This story was initially published in The Creators — a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it sent to your inbox.
Teachers are underpaid and underfunded, a condition which has only been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. In the past, teachers have turned to resources like “Teachers Pay Teachers,” an online marketplace allowing them to purchase lessons and worksheets from each other that also offers supplemental income to creative educators selling their original content. Now, teachers around the world have begun utilizing TikTok to share activities and strategies they use in their classrooms.
Lauran Woolley, 28, a fifth grade teacher at Leetonia Elementary School in Leetonia, Ohio, has amassed a following of 5.2 million on TikTok. She posts about the flexible seating in her classroom, how she prepares her students for testing, and the funny interactions she has with kids on a daily basis. She also posts to her 901,000 subscribers on YouTube and podcasts with three other teachers on “Teachers Off Duty,” which is currently 52nd on Spotify’s top podcasts list. The hosts talk about their first days of teaching, their crazy field trip experiences, and classroom management strategies. And for Woolley, it has changed how her students see her.
Observer: Could you tell me about how you got started online?
I had a student who had some behavior issues. I sat down with him, and he mentioned that he really liked making TikToks, so we made a bet that I could get more followers than him by the end of the school year. This was in February of 2020, so a couple of weeks later we all went into quarantine and had way too much time on our hands. I started making videos and it took off from there. It was all because of a student.
How did your relationship with your students change after you got on TikTok?
I think so. TikTok has helped me loosen up. I feel like when I first started teaching, I had to be the super strict teacher so that nobody would walk all over me—[being on TikTok] just helps you to realize if you have fun with the kids, everything else falls into place. I post about my life, my husband, my dog, and my house. This is only our first week of school, and some of the kids already know me better than I know them. It has broken down that teacher-student barrier where they’re not comfortable around you or they don’t feel like they know you.
Do you have a sense of who your viewers are, aside from your own students?
It’s a vast majority of younger people—typically anywhere from 13-to-17-years-old and some people my age. I tailor what I make to my students and I think that’s what set me apart when I first started on TikTok. I have a series called “things my students do that I just don’t get.” And I’ll tell stories about when I was in school while playing with slime, and kids love watching that.
I want to make content because there’s so many things on the internet that kids consume that they shouldn’t. And I like that the content I make is okay for my students to watch. You know, they’re only 10 and 11. The age to even sign up on TikTok is 13, but we all know kids are on the internet.
I find it interesting that that’s your audience, because I would think that when kids are not in school, they would want to be as far from school as possible.
I think it’s kind of refreshing though. I think of the quote from Mean Girls. Janis Ian says, “I love seeing a teacher outside of school. It’s like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.” I think that’s how my students see my videos. So many kids have experiences in school where either a teacher is not building that relationship with them or they just don’t have a connection. And so watching my videos, my students feel like they know me personally. If other students don’t have that with their teachers, I kind of take that place.
Do you consider yourself more of a creator now or more of a teacher?
I definitely consider it 50/50. At this point, being a creator is where the majority of my income comes from. So teaching kids can be my hobby now. It takes a little bit of the stress off of it. I feel very lucky because I know it’s not that way for a lot of teachers.
How did you monetize your platform?
I really didn’t think my page would ever blow up the way it did, so it really wasn’t really in the plan. It used the creator fund that TikTok started but over time, it’s dwindled down. The majority of my monetization comes from viewership on YouTube or through paid brand deals with companies.
Woolley has had paid sponsorships with companies including Lubriderm, AdoptAClassroom.org, Novel Effect, and the Oriental Trading Company.
How did you get involved in podcasting?
We all met through a photoshoot that we were doing for a conference called Teach Your Heart Out. I made friends with the other hosts of the podcast, Tell Williams, Bri Richardson and Rebecca Rogers. Rebecca and Bri had already started a podcast, and they asked Tell and I to join them. And it’s grown too. We get roughly a million listens a month. When I first joined, I thought “Oh, this will be a fun project to have,” but it took off and now it’s turned into something really cool.
Where do you want to go with your brand from here?
I’m honestly happy at the spot that I’m at in my career right now. But I think it would be cool for the podcast to continue growing, and we really want to take it on tour and go meet some of our listeners.
What advice would you give to teachers, and what advice would you give to creators?
I would tell teachers to try and have fun with your students everyday. For teachers who want to be content creators, figure out what kind of content you want to make and then stay consistent. For content creators in general, I think it’s important to do what makes you happy. Don’t make content just because you think it’s what other people want to see, because you’re going to hate it. If you like what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.