When students in Claudine James’ eighth grade english class at Malvern Middle School had to be quarantined, she posted her lessons on YouTube for them to watch, so they could continue to learn virtually.
Only they weren’t watching.
When she confronted them, they complained her videos were too long and suggested she instead post her videos on TikTok, a social media platform used for sharing short-form videos, she said.
“I was like ‘wait a minute, I’m not about to dance!’” she laughed.
The app has commonly been associated with dance videos, but has videos on a wide range of topics, including cooking, tutorials and education.
Within her first four days of joining the platform, James, who goes by the username @iamthatenglishteacher, had amassed over 10,000 followers.
James said she posts what she calls “teachable moments” to her page.
Her lessons have included when to use “on”, (for dates, single days of the week, and special dates,) and when to use “in” (for parts of the date, months, years, and seasons.)
She has explained the difference between “further” and “farther”; “effect” and “affect”; whether to use “their,” “they’re” or “there”; and the proper ways to use commas and semicolons.
James said she calls these “teachable moments,” because they reflect the kinds of mistakes she sees everyone making while writing essays.
The biggest lesson James, who has been teaching for a total of 27 years, learned while teaching amid a pandemic is how to modify and adjust at the drop of a hat.
For example, James made plans to redo her intended lesson plan after receiving a list of her students who are under quarantine. She said she doesn’t want to teach it when people aren’t there. Instead, she’ll wait until everyone can see her face-to-face teaching.
In the meantime, James said she may do a live TikTok session.
“That way we can still have our classroom community,” she said.
In the approximately six weeks that James has been on the platform, she has gained more than 164,000 followers, and her videos have gotten over 1.2 million likes.
James, who has three adult kids of her own, 34, 31, and 21 years old, joked they are all trying to be her manager now.
One of her sons, a business owner, keeps asking if she will make a video in front of his business sign, she said, while her youngest asks her if she’s checked her analytics and suggests the best time for her to post to yield the best results.
“The biggest compliment is people have said thank you for refreshing us as adults, because they’re too afraid to ask for help,” she said.
James said she’s been told that teachers assign her videos to their students to watch and parents use her videos for homeschooling. James has received messages from people all over the country, even a few international countries.
Her inbox is full of over 100 requests for content at the moment, but she admits that’s her second priority.
“My video may serve your purpose but, my first priority is my students,” James said.
James said the response has been overwhelming, but her TikTok has also brought her unexpected benefits, in terms of her mental health.
“Christmas break went by so fast, I thought it wouldn’t because everything was canceled,” she said. But she spent her time making new videos, and before she knew it, it was time to return to the classroom again.
“That energy and charisma that makes her a popular teacher at Malvern Middle School translate[s] over to the TikTok social media platform in a very special way,” said Brian Dial, principal of Malvern Middle.
“Through the power of social media, the Leopard family gets to share her talent with the rest of the world, which goes back to our core belief that all students, no matter where they are, should have great teachers,” Dial said.