Documentation:Digital Tattoo Curriculum/Case Studies for Student Teachers/Tiktok Tension

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In many ways, we are all newcomers to the COVID-19 work environment and in particular when it comes to teaching. Newcomers to teaching are learning on the job as will everyone else in the coming school year(s). This case study is intended to help teacher candidates, newcomers to the profession and already practicing teachers think about the issues being raised by the pandemic in education.


Navigating teachers’ digital identities, perspectives and reputations as impacted by the new world of COVID-19 and changes it has brought to education.

Particular themes within the case study are:

  • Professional and personal boundaries
  • Off-duty online and offline professionalism
  • Public nature of the internet
  • Implications of public social media accounts
  • Professional relationships with stakeholders

Personal Reflection

While reading this case study, consider your response to this question:

How do I manage my personal social media accounts and sharing my thoughts on emerging issues around the world?

Case Study

While Jinhai always had personal political views, he refrained from sharing them online to avoid backlash from people who disagreed with him. Being from a small town, he recognized that sharing his dissenting opinion could cause tension with friends and family in the community. During the height of the pandemic, however, he became frustrated about the way governments were handling mask mandates and vaccinations. This frustration was intensified due to his partner being immunocompromised. He felt that even going to get groceries was risking him and his partner’s lives. While going to the pharmacy to pick up his partner’s medication where few people were wearing masks or social distancing, Jinhai was surprised to see very few people wearing masks or social distancing. He decided to post a tiktok about this experience, calling on the provincial government to reinstate a mask mandate. The tiktok was from a personal point of view talking about how emotionally taxing it is for those who are immunocompromised to be in spaces which threaten their health. He didn’t think the tiktok would get many views, and was shocked when 70k people watched the video in a day.

Due to the positive response to his tiktok, Jinhai decides to keep posting. His content shifts to commenting on the news, and he gains followers quickly—reaching over 100k in a few months. He found his tiktok presence to have a positive impact on his life. He experienced a greater sense of connection, and felt that he was in control of shaping his personal identity. Despite not agreeing with the political views of a vocal minority in his province (and voicing this on his tiktok), he still tries to remain open-minded and compassionate when discussing heated topics. When the trucker convoy was going across Canada, he initially tried to understand the life situations of certain protesters, instead of criticising their character. Growing up in a rural town where his political opinions were in the minority, he has personal connections to people who oppose his views. For this reason, he avoided anything that wasn’t directly related to policies—never venturing into remarks about intelligence or physical attributes.

After Jinhai’s tiktoks blew up, he decided to fulfil a lifelong aspiration and apply to the Teacher Education Program at UBC. When he entered the teacher education program, the height of the pandemic was behind him, but his partner was still vulnerable. He continued to make tiktoks, despite being anxious about how this could affect his practicum and job prospects. The school where Jinhai was placed for his practicum didn’t have an issue with Jinhai putting his political views on tiktok. He didn’t bring his political views into the classroom—when students asked about his personal views in class he often responded “The classroom is for exploring your views, not for me to tell you mine. If you’re curious about what I think, you can look at my tiktoks at home”. Jinhai also didn’t experience any problems with parents, which he equated with his respectful tone in his tiktoks.

Lately though, there has been another teacher, Stella who has been bringing up her disagreement with Jinhai’s tiktoks. This often occurs in the staff room during work hours. It makes Jinhai uncomfortable due to her confrontational nature, and he’s also noticed other teachers avoiding Jinhai when Stella is in the staff room with him. Jinhai has asked Stella a couple times if they could not discuss their political views at work. Stella has often responded that if Jinhai doesn’t want to discuss politics, he shouldn’t be posting political tiktoks. Jinhai also has a “love is love” pin that he wears on his blazer, which Stella said was “corrupting young children by bringing his political views into the classroom”.

Jinhai doesn't know who he should approach with this situation. On one hand, he feels that Stella is acting inappropriately by confronting him about his political views and his sexual orientation. On the other hand, he doesn’t know if people will be understanding of his situation, considering he is politically outspoken online. He wonders whether he should bring this to his practicum advisor, or if he should just delete his tiktok altogether—lately he dislikes how his personal life is invading his professional life.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were Jinhai how would you respond to the situation? Should a teacher have to make changes to their social media usage on public health and/or public interest issues?
  2. What might you consider before sharing your personal beliefs and opinions on social media? Would you share more on a private account than you would on an account that your students (and their parents see (or could see)? Are there any beliefs or opinions that you would avoid sharing on social media altogether
  3. How can teachers and teacher candidates separate their personal and professional digital and online identities? What best practices would help navigate these issues?

Additional Resources

If time allows, explore these additional resources:

Sharing Permissions

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Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document according to the terms in Creative Commons License, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0. The full text of this license may be found here: CC by-sa 4.0

When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: developed by the University of British Columbia: Digital Tattoo – Case Studies Project Team.

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