On Teaching and TikTok

A teacher’s post goes viral and provides lessons for all.

On Teaching and TikTok

Emma Bireline, Teacher Writer

It was the Friday of homecoming week for my students and me. Even though many of my students had been out until the wee hours of the morning throwing rolls of toilet paper and smashing hotdogs on driveways, the excitement was electric; there really is no greater unity among the student body than the Friday of homecoming. Students were in their maroon and black Spartan gear awaiting the parade, coronation festivities and the Friday night lights.

As my sophomores came bounding into my class, I knew immediately that my lesson on a dark Flannery O’ Connor story would not fit the mood of the high-energy shortened class period. I punted Flannery and did the unthinkable: gave my sophomores a “free day.” 

During this class period, one of my students, Quintinn (Q), asked to make a TikTok. Q and I had been planning on making one for the last week or so, and I thought this free moment was the perfect time. 

Q is a student who has no fear of public speaking. He enjoys making his classmates laugh, loves to challenge his teachers, and has been a leading part in school theatre. His energy and outgoing personality often lead his teachers to scold him (myself included). If anybody has the personality to become a viral internet personality, it is he.

Q joked: ‘We are about to go viral, cuh,’ and dapped me up.

We quickly planned and made the video, had some laughs, and posted it on my account. Q joked: “We are about to go viral, cuh,” and dapped me up.

It wasn’t until we got to the coronation that I checked my phone; we were in fact, going viral. I then noticed a comment that was receiving a lot of “likes.” An anonymous account with Patrick Star as the profile picture commented: “Don’t show kids info and picture.” 

The information “Patrick Star” was referring to was a picture of Q along with his first and last name–the same name and picture anybody can find in the sports section of our local newspaper, yearbook, Spartan Media, Facebook, twitter, etc. Despite this knowledge, the comment was concerning.

I found Q in the sea of maroon jerseys to confer with him about the video comment. I suggested deleting the video; he assured me that he wanted it to stay up. 

What followed over the next 24 hours can be described in one word: calamity. Strangers were demanding that I be fired from my job; they ridiculed me, harassed me, and threatened to harass my school administration and school board until my termination was complete. Some accounts, such as a woman called banana, were so angered at my lack of response, they left growingly aaggressive comments every hour: “Do you care what your administration and school board will have to say about this?”  

A woman with the username Stoooopidbvtch assured me that she had reported me for child abuse and added the following: “Yeah this is going RIGHT to the school board. Unprofessionalism is one thing but this crosses so many lines.”

With each new angry comment, my heart beat faster.

With each new angry comment, my heart beat faster. I wondered if what I believed to be a fun and innocent little skit between myself and a student was, in fact, more sinister. I reached out to Q’s mom. She loved the video and texted me: “I’m glad that he can have fun like that in school. It’s what they need. I think it’s so cool that teachers like you do that kind of stuff and get to know your students better.”

Despite this incredible reassurance, there was a voice in my head telling me to delete the video; however, what would that show my students? They were watching live as hundreds of strangers attacked and slandered me. In this new digital era, students are always at risk of being harassed and bullied online. I wanted to show them that I could be strong in my belief that this video was not a violation of FERPA (as so many claimed). I wanted to show strength by refusing to engage with my perpetrators, and I certainly wanted to show my students that I believe in change in our failing education system. 

They’re bored, they aren’t learning, and they are certainly tired of their educational system living in the past while the world around them changes each and every day.

The belief that students are robots who should sit silently in classrooms for eight hours a day in complete anonymity is preposterous. I’m tired of it! My students are creative and engaging human beings who have individual identities that deserve to be celebrated. They’re bored, they aren’t learning, and they are certainly tired of their educational system living in the past while the world around them changes each and every day. 

We are living in a digital world. I love getting to connect with students with my online persona. I love that they get to know who I am through some of my silly videos. I love to see their silly videos and connect with them through a shared understanding of TikTok sounds and trends. 

I would never share compromising information about my students. I would never share records or other personal information, I respect their boundaries and will always honor their wishes to create an environment of safety and trust. 

Q’s ideal classroom environment is one where he can be his authentic self, have a little fun, speak his mind, and let his outgoing personality shine. Unless I get fired or arrested by federal authorieis for showing Q’s name and face, you can find me on TikTok, making more stupid videos about the job that I love and the students who fill my life with joy.