Teachers are collegiate by nature, so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to hear they are flocking to Instagram to give each other pep talks and share classroom ideas for all year levels and subjects – especially teachers who have grown up using digital platforms to communicate. Governments and universities are also in on the act, with many using Instagram to promote teaching as a career. This week on School Stream, we look at the world of teachers on Instagram.

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Connecting beyond the staffroom

Research published in November this year that focused on how and why teachers are using Instagram came up with some mind-blowing stats. Researchers found that education-related hashtags featured in millions of Instagram posts. For example: #teachersofinstagram with 6.9 million posts and #teachersfollowteachers with more than 4.6 million posts as of June 2020. These numbers indicate more than a passing trend. But what motivates teachers – who are notoriously time poor – to start documenting and sharing their resources online? After all, it’s well documented that running a successful Instagram account takes more than a little bit of work. Josie Bensko is the Illinois-based teacher behind the very successful teaching account Maniacs in the Middle (112K followers). On her blog, she had this to say about starting a teaching Instagram account:

  • It’s way more work than you would ever expect. At this point it is honestly my second job!
  • Nothing is going to happen overnight. This has been a 4 year journey for me!
  • Don’t make one during student teaching or your first year of teaching. This is just my personal opinion, but you have way more important things to worry about than the teacher Instagram world! 

Instagram as a source of community and inspiration

It seems the teachers of Instagram are, in most cases, looking for community, connection, and a place to share their resources and magazine-worthy classroom décor. Although the potential to make serious money from Instagram is often cited, that doesn’t seem to be the main driver if the following quotes are anything to go by:

“Classrooms can be quite isolating at times… People reach out [on Instagram] and ask you questions, and I think it’s nice when people acknowledge what you’re doing in your classroom is interesting and is creative.” @the.sydney.teacher in the Sydney Morning Herald

“Instagram has completely changed my classroom and my outlook as an educator. I can point to any area of my classroom and cite a resource, center, display, or other educational tool recommended or created by an insta-friend. The support from Instagram has also been incredible; after tough days in the classroom, I know I can share my experiences and brainstorm solutions with fellow teachers.” 

An anonymous (US-based) elementary teacher quoted in the report How and why are educators using Instagram? Published November 2020

The pros and cons of being edu-famous on social media

Of course, while there are plenty of benefits to teachers connecting on social media, including moral support and the opportunity to participate in self-directed professional development, the rise of the ‘teacher-influencer’ is not without issues. There is undoubtedly some robust debate on the horizon, but the issues being raised by experts in education mirror those found more broadly when it comes to the world of social media. The concerns repeated most often include: 

  • The long-term mental health and wellbeing of social media teachers. Managing even a modicum of success on social media can lead to burnout and teachers already have a massive workload as it is. It’s not an understatement to say that the pressure to be always ‘on’ in the classroom and online is significant and could easily become too much to manage. 
  • From an audience perspective, there is the ‘compare and despair’ issue. There is concern that the highlight reel on display on Instagram will leave some teachers feeling unnecessarily inadequate. 
  • How should teachers manage their online interactions to maintain a balance between the professional and the personal? Managing a digital identity online is tricky at the best of times and teachers have multiple stakeholders to answer to, as well as stringent privacy guidelines to respect.

But for the most part, the teachers of Instagram seem more than happy to keep sharing the colourful classrooms they hope will make learning joyful and engaging for their predominantly young charges while inspiring other teaches to do the same.

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