On TikTok, teachers are calling out their abysmal working conditions

A few who burned out have built big audiences by describing how hard it is to be an educator today.

Updated January 24, 2023 at 2:58 p.m. EST|Published January 24, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST

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Rebecca Rogers, 26, kept her cool when disgruntled parents demanded special treatment to boost their children’s grades in her social studies class. She didn’t complain after her Raleigh, N.C., high school’s principal marked her down during an evaluation without considering all of her submitted materials.

Rogers had wanted to make learning exciting for her kids, the way her teachers had done for her. But too many days were full of difficulties, and she began filming dances and making skits about common teacher struggles — including many sent in by her viewers — on her TikTok account. Other teachers at the school also posted content, and her principal told her in October 2020 during a pre-evaluation meeting it was fine.

But about 10 months later, a human resources representative from the school pulled her into a meeting and said the principal wanted her to stop monetizing her videos. She wasn’t even making money from her content at the time, and no parents had reached out to the school to object to her channel, she was told by the rep. It was a final straw.

“When it comes to notice for quitting, is that two weeks or 30 days?” Rogers recalled asking the HR official. He paused, seemingly taken aback. It was 30 days, he told her. “Cool, so this is day number one,” she replied. (The school district declined to comment about Rogers, citing state personnel law.)

Her “classroom” now is on TikTok, and her subject is how hard educators have it. She garners hundreds of thousands of views recounting parents who have defended plagiarism or called yoga a satanic ritual for segments such as “Real Things Said in Classrooms” and “I Don’t Get Paid Enough.”

“To me, it’s not just about the, ‘Oh that’s so funny. That will get so many likes.’ It’s a ‘No, these are real things that we’re asking teachers,’ and people need to understand that this is really happening. And that’s very important to me to advocate in some kind of way.”

Content creator and former teacher Rebecca Rogers makes TikTok videos parodying the reality of being an educator. (Video: Rebecca Rogers via TikTok)

From TED Talks to #TeacherTok, educators have a formidable presence on the internet, where many use their gift of gab and ability to hold an audience’s attention and simplify complex educational topics. Some content creators have found internet fame by posting skits of themselves posing as teachers or administrators.

One reason, they say, is that many teachers endure abysmal working conditions. Low pay and growing demands from administrators and school board members, coupled with the lack of respect from parents and politicians, have pushed educators to leave the profession, even when their passion for uplifting youth and bettering lives remains.

“Many don’t want to wait hours before their first bathroom break or scarf down their lunch in 20 minutes while fielding parent calls, only to teach to a test or curricula they didn’t have input in creating,” said Takeru “TK” Nagayoshi, the Massachusetts 2020 Teacher of the Year who left teaching due to pandemic-fueled burnout to work for educational technology company Panorama Education. “Getting to create educational content at your own schedule and pace with fewer restrictions sounds like the perfect pitch for an overwhelmed educator who loves teaching for its craft.”

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Some ex-teachers have made new careers as influencers, fostering social media feeds that affirm and fight for those still in the teaching field, often using humor to bring awareness.

As a content creator, Lauren Lowder, 31, found her comic niche in her sketch series, “Why I’ll Never Go Back,” and she’s used her online presence to share resources for teachers who want to start tutoring businesses. One post might feature characters such as misbehaving student Susie, Susie’s coddling and entitled mother Mrs. Smith or the brown-nosing teacher Mrs. Bunker. In one skit, the sound of Susie’s snow pants disrupts the class all day because her mom lied and told her it would snow.

Lowder, who lives in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region, loved playing teacher to her little sisters growing up, and she wanted a career that gave her ample time off to decompress. But after many tries at different schools and different districts, Lowder couldn’t find a workplace without the overwhelming demands from higher-ups in the district based on test scores that didn’t always reflect students’ actual potential.

“My creativity was being stifled,” she said. “I knew there was a better way for me.”

Content creator and former teacher Lauren Lowder makes videos parodying the reality of being an educator. (Video: Lauren Lowder via TikTok)

She started her business, Learn Lowder Tutoring, as a side project, and it quickly took off. In six months, its success allowed Lowder to quit her teaching job and focus on full-time tutoring. After she shared her pointers on social media for other teachers hoping to do the same, she received wild classroom stories from teachers.

“I started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, these are cruddy things that happen to teachers that happened to me, and I can put a funny spin on them and keep going with this,’” Lowder said. She’s been making the videos for TikTok, Instagram and YouTube ever since. Parents have thanked Lowder for showing them how not to act toward teachers.

For some, it’s less a cause than a creative outlet. Leslie Rob, 38, works weekdays teaching family consumer sciences, formerly known as home economics, in Northern Virginia. On the weekends, she makes teacher skits on TikTok about what happens when retired teachers substitute classes or when parents ask teachers to babysit their kids over school breaks. Rob also performs teacher-centered stand-up comedy sets. Last year, she participated in a few shows for the Bored Teachers Comedy Tour, which brings teacher comedy to sold-out theaters and arenas across the country. She called education and comedy the “best entertainment marriage.”

“In the same lines of what it takes to be a great comedian is to me, what it takes to be a great teacher,” Rob said. “It’s literally taking what we already do and putting a creative, comical spin on it. I love making people happy and seeing the smiles on their faces and laughter to the point where they can’t breathe.”

Rob has been teaching for 15 years, and she doesn’t plan to quit. Her co-workers love watching her videos and suggest other funny scenarios for future videos.

Content creator and teacher Leslie Rob makes TikTok videos parodying the reality of being an educator. (Video: @leslierobcomedy/TikTok)

“Teacher Quit Talk” podcast co-hosts Arielle Fodor, who goes by Mrs. Frazzled, and Miss Redacted, who goes by the pseudonym to prevent threats to her safety, recognize that what struggles teachers can share on the internet vary drastically by state, school and district.

Former teachers themselves, the duo use their podcast to interview other ex-teachers about their horror stories, such as proctoring endless tests from assessment service Pearson, and point out flaws in the school system.

From what they’ve heard, “there’s this root cause of teachers leaving the field. We are not regarded as professionals, we are not given a voice, and people are speaking for us,” Miss Redacted said. “Laws are made on our behalf, and they’re not listening to us when we talk about our communities, our students and what’s best.”

Fodor, 30, who taught elementary school students in Los Angeles County, left teaching because she needed time to focus on being a new mom. Miss Redacted, 25, who taught high-schoolers in Miami, was priced out of the profession based on the skyrocketing cost of living. They hope their podcast can raise awareness and help teaching conditions improve so they can return.

“Some people think our intention is to make teachers leave teaching, to make them quit. That’s not our intention at all. We love teaching. We would love to go back,” Fodor said. “Because we love the profession so much, we want to make it better, and we view it as our responsibility to students past, present and future to do that.”

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