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Online Trends

Published September 13th 2018

The Brainy Ways Teachers Are Building Influence Online

As the kids head back to school, teachers are busy preparing their classrooms not just for learning, but also for Instagram.

The thought of working with a room full of rowdy kids fills me with dread.

But the concept of designing a classroom with all the posters and colorful bookshelves and shiny new notebooks sounds like a dream to a stationery lover like me. That’s why, as a non-teacher, I have a lot of appreciation for the Facebook posts of my teacher friends preparing to get back to school. Their pencil cases are packed, their folders are color-coded and they are at least giving the impression that they’re starting a new year with order and organization – it looks wonderful.

I have a feeling other people have a soft-spot for the orderly presentation of pens and paper too, since there are teachers raking in dollars for their online work. Last week, Buzzfeed reported on the teacher who makes $50,000 a year educating children, while also bringing in an impressive $200,000 on the side through her online efforts. This comes in the form of opportunities around her large following on Instagram, as well as the Teachers Pay Teachers platform which allows educators to sell resources to other educators.

The rise of the teacher-influencer is a fascinating story, particularly amid stories of teachers struggling with their incomes and the bubbling discourse around influencer marketing. The Brandwatch React team were particularly keen to dive into the issue after we contributed to the recent Brandwatch Influencer Report in which educational influencers were listed, with clear patterns and regional differences between the UK and the US.

In this post we’ll explore what it means to be influential online as a teacher, or within circles of teachers, and how that can translate into an impressive second income. We’ll also discuss the economic forces surrounding influence within teaching communities and how teachers might use social platforms in different ways for both individual and collective betterment.

Building a personal brand

Teachers are busy. Building an online personality that resonates across a wide audience takes the kind of time and effort that, from my experience with educators who spend their weekends marking papers, seems totally unconducive with the realities of teacher life.

That said, many working teachers have made a success of it. In our Influencer Report, we were able to identify teachers and educators and then analyze the accounts that resonated most among them.

Below you can see the “famous” people who have a lot of influence within teaching communities. They’re labelled as famous due to their enormous followings.

In the US, many of the most influential people within educational circles are working teachers who also work as writers or speakers.

Where they find the time is a total mystery, but clearly a huge amount of effort is needed to build a following as a teacher. The benefits are obvious – influence can equal more power when it comes to speaking out about education policy as well as providing its benefits in the form of brand partnerships and book deals. But there’s potentially a darker side to it, too.

Time and money-poor teachers

We’ve heard a lot recently about the troubles teachers in the US face when it comes to surviving on a tight income. A recent photo essay in The Guardian took readers through a number of stories from teachers having to supplement their incomes with extra work.

Chris Williams from Houston, Texas, said that his $56k salary is topped up by a part time job at Barnes & Noble. He explained:

“If I didn’t work a second job, I would be a risk for not having funds to deal with major financial problems that could occur in anyone’s life, whether that’s a major medical expense, a major car expense, or a family emergency.”

For some teachers, selling resources and working for hours a day on building out their Instagram influence is a key part of their financial survival. As influencer Amy Groesbeck told BuzzFeed:

“I’m a single mom, and it’s because of Teachers Pay Teachers that I’ve been able to buy my own home, buy my own vehicle, fund vacations for my family.”

The resources teachers are able to buy online from other teachers offer some respite from planning lessons and creating lesson plans and presentations and worksheets themselves, but it’s a controversial industry.

One teacher in the UK told us they often had no choice but to dip into their own pockets to buy online resources advertised by other teachers, with one person they knew spending around £100 a month of their own money. She said:

“It angers me. I mean I buy resources all the time because the workload means that it’s easier to do that and have a mentally stable life than spend hours of each week reinventing the wheel. But we’re all in this together. I upload my resources for free. We just don’t have time as teachers to do it all on our own properly which is sad.”

The problem is, when shopping for online resources to use in your class, there’s no guarantee of the quality and you don’t truly know what you’re getting until you’ve already spent the money.

While the life of an influencer can often seem glamorous and trivial, it’s clear that teachers with influence are working tooth and nail to earn the money they do, and the people they’re making their money from are likely facing similar struggles. It’s all a bit messy underneath the neatly organized surface.

Teachers’ voices packing a punch

We’ve strayed a little from the subject at hand, but it’s important to see online influence alongside the economic and political forces at work. It’s something we’ll continue here.

Above we showed a list of the “famous” accounts that influenced teachers in the US. There’s an interesting difference when we compare that to “famous” accounts influencing teachers in the UK.

The UK’s “famous” teacher influencers tended to be left-leaning politicians or officials rather than working teachers, although it’s important to note that we found a lot of working teachers in the micro-influencer section in the report.

Teachers based in the UK, based on this data, seem a lot more politically inclined and united than teachers in the US. Perhaps eight years of poor treatment from the Conservative government in the UK has spurred this, while US teachers have a right to be angry at both the Democrats and Republicans for cuts and demonization.

Regardless of political leaning, teachers raising their voices online and building audiences around their expertise could mean they are able to have a stronger influence on political conversations around education. Just like how junior doctors in the UK were able to use social platforms to spread the word about their cause, teachers too can use the power of social media to raise awareness for the issues they face and to build support.

In our age of clicktivism, especially when those directly affected by teachers’ struggles are more likely than older generations to be active on social media, this is one way teachers can pack a political punch together.

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