TikTok teachers: Meet the Israelis using the app for education

Why teachers use TikTok and how is the educational sector embracing the app.

TikTok (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
TikTok
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

Tamar Langbord

An English teacher at a Shoham school, Tamar Langbord has a TikTok account with 84,000 followers and over six million views.

“In my mind, this was a great way to beat my students at their own game,” explains Langbord. “What’s fantastic about TikTok is that the students watch the clips of their own free will, and I have 84,000 school-age children who are following a teacher because they want to, and no one is forcing them to listen to me.

“I provide them with educational content, and this opens up their minds, so that by the time they walk into my classroom, they are much more familiar with the material we’re learning.”

Langbord, who is known as @Tamar.lang on TikTok, is not alone. Over the last few months, a number of teachers and educators have started providing educational content on their TikTok accounts. Some of them have become well-known TikTok personalities with tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of followers, and millions of views and likes, many of which are from students.

“TikTok will continue functioning as an educational tool,” Langbord says. “It’s the entry ticket into our children’s world. On average, I upload one video a day. I put a lot of effort into my videos since I understand the kind of effect they can have.”

 It's completely unrealistic to prevent our youth from using TikTok. (credit: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash) It's completely unrealistic to prevent our youth from using TikTok. (credit: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash)
When did you first discover TikTok?

“Well, I’m 33 and I have a friend the same age who told me she had a TikTok account. I laughed at her, rolled my eyes and asked her, ‘What, are you like 12 years old?’ So, I watched a few TikTok clips, since I knew that kids these days are not into Facebook or Instagram. I watched a few educational videos made by teachers, and I thought to myself – hey, I could do that. And that’s how I got started.

“I made a silly clip about teachers’ secrets that went viral. One of the secrets, for example, was that teachers needed to be plugged into chargers over the summer. It got to the point that 12-year-olds I’d never met were stopping me on the street for selfies. At first, I thought it was pretty weird that these kids wanted to take a selfie with a 33-year-old teacher, but I got used to it.

“When I saw that I’d started building up an audience, I realized I could really use this platform to teach English and offer added value.”

What does your school principal think about your TikTok videos?

“I’m lucky – she’s awesome and is totally okay with me doing the videos. My students’ parents also love them. And I think that it’s because my videos are super positive and encourage the kids to learn and become interested in things.”

Shani Sapir

Another English teacher who has become a TikTok personality is Shani Sapir (@shanisapir4), who teaches at the Reali High School in Haifa, and has 37,400 followers and over 800,000 likes. 

“I opened a TikTok account after the COVID-19 epidemic broke out and schools were closed down. I figured this would be a great way to provide my students with educational material,” Sapir explains.

“Slowly, TikTok’s algorithm made it so that I was seeing lots of other teachers’ educational videos, and I realized that this platform really was an effective tool for teaching.”

Just 24 hours after Sapir uploaded her second video to TikTok, it had over 100,000 views.

“I’d uploaded a video discussing techniques for preparing for an ‘unseen’ [reading comprehension test], and it went viral. So many students who I didn’t know commented, telling me how much the video had helped them.

“It was at that moment that I realized I had something special going on here. I make an effort to upload five videos a week, and I love getting feedback from students saying that they had really benefited from the videos.”

What about the students’ parents? How have they reacted?

“I’m really lucky – parents and my fellow teachers have all been really supportive of my TikTok videos. Some of my colleagues even told me that they showed their students my videos in class. And my principal said that this platform meshes well with the school’s pedagogical philosophy, so I’m very lucky.”

Dani Buller

Dani Buller, a math teacher at the Herzliya Gymnasia in Tel Aviv (@ask_dani), has 120,700 followers, and over four million likes.

“When COVID-19 hit, and I had to switch my math classes to Zoom,” recalls Buller, “I realized straightaway that I couldn’t just continue frontal-style teaching like I was used to when the students were all sitting right in front of me. So, I began creating serious videos that I would share with my students on YouTube.

“Then a friend of mine suggested that I post the videos on TikTok instead, since that’s where teens spend all their time these days. So, I began posting TikTok videos, but then my wife gave birth, and I didn’t have time to make any videos. Then, I just started filming myself talking about math topics – whatever ideas came to mind – and apparently people really enjoyed watching these clips.”

When did you realize that these videos were going viral?

“One day, I was sitting in a café and a 10-year-old boy came up to me and told me that he loves watching my videos. I was in absolute shock. That was the moment I realized that something huge was happening. In addition to being a teacher, I’m also a software programmer. And it was at that moment that I realized I had to leave hi-tech altogether and focus all my energy on being an educator and making educational TikTok videos.”

Why have TikTok videos about serious subjects like math become so popular?

“Well, I speak in normal language that a 10-year-old kid can understand and connect with. Nobody can tell me what to say, and I ask my viewers what they want to know, and answer math questions they’ve sent me.

“My goal is to get kids to like math, to become curious about math topics. I want to get them to want to learn math, and this platform is perfect for me to achieve this goal. I go to great efforts to upload a new video every day.”

Lavi Shachar

Lavi Shachar (@teacherlava), a physics teacher at Teva Hadvarim, a private school in Ness Ziona, has 62,200 followers and over 2.8 million likes.

“I went online to watch a TikTok video when COVID-19 started, because I saw that all my students were watching video clips there all the time,” Shachar explains.

“I began posting videos in which I told jokes, just for fun. Then, one video was actually funny, I guess, because it got 250,000 views. Children began sending me messages, asking me what subject I taught, so I responded that I teach physics. Very quickly, I became inundated with questions from kids about physics. Over time, I began answering questions about biology and other topics that school-age kids think about, like dress code and other educational values.”

Do you think that TikTok will continue to play an important role in education?

“I think that more and more TikTok users realize that the platform can be useful for a lot more than just posting amusing content and videos of people dancing.

“The teachers whose videos went viral are the ones who’ve proven that if you present your educational content in an interesting fashion, the kids will actually pay attention and learn something.

“You can explain something in 60 seconds on TikTok that might have taken an entire lesson during a frontal lesson. I’m not saying we should get rid of traditional frontal education, but it is a great way to get kids excited about a subject and to use language that kids understand.”

Gal Buber

A history and citizenship teacher at Hama’ayan High School in Rishon Lezion, Gal Buber felt awkward showing his own face while making his first TikTok videos, so instead he used a puppet he called Israel Buber (@israelbuber). He has thousands of followers and hundreds of thousands of likes.

“I have a YouTube channel where I post full history lessons,” Buber says. “My students asked me to create a TikTok account, since teens don’t really use YouTube, so that’s what I did.

“At first, I felt really awkward, since to me TikTok was a platform on which kids post videos of themselves doing silly things. I thought for sure that it would be strange for an adult to post something on TikTok, and that it would just lead to ridicule, so I used a puppet I called Israel. And I guess it worked, because I’ve received great feedback.”

At what point did you realize that your videos were becoming popular?

“When I saw that a lot of students were signing up for my YouTube channel after having seen me on TikTok. I also noticed that a lot of students were tagging friends and commenting with messages, such as, ‘After watching your 30-second video just now, I understand the material we learned in school today so much better.’”

Do you think TikTok will be used more extensively for educational purposes in the future?

“Yes, I think it’s inevitable. Of course, nothing can take the place of traditional frontal education in the classroom, but the style of teaching will change.

“And there’s another phenomenon that has been incredible to watch as it develops. When students study for their matriculation exams, they make TikTok videos in which they teach others about a certain topic. It’s absolutely incredible for me to stand back and watch as my students help each other, since in the past, there was so much derision and ridicule of fellow students.”

Liat Guri

Liat Guri (@liat_teacher), a history and citizenship teacher at Ort Singalovski Middle School in Tel Aviv, has 48,200 followers and over 1.5 million likes.

“I believe that if I want to be able to understand the world of my students, then I need to put myself in their world,” claims Guri. “For years, I’ve been using Instagram to send my students pictures and videos.

“Before COVID-19, I used to lecture my students about how awful TikTok was, how ridiculous the silly videos were, and that they should stop watching them and pay attention in class instead.

“But then, when I had to begin teaching online during the first lockdown, I was searching for a better way to connect with my students, and my daughter showed me how to make a TikTok video.”

Soon enough, Guri began sending her students TikTok videos of her teaching class material.

“Then, one time while I was having Shabbat dinner with my family, my daughter started complaining about how teachers are allowed to do anything they want to their students, and I replied, telling her that this was simply not true, that there are laws they must follow. I explained to her that there is a circular letter that states what is legal and what is not. One of my daughters told me that I should make a TikTok video of that, and so I did.”

What kind of response did you get to this video?

“So many students wrote to me, saying that they had no idea that they had rights, that some of their teachers were not behaving toward them in a respectful manner.

“We teachers need to set an example for our students. If we don’t talk to them in an honorable way, how can we expect them to morph into caring and honorable adults?

“I received so many questions on TikTok from students, which made me realize how thirsty they are for information.”

How have your fellow teachers reacted to your TikTok videos?

“Most of them have been really supportive. Most teens have no idea what their rights are as a student, and it is important that they know what’s allowed when they are interacting with their teachers and principals. Some teachers and principals are not happy when the students know what their rights are, since it takes away from their power, but the students deserve to know what’s allowed by law.” ■

Translated by Hannah Hochner.