Teachers take to social media to highlight profession’s TikTok-ing time-bomb

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Teachers are sharing their intentions to quit teaching on TikTok using hashtags including #TeacherQuitTok and #TeacherBurnout.
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Australian teachers are taking their job frustrations to the online world of social media and sharing their worries about the profession via TikTok and Reddit.

With what many say are worsening working conditions, heightened stress levels, low wage growth, and lack of support from school leadership, many teachers are publicly stating their intentions to quit before the end of the decade.

It’s a concerning sign that teacher shortage crisis is worsening, with a recent study led by Monash University education researcher Dr Fiona Longmuir revealing only three in every 10 teachers plan to continue teaching within the profession.

Dr Longmuir’s study revealed high levels of dissatisfaction and reports of challenging conditions, and she says that most teachers still feel they have a clear sense of belonging to the teaching profession.

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“Teaching is a very connected and supportive profession,” she says.

“This shared sense of belonging contributes to a professional culture of connection, collegiality, and support which plays out in schools every day – but is also evident through social media platforms.”

Online communities help teachers share support

Dr Longmuir says online communities of teachers on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit offer opportunities to reach out to other colleagues in the sector and also provide a space to reach out for support and share ideas.

“In the current climate of teacher shortages and high attrition rates, some of these forums are also supporting those teachers who may be thinking about quitting the profession.”

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Within these forums and online spaces, teachers at all stages of their careers are sharing lived experiences of desperation and despair with their peers – and in some cases are actively supported in their decision to quit teaching.

“Many describe how they have been clinging on to their careers through difficult times until it has become impossible,” says Dr Longmuir.

“They share the stories of the specific incidents that push them to that breaking point of quitting and they receive support from often unknown colleagues which helps them to navigate their decisions.

“Often these forums open discussions about broader systemic and social issues that are contributing to the challenges and they help balance the responsibility that a teacher might feel for their failure to be able to continue in their careers.

“Although it is not possible to know how the discussions in these forums influence actual decisions, we can see that teachers are getting a range of different positive supports from these spaces.”

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These supports, she says, include practical advice “such as other types of work that they might do after teaching; details of the processes and entitlements if they resign; and suggestions for practical ways they might be able to make adjustments to make their teaching career more manageable”.

“The discussions also importantly include empathy and understanding, helping teachers feel that they are not alone and that many others are facing the same challenges as they are,” says Dr Longmuir.

By utilising TikTok to share videos teachers can tell firsthand stories about their working lives and – and what has led them to leave teaching, using hashtags such as #TeacherQuitTok and #TeacherBurnout.

Working conditions for teachers must improve

Associate Professor Rachel Buchanan, from the University of Newcastle, said the usage of these hashtags represents the convergence of two trends.

“On the one hand, teachers are heavy users of social media (for purposes such as professional development, networking, social solidarity, and connection) and the changes in the social media landscape have shifted which platforms are being used,” Associate Professor Buchanan says.

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“On the other hand, the ongoing teacher shortage is putting increasing pressure on those in the profession, exacerbating the stressful conditions and causing more teachers to leave.

“Despite widespread public (media and policy) discussions about the teacher shortage and the deteriorating working conditions, little has been done to alleviate the pressure that teachers are under.

“Such discussions are experienced as being about them and not with them. Teachers are feeling powerless and unheard.

“The algorithmic specificity of TikTok allows teachers to easily find like-minded colleagues and the feedback through likes, shares, and comments reinforces the use of the platform.

“While participating in these discussions can provide feelings of agency and of being heard and understood, #TeacherQuitTok also reinforces and validates the decision to leave the profession – hearing others’ stories and joining in feels like participation in a movement or a moment.”

But while social platforms and forums such as TikTok and Reddit serve as a space for teachers to vent their dissatisfactions, Dr Fiona Longmuir says the same platforms can be used to spread positivity and encouragement for the teaching profession, acting as connective space for teachers looking to return to the education sector.

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“Through suggestions to retain teacher registrations, advice about other work opportunities in education, and a space for those who have left to continue to ‘belong’ to the profession, they become an important discursive space for conversations about attrition, and potentially retention or re-engagement with a teaching career,” she says.

“If conditions change, either broadly, or even in pockets of schools or locations, these forums will spread the word to the large numbers of teachers who have quit, but still want to belong, and perhaps, some of them may one day choose to come back.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live