Are teachers on TikTok becoming a problem?

Are teachers on TikTok becoming a problem?

In October 2020, during a remote class on Zoom, a first-grader found it difficult to ask a question and started stammering. Although the interaction took place over six thousand kilometers from my home, I - along with 17 million other people - could hear it because the child's teacher recorded their voices and uploaded the video to TikTok. For the same reason, I also know that in February of this year a group of kindergarten children had the task of drawing Luca, the protagonist of the homonymous Pixar film. One child has portrayed the character in small size in a corner of the page, another has created a version with large ball eyes and long stylized fingers; yet another drew incredibly sharp teeth, while a fourth child expertly colored his drawing, combining green and blue pencil.

The hashtags #teacher and #teachersoftiktok totaled 72.1 billion views on the platform. While many of these videos show teachers simply talking about their work, in other cases the clips are shot within classrooms and include children's voices, faces and homework. While many teachers on the platform know perfectly well how to protect their students, the increase in these accounts raises a number of ethical questions: Should teachers really be filming in their work? Is it acceptable to share children's activities with hundreds of thousands of strangers who may mock them? Do pupils and their parents agree that children's voices and faces are shared online?

Few rules, too much discretion In many cases these questions have no official answers. Often, especially in the United States, it is individual schools that set the rules on social media and the fact that TikTok is a relatively recent platform means that in some cases there are no updated rules on the use of the app by teachers. . In the United States, federal law known as the Family educational rights and privacy act (Ferpa) does not completely prohibit recording in schools or posting videos online, as long as they do not include information that could lead to student identification. In practice, this means that teachers themselves often determine what can and cannot end up on TikTok.

Many teachers use TikTok to stimulate important debate about their profession or to raise funds for their classes. In other cases, however, the value of the videos is less evident (it is important to underline that an educational use of the platform is, in general, possible: we were talking about it here). Meanwhile, the popularity of classroom videos causes some teachers to simply start mimicking what their colleagues are doing on the app, mistakenly thinking they are not breaking any rules.

Teacher A is a teacher Pennsylvania who started posting videos on TikTok at the request of her students in 2020. Her first video - where she dances with another teacher during her lunch break - went "moderately viral," garnering tens of thousands of views. A continued to post clips on TikTok throughout the year and eventually filmed a skit with some of her teenage lei students, amassing hundreds of thousands of views. The teacher asked to remain anonymous: after being filmed by the school board of her institution for the video she deleted her account, and now works in another school. "It was a mistake to publish it - says the teacher about the last video of the skit -. There was no other purpose than to obtain views, likes or the approval of strangers on the internet".

A was accused of endangering her students (the skit involved the children playfully hitting their heads) and the school looked bad. Although the teacher feels that the administrators went too far attacking her personally and she doesn't think her video of her was harmful or immoral, she understands that TikTok can be perceived as unprofessional. "We need to talk more about what school districts expect in terms of teacher behavior on social media. What my district perceived as inappropriate, other districts may not care," he explains.

The Consent Problem Although generally on TikTok there is no way to tell if teachers have explicitly asked parents for permission before posting their children's videos, some teachers refer to signed documents in the captions of their videos . Under a June post in which she mimes an interview with Kim Kardashian with five students, a teacher assures viewers that "two releases and a Ferpa form have been signed" (the woman did not respond to a request UK commentary). More often than not, however, there are no references to releases in the videos, and it is unclear whether the parents signed a document.

In September 2021, research conducted by Joshua M. Rosenberg, a professor of the University of Tennessee, revealed that there are between 15 and 20 million publicly accessible student images on the Facebook pages of US schools, at least 150,000 of which portrayed pupils identifiable by name.

"Our research has revealed that student photos can be much more accessible than most parents think, Rosenberg and his colleagues concluded. In particular, underage students may not fully understand how their image is used and shared by their own. educational institutions. Adults who are part of their lives have a responsibility to protect and take care of them ".

Doubts about the real usefulness ity Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators (Aae), argues that teachers who want to publish TikTok videos should "use extreme caution" and "ask for permission rather than forgiveness." According to Sharkey, faculty should educate themselves about their district and school policies, as well as the AAE Code of Ethics, which promotes student safety, healthy teaching environments and responsible behavior by teaching staff. "Social media is not a necessity for the educational environment, so the first rule should be to do no harm and not to represent a danger - explains Sharkey -. Proceeding with caution is essential".

According to Sharkey the publication of students' faces, voices, activities and personal information "must be in accordance with a school or district policy that has been clearly communicated to parents". Teachers, he continues, need to post content professionally and respectfully, and monetizing an account that features student-produced content is potentially problematic. Sharkey adds that "even educators with good intentions can find themselves embroiled in legal disputes, due to the uncontrolled and sometimes borderless nature of social media."

Establishing the boundary between what is appropriate and what is not it is not easy. Would a teacher who reconstructs interactions in class in her free time by joking about funny things said by her students would be problematic? Is asking your class a question specifically to be able to film the answers and post them on TikTok an acceptable behavior? And a teacher who creates a choreography with his students based on a hit song and then publishes the video on the app?

"It really depends on what is shown and why - explains Sharkey -. If the content not useful and productive for student engagement or activities, it should probably be discouraged or banned, due to the potential risk to students. " UK has contacted ten popular teachers on TikTok for talk about their videos and their approach. The least followed profile among those surveyed had 30,000 followers, the largest exceeding 4 million. The only teacher who answered - who we will call P - works in a middle school and nearly 600,000 followers. Do not reveal your name or the city where she lives for the safety of her and her students.

P explains that TikTok has greatly improved the relationship with her students. When she taught remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, she was concerned about the lack of commitment from her class. Her school forbade students to activate cameras or microphones. P saw a teacher on TikTok recording himself teaching and did the same: when he uploaded the video, his students saw it and were thrilled.

Suddenly the kids were talking to me and me they showed their faces, boys with whom I had not spoken for months - he says -. An engaging atmosphere was created, especially at a time when the situation was terrible. "P explains that she continued to use TikTok to" build a relationship "with her students; today the boys greet her enthusiastically in the corridors:" I kids have a lot more respect for me. "

However, P admits he made mistakes. A stranger emailed his school principal to complain about his TikTok account. At that point P canceled the videos where the school logo was visible and forbidden to mention the school name in the comments. When he only had dozens of followers, he also filmed students in his videos, but changed his mind after some videos had passed the 1 million mark. views. Her students beg her to participate in her videos, but P refuses to film their faces for safety reasons.

"Roses and thorns" From time to time, however, P records the voices of the his students.Once a month he organizes she with her classes her an activity that she defines "roses and thorns", in which each student writes on a sheet of paper, anonymously, a good and a bad thing in their life. She sometimes posts videos on TikTok where she reads messages to the class. If a student's voice is audible in the background, P. she asks them if they want it cut from the video; she also she does not record without permission from the class.

Although individual students cannot be identified in her videos of her, I got a weird feeling when I came across one of the clips where P was reading the messages of the class. Is it fair for the whole world to know that one student is self-harming and another is addicted to pornography? Shouldn't this information remain confined to the class? P understands criticism, but believes her class is a safe space: "You see a little bit of it, but I publish the heartbreaking things and our conversations."

P says it is often the students themselves who want for her to register the business: "They are proud to have their messages on TikTok." The videos in which she resumes the activity - which is not compulsory - are flooded with supportive comments, such as "She is definitely the teacher who will make a difference" (14,000 likes) and "I need her in my school" (2000 like).

Some of P's colleagues don't approve of her TikTok account, but her dean and district superintendent support her. Like A, P also believes that schools should engage in more explicit conversations with teachers on social media, setting strict rules on the use of TikTok.

"There should be limits; you can't post everything - explains P -. But I think it can potentially have a positive effect. " According to teacher TikTok humanizes teachers: "Some students think that when my day ends, I go under my desk, spread a blanket and sleep in my class, I think it's nice to see that teachers are people; they have lives and personalities."

Browsing through the teachers' videos on TikTok, I saw a child in a polka dot coat applauding during a nursery rhyme in the classroom and another group of young students doing a ballet with a Disney song in the background. I saw a teacher list the reasons why her kindergarten children had seizures during the week and I read poems written by eighth grade students. One can certainly discuss the benefits and pitfalls these videos pose, although no one yet knows what the students who appear there will think once they grow up.

In April, TikTok overtook Instagram to become the most downloaded application of the year; it is the fifth application to have reached 3.5 billion downloads. As the service continues to grow in popularity, it is up to individual institutions to create clear guidelines for their teachers. Meanwhile, with the start of the new school year, the new batch of videos on TikTok will not be long in coming.

This article originally appeared on UK.

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