Regularly I run into our students making Tik Tok videos in school stairwells. I often jump in, but that’s a different article for another day. I’ve come to learn that these videos are complicated, skillful endeavors that require multiple takes, and sometimes, over an hour to edit.
Influencer and digital strategist, Casie Stewart, notes that the act of posting, which seems simple in thought, actually requires camera work, graphic design, or copywriting to create the content itself. She also acknowledges that posting involves “a lot of gruntwork, like finding optimal hashtags (that aren’t too similar to your previous posts in order to keep the algorithm happy), tagging the appropriate accounts, playing with filters, adding a geotag (whether it’s sincere or satirical), and more.”
This work requires a depth of discipline and perseverance from our students that can at times be difficult to foster within the limits of traditional instruction. While these are skills that as teachers we might have the tendency to diminish with dated critiques, these skills are aligned to our academic contents more than we know or are probably willing to admit.
A Changing Society
Whether we like it or not, our world is changing. The American Dream no longer exists as Gen Xers know it to be. The white picket fence, two kids, and the traditional nine-to-five workday are quickly losing their appeal. We are rapidly moving away from the traditional idea that success is the guaranteed outcome if you study hard and go to college. There is no longer a linear approach to building fulfilling lives.
With the monetization of posts and live streaming, some social influencers are raking in anywhere between $5,000 per month through affiliate links to, as one influencer shared, over $700,000 in brand deals. Our students, interested in these career pathways could, ironically, make more in a month than a career educator does yearly.
So, what does this mean for the world of education? Our students’ personal interests and goals are changing and quite frankly, our education system has failed to keep up with this amorphous landscape where becoming an influencer on various social media platforms is a viable career option. Career pathways in social media management have increased drastically as companies work to expand access to their desired audiences.
Ana Gotter notes in a CNN Money article that there is a 9 percent increase in job growth for social media managers over a 10-year period. In the last decade, the number of professionals who use the title on LinkedIn has doubled and job postings for these roles have spiked more than 1,000 percent. While the article suggests that the stressors of the job and low salary wages could impact the number of applicants for positions like social media manager, with the skills our students could develop from intentional, social media aligned instructional opportunities, the numbers presented suggest space for independent success in these fields.
Changing the Approach
Let’s be honest here, this phenomenon is one that some educators, myself included, have struggled to get on board with but can no longer avoid. I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard teachers say to students who identify becoming an influencer as a career goal that this was not a realistic way to build a life for themselves. In many school buildings and curricula building hubs, a cognitive dissonance exists amongst our traditional approaches to instruction, what our students are actively interested in engaging with and what our current job landscape reflects. There is a need for those of us in education to examine our biases around the perceived necessity for traditional instructional approaches. How do we support our students’ dreams in a world so drastically different from the world ten years? The future of work and technology is continually shaping today’s students and how they can, and will, change our world.
In Gholdy Muhammad’s text, “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework”, she writes,“Students need spaces to name and critique injustice to help them ultimately develop the agency to build a better world. As long as oppression is present in the world, young people need pedagogy that nurtures criticality.” What better way to nurture criticality than through maximizing social media and other media platforms as a tool?
Through the maximization of these platforms, students can engage in a plethora of conversations around current events in our world. These conversations are easily accessible, compelling and an effective way to develop criticality which Muhammad lists as one of the four layers in her equity framework. Students must assess, research and form opinions to be active participants in these conversations on real-world issues and challenges.
Rest assured, acknowledging and adjusting our approach to incorporate our students’ interests into our curriculum and instruction does not mean the abandonment of intellectualism in our classroom spaces, but rather a fresh and timely approach to developing intellectualism. The cultivation of genius requires us “to teach in ways that raise, grow and develop their existing genius.” Whereas in the past our students would learn about the world through print, they can now experience people, places, and conversations with the simple click of a button (or a few buttons).
Recognizing that traditional educational approaches are often lacking in diversity is also an important part of considering a shift to a more modern approach to instruction. There is a need for more diverse voices in spaces that do not cater to the breadth of diversity in our world. Tanya Thirlwall in her article, “Social Media as a Means to Diversity” writes:
Where do we begin to make the transition to bridging the gap between traditional instruction and preparation for career opportunities in the social media world? I think the approach begins with traditional teaching programs and professional development for teachers currently in the field. In order to build a responsive curriculum, we must first become adept at the skills, knowledge and alignment with our academic goals. Needed is a willingness to deviate from what we have accepted as the “right way” to educate and expand our toolboxes to meaningfully engage our students in classroom spaces.
While I am slightly terrified at the prospect of even attempting to make a reel or TikTok, I’m ready to jump in if it prepares my students for a new world outside the classroom. Who knows, I may even go viral.