Students’ career interests are changing. This is why our education must also change

I regularly run into our students who make Tik Tok videos in school stairwells. I often jump in, but that’s another article for another day. I’ve found that these videos are complicated, skillful efforts that require multiple takes, and sometimes over an hour to edit.

Influencer and digital strategist, Casie Stewart, notes that the act of posting, which may seem simple in thought, actually requires camera work, graphic design or copywriting to create the content yourself. She also acknowledges that posting is “a lot of hassle” like finding optimal hashtags (that aren’t too similar to your previous posts to keep the algorithm happy), tagging the right accounts, playing around with filters, adding a geotag (whether it’s sincere or satirical), and more.”

This work requires profound discipline and perseverance from our students who are sometimes difficult to cultivate within the confines of traditional education. While these are skills that we as teachers may tend to diminish with dated critiques, these skills are more aligned with our academic content than we know or probably care to admit.

A changing society

Like it or not, our world is changing. The American Dream no longer exists as Gen Xers know it. The white wooden fence, two children and the traditional working day of nine to five quickly lose their appeal. We are quickly departing from the traditional idea that success is the guaranteed outcome if you study hard and go to university. There is no longer a linear approach to building fulfilling lives.

Monetizing posts and live streaming, some social influencers earn anywhere from $5,000 per month through affiliate links or, as one influencer shared, over $700,000 in branded deals. Our students, who are interested in these career paths, could, ironically, earn more than a career educator does annually.

What does this mean for the educational world? Our students’ personal interests and goals are changing and frankly, our education system has failed to keep up with this amorphous landscape where becoming an influencer on various social media platforms is a viable career option. Career paths in social media management have increased dramatically as companies work to expand access to their desired audiences.

Ana Gotter, in her article, “Social Media Media Career Growth in 2021: What You Need to Know,” notes a 9% increase in job growth over a 10-year period. Over the past decade, the number of professionals holding the title of social media manager on LinkedIn has doubled and job openings for these positions have increased by more than 1,000%. While the paper suggests that job stressors and low wages may affect the number of applicants for social media manager positions, with the skills our students could develop from deliberate social media-aligned educational opportunities, the presented figures leave room for independent success in these areas.

Changing the approach

Let’s face it, this phenomenon is one that some educators, myself included, have struggled to get involved with, but can no longer avoid. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard teachers say to students becoming influencers as a career goal that this wasn’t a realistic way to build a life for themselves. In many school buildings and curriculum centers there is a cognitive dissonance between our traditional approaches to instruction, which our students are actively interested in, and which reflects our current job landscape. There is a need for those of us in the field of education to examine our preconceptions about the perceived need for traditional educational approaches. How do we support the dreams of our students in a world so drastically different from the world of ten years? The future of work and technology is constantly shaping today’s students and how they can and will change our world.

In Gholdy Muhammad’s text, “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework,” she writes, “Students need space to name and criticize injustice so that they can ultimately develop the agency to build a better world. As long as there is oppression in the world, young people need pedagogy that feeds criticism.” What better way to nurture criticism than by maximizing social media and other media platforms as a resource?

The maximization of these platforms allows students to participate in a plethora of conversations about current events in our world. These conversations are easily accessible, compelling and an effective way to develop critique, which Mohammed lists as one of the four layers in her justice framework. Students must assess, research and form opinions to be active participants in these conversations about real-world problems and challenges.

Rest assured, recognizing and adapting our approach to incorporate our students’ interests into our curriculum and teaching does not mean giving up intellectualism in our classrooms, but rather a fresh and timely approach to developing intellectualism. Cultivating genius requires that we “educate in ways that increase, grow and develop their existing genius.” Where in the past our students learned about the world through print, they can now experience people, places and conversations with the simple click of a button (or a few buttons).

Traditions change

Recognizing that traditional teaching approaches often lack diversity is also an important part of considering a shift to a more modern approach to instruction. There is a need for more diverse voices in spaces that do not meet the breadth of diversity in our world. Tanya Thirlwall writes in her article “Social Media as a Tool for Diversity”:

“Social media platforms have enabled people from different backgrounds to connect and share what they know, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people around the world. This is how diversity and inclusion are promoted and celebrated.”

Where do we start making the transition to bridging the gap between traditional instruction and preparation for career opportunities in the social media world? I think the approach starts with traditional curricula and professional development for teachers currently working in the field. To build a responsive curriculum, we must first become adept at the skills, knowledge, and alignment with our academic goals. It takes a willingness to deviate from what we have accepted as the “right way” to teach and expand our toolboxes to meaningfully engage our students in classrooms.

While I’m a little terrified at the prospect of even trying to make a reel or Tik Tok, I’m ready to jump in as it prepares my students for a new world beyond the classroom. Who knows, I might even go viral.

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