The pandemic turned teachers into their own social media stars, and now they’re using the platform to inspire other educators and make some extra money.
I grew up in the early days of social media, when finding teachers on apps like Facebook was almost as uncomfortable as running into them in the grocery store. Cut to ten years later, and teachers like Brittany Sinitch have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and YouTube for their vlogs, lesson plans, and Q&As all about their lives as teachers.
Just as students are using social media to document back-to-school, teachers are becoming a different kind of online star after the pandemic turned schooling virtual. According to the United States Census Bureau, 80% of people living with children distance learning between May 28 to June 2, 2020 reported the children using online resources. Per research published by Frontiers In Psychology in May 2021, “with the growth of social networks and the increased online presence of many academic institutions” students were using things like Instagram and Facebook to “participate in regular discussions on trending topics and keep in touch with peers or instructors.”
In turn, teachers have become more social media savvy to keep students tuned in. Some teachers are using technology like social media and Linktree to gain followers, find community, and make extra money as content creators and influencers.
Growing a following
Second grade teacher Madison Campbell is a longtime user of Instagram, posting about classroom decor, teaching outfits, and activity ideas for her close to 25,000 followers in hopes of connecting with other teachers. However, she credits YouTube, where she vlogs about teacher life for over 40,000 subscribers, for bringing her the following she has today.
“Once I started a YouTube channel, both pages really blew up,” she says, thanks to popular videos like “A DAY IN MY LIFE | 2nd grade teacher” and “CLASSROOM SET UP DAY 1,” which have received hundreds of thousands of views and directed new followers to her platforms.
For Keanna Funderburk, the Atlanta fourth grade teacher behind The Art Of Funology, she says posting authentic content every day was key to growing her 27,000 followers on Instagram.
“Being present helps you grow your following because you’re constantly putting out new content,” she says in a phone call. “So I just thought of something to share from my classroom every day, and that helped me a lot.”
Finding a community
Without teachers’ lounges to relax in or fellow educators to eat lunch with, Kyle Cohen, a 4th grade teacher from Cleveland, Ohio, turned to Instagram and YouTube to connect with other teachers across the U.S.
“Given the climate of the world we are currently living in it is often challenging to find like-minded educators,” he says. “Social media provides not only a great outlet, but an incredible way to form community with other educators.”
According to a 2019 study conducted by MDR Marketing Team, 54% of teachers use social media to connect with other educators, and 81% to get inspired with new teaching ideas. For Las Vegas second grade teacher Kia Taylor, that meant building her own community.
“While I was an undergrad[uate] I would watch other teacher YouTubers, and followed popular teacher accounts on Instagram,” she says. “Although I absolutely loved following the accounts, there were not really any popular teachers on Instagram or YouTube who looked like me and I was longing for the representation.” She began her Instagram page and YouTube channel in March 2020, and uses them primarily to connect with current and aspiring teachers.
Second grade teacher Kia Taylor discusses class projects on Instagram.
Balancing the work
After a full day of teaching, heading home to do more work as a content creator sounds exhausting. However, people like Funderburk make sure to tie their social media content to whatever their lesson plans are for the week, that way the two often go hand in hand.
For people like Campbell and Cohen, social media work doesn’t feel like work at all, and is actually a way for them to blow off steam after a day of teaching.
“The content I share is honestly so enjoyable I make the time for it,” Cohen says. “It’s relaxing, a great stress relief, and fun!”
Earning additional money
It’s well-known that teachers make around 20% less than other professionals, and many less than minimum wage. Some educators are making do by supplementing their teaching career with paid work. Both Funderburk and Campbell are a part of Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for educators to share and sell resources for other educators. Both use Linktree as a way to direct followers to their Teachers Pay Teachers accounts. Campbell also displays her LikeToKnowIt and Amazon Storefront on her Linktree profile.
The Linktree profiles of teachers Madison Campbell and Kia Taylor
“Linktree has been especially helpful for me with just having my own teacher business, Teachers Pay Teachers,” Funderburk says. “I might share a resource and then they can just go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store through my Linktree and shop my store, or sign up for my email list. It helps me just have my resources more available to people that may be followers.”
Funderburk also displays her contact information prominently in her Instagram bio to make herself available to brands, and has partnered with companies like Target on brand deals. Taylor has reached out to brands directly to help provide materials and resources for her classroom. For Campbell, she mostly monetizes on YouTube through ads and collaborations.
“The more followers and subscribers I gained, the higher my rate became and the more I could charge brands,” she says. “Collaborations can range from $200 to $5,000-plus per video/post. The rate depends on many variables, such as the length of our contract, the length of the feature in my video, [and] how large the brand is.”
However, Taylor says all the hard work is for her students.
“No one talks about all the money and love that goes into creating a classroom, and monetizing my socials has helped me provide for my students,” she says.
Teacher influencer Keanna Funderburk shares an ad for Kellogg’s products.
Setting personal boundaries
It can be tricky, however, to navigate social media as a teacher with classrooms of students who might run into you online.
“Last school year I had many students and parents find out about my social media platforms,” Campbell says. “It can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable when they tell me they watch my videos or follow me on Instagram, but at the end of the day it is what it is. As long as I stay true to myself on my platform and don’t cross any lines with sharing information about my class, I feel comfortable sharing it.”
The prevalence of social media also means it’s important for teachers to prioritize the privacy of their students—and themselves. For Taylor, she makes sure not to share any school or student information that isn’t pre-approved by the parents, and Funderburk steers students away from talking about her social media in the classroom.
“When students bring it up, I just tell them that if I didn’t bring it up with them, that’s not part of our learning in the classroom,” she says. “So I acknowledge that they have found it. They think it’s so cool. But I tell them at school, I don’t talk about social media with you. So you’re not going to talk about social media with me and just kind of leave it at that.”
Just like students who leave the classroom and log onto social media at home, teachers are using the platforms to find and lead their own digital communities. With 7% of all Linktree accounts registered for education purposes (not counting the users who identify as influencers), it’s safe to say teachers make up a sizable corner of the internet.
Of course, being a teacher with a public presence comes with challenges regarding privacy and work-life balance, but overall, teachers are building positive and inspiring communities online, and becoming self-sufficient creators in the process.
About the author: Kathryn Lindsay is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more at kathrynfionalindsay.com