A pair of CWU graduates—each kindergarten teachers in the Seattle area—have turned to the popular TikTok video app to reach their students in new ways.
Both Mackenzie Adams (’18) and Garrett Talcott (’12) found their worlds changed dramatically last year with the transition from in-person to online learning due to COVID-19.
Adams, a kindergarten teacher at Glenwood Elementary in Lake Stevens, Washington, said she never set out to be a TikTok star, but that’s exactly what happened when she posted her first teaching video on the popular social media platform in 2020.
Not having taught online before the pandemic, she wanted to see what her students were seeing through their screens and began recording herself.
“I posted my first teaching TikTok just to reflect on my teaching,” Adams said. “I wanted to see if I appeared engaging to the students and how the lesson looked from the students’ perspective. I never expected anyone would see it!”
Adams’ TikTok teaching videos quickly went viral, and her page now has more than 8.6 million likes and 403,000 followers. One of her first videos received more than 14.3 million views, and each post consistently receives a minimum of 100,000 views.
Talcott, a kindergarten teacher at Ella Baker Elementary in Redmond, also didn’t start out seeking social media fame. When the pandemic hit, he began teaching remotely from his apartment.
Talcott’s partner, Michael Rivera-Dirks, was so impressed by Talcott’s animated and enthusiastic interactions with his students, that he wanted to share them. Working with Talcott, he started uploading small clips of lessons to his own social media accounts.
One of those videos, during which Talcott took his students on a surprise virtual field trip to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, soon went viral, attracting more than 800,000 views. That success attracted the attention of NBC’s Today show, which featured him in March.
In the video, Talcott is shown interacting with his student via his laptop while walking around the zoo, talking to the kids about the animals.
“Now what habitat do you think these animals live in?” he asks his class of 27 as he stands in front of the penguin enclosure.
“I was excited to take them all there,” he told the Today show. “There is a lot we can learn from the zoo. Our school is brand-new, we’re in our third year, and we don’t currently do a field trip to the zoo. Myself, living 10 minutes away from the zoo, and teaching remotely, I wanted to use those resources.”
Talcott said he sees his job as coming up with new ways to use virtual tools to excite his students to want to learn. That can include conducting science experiments in his kitchen, addressing important issues such as bullying (which has more than 207,000 views), or showing the children proper health and safety tips during the COVID-19 pandemic—he calls it following the ninja code.
“We’re all going through different feelings and emotions so when I get on there, whether I’ve had enough sleep or I’m ready or not ready, BOOM! The moment I hit that live button I have to be ready and there for those students and make sure it’s the best day of their life,” he told Seattle’s KING-5 television station.
Adams’ experiences also created unexpected opportunities for her, including being featured in a two-hour “Celebrating America” program broadcast following the presidential inauguration on January 20.
After being introduced by Tom Hanks, Adams delivered a brief address, saying: “It’s been a difficult year for our students, and I am so proud of all the teachers, parents, and students across the country who have adapted and made the best out of a tough time.”
She concluded her remarks by introducing a performance by the Foo Fighters, an award-winning rock band originally from Seattle.
“I was in disbelief when they told me they wanted to honor me during the program. I feel very lucky and honored to represent teachers all over the country, they deserve to be recognized for all their hard work,” she said. “I was able to film at Kerry Park in Seattle with the beautiful skyline behind me, it was truly incredible.”
Coming from a family of teachers, Adams has always watched them and wanted to be one herself. She started playing school with her stuffed animals at age five, and when she became an adult, she followed her passion to Central where she enrolled in the CWU School of Education.
“Central gave me the best memories and the best friends,” said Adams. “I enjoyed the teaching program and had so many great professors. College was an unforgettable time, and I will always cherish Ellensburg and Central.”
Adams still records her lessons and shares them with her followers. If you would like to watch them, you can find her profiles at @kenziiewenz on TikTok, or @kenziiewenzteacher on Instagram.
Talcott’s videos can be found at @vividmichael on TikTok or @vivid.michael on Instagram.
Social Media Platforms in the Classroom
• 88% of schools and districts report using Facebook as the best means for reaching parents since the start of the pandemic
• 75% of parents say that effective use of technology in school is “very important” for their child’s future success
• 45% of schools are planning to integrate social media into their curriculum in the next year
• 25% of teachers turned to social media to interact with students after the pandemic began
Sources: Class Intercom.com, Michigan State University, The Journal: Transforming Education Through Technology
• TikTok is the 7th most used social media site in the world
• In the US, 32.5 percent of TikTok users are age 10-19
• The most followed person on TikTok is 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio, who has over 103 million followers and has amassed more than 8 billion likes for her dance videos