Beyond Textbooks: New Age Teachers With A Pop Culture Approach

Educators weigh in on marrying social media trends with new learning methods

Growing up, whenever your teacher would cross-reference trending songs or dances in the classroom, it created extra excitement as a student. TikTok and Instagram are regularly creating new movements, from dance challenges to new slang, and teachers are capitalizing on those same trends in the classroom. From the Mute challenge to a “SkeeYee” roll call, educators are adding a pop culture approach. 

Now that Zillennials educate in the classroom, they have the space to be the teachers they knew or wanted to have when they were growing up. Camille Vaughan, content creator and educator, always wanted to be a resource to the next generation. Through her experience with social media, she discovered ways to keep her classroom engaged and up to date with what’s happening online.

“I like to incorporate a lot of real-world relevance, [with] visual and interactive content that will encourage student collaboration and participation,” Vaughan tells GU. “Embracing this fluidity in your lessons can teach students the importance of staying informed, adaptable, and open to new ideas and perspectives.”

While there are mixed opinions on those with professional careers implementing TikTok trends in their everyday work, it positively affects students. According to recent studies, One in four TikTok users use the social media platform for educational purposes, and 69 percent of those users have stated that TikTok videos help them do their homework.

Through social media, teachers found a happy medium to add fresh perspectives in the classroom while appealing to Gen Z and Gen Alpha. “Music is always the easiest pop culture reference to make in English,” says Todlin Lattimore, an English teacher. “When I first started poetry and figurative language, I liked to use Meek Mill’s verse on “Ambition” by Wale. Not only is it a verse my students can actually relate to, but it’s also full of figurative language examples.”

Read ‘New York Public Library Budget Cuts Hurts The Future Of Zillennial Literacy’

Despite the discourse surrounding music and pop culture in education, using real-life references is not new. Students learning from a perspective of reality can evoke critical thinking during class discussions. “I’ve used the Young Thug Case and the use of rap lyrics in criminal court to teach Argumentative Writing,” Lattimore says. “A lot of times, students feel like what they’re learning isn’t going to be useful in the future, but making those connections helps them see the bigger picture.”

With social media trends and challenges, we’re seeing an intergenerational conversation happen in real time regarding how education continues to make an impact despite the current agenda to hinder the way students learn. In November, Mayor Eric Adams announced the budget cuts, including eliminating full service on Sundays and the New York public library. 

“Without sufficient funding, we cannot sustain our current levels of service, and any further cuts to the Libraries’ budgets will, unfortunately, result in deeper service impacts,” the Brooklyn Public Library statement says. “We know how much New Yorkers rely on the vital resources we provide, and we remain committed to meeting their needs as best as possible.”

So many traditional educational outlets are becoming inaccessible, and teachers are finding new ways to connect with students. “Although it seems like I just graduated high school yesterday, education styles have drastically changed, and it’s important that we as teachers can adapt to new trends to make sure that we can positively reach our students, even through pop culture,” Vaughan says. 

TikTok and Instagram continue to grow into tools that allow students and teachers to help each other adjust to online trends. Now, educators see how powerful social media affects their students. Instead of fighting it, they embrace students’ feedback about pop culture references in their everyday lesson plans.

About the Author: Kenyatta Victoria is the lead writer for Essence GU, working on all things pop culture, politics, entertainment and business. Throughout her time at GU, she’s garnered devoted readers and specializes in the Zillennial point of view.

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