong also has website where she offers Ontario curriculum and teaching resources for a fee or at no cost, depending on the type of slides or worksheets.

“I’m amazed at how I’ve learned myself by watching other people, becoming a better teacher and even a mom.”

TRENDY TEACHERS

Torontomiddle school teacher Zahra Hassan is well known on TikTok for her ’90s-style fashion in the classroom. Known as @misswondrousoul, she has more than 83,000 followers on the platform.

Hassan said her students encouraged her to post her fashion choices online, and the style she showcases makes her more approachable.

“They think it’s the coolest thing ever. The kids are like 1.7 million views (combined) and you’re famous, you know?”

The 29-year-old, whose parents immigrated from Somalia to Canada, said the need for representation is the reason why she became a teacher and wanted to pursue social media.

“People that don’t look like me don’t understand the lived experiences of being a Black first-generation Canadian Muslim student in the school system… my school journey made me silence my identity and (want to) conform rather than celebrate my identity,” Hassan said.

She said she’s trying to “create a space where we also can be celebrated for who we are.”

Hassan has also done collaborations with brands like eBay, Indigo, Walmart and also has a podcast with another Black female teacher from New York called ‘Them 90s Teachers,’ which takes a deep dive into education topics beyond borders and school districts.

READ ALSO: Teachers turn to AI to make workload more manageable, chart lesson plans

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