From the Magazine

Building Relationships with Ty Tiger

Ty had built real relationships with these students. She knew and cared about them and they did the same for her. But, like the power teacher she is, nothing made her beam with pride more than the great essays they did that same day. Tiger is the archetype of a modern superteacher: hip, relatable, vulnerable, student-driven, and deeply invested in the future of these young people. 

Remember your early years in teaching? Maybe you’re still in them. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the waterfall of it all. The days keep marching forward, the lesson plans fall behind, the bonding experience of it all starts to fall to the back burner. Heck, even in year 20 it can feel like you’re constantly playing catch up. We could all use a little advice from someone who just has a little more “chill” than we do.  

So, we sat down with the so-called KindaSortaTeacher for a little backstory, a little advice, and a hefty dose of chill. In our talk, Tiger argues that it’s important to take some time away from the regularly scheduled programming to get to know your students and model for them what a healthy relationship looks like. 

Why did you decide to start making teacher content on TikTok? 

Well, initially, I was like many of the others. Pandemic hit, and we were bored, and everybody was like, “Oh, there’s a little teacher TikTok area.” 

There weren’t a lot of us in the beginning who hopped on. So initially, it was just curiosity, kind of poke around and see what else was out there. I started mostly with funny voice overs, and then I shared a tech tip one time, and people were freaking out at how innovative it was. I think the tip was just recording voice notes to give students feedback, so they still felt like they were around us even though they were at home. 

So then I started slowly just sharing technology tips, and how I was keeping my kids engaged while we were all at home learning. You don’t really think things are a big deal or such a great idea until somebody else tells you they haven’t thought of it or never would’ve even considered it. And then I was like, “Oh wow, there’s tons of info I can help teachers with.” And then that kind of transitioned into me sharing my resources that I use for building relationships. That’s all stuff that I’ve been doing for years and years now. I didn’t think that anybody needed it or could benefit from it initially until I put it out there and was just like, “Oh, this is what I’m working on.” And then everybody’s like, “I need this, I want this.” And yeah, now here I am.

Why is it so important for teachers to model relationship building skills for their students? 

I’ve seen lots of teachers pay more attention to the subject content than the relationships. And I know early on, that’s really easy to do; not knocking them for it. Because you know, when you get your first job and you find out you have all this content to teach in this little amount of time, and there’s a test on it, the whole school is going to be judged off of your scores. It’s definitely really scary and super-overwhelming. You feel like you have to just knock out everything right away. 

But as teachers are in the classroom longer, I think they start to realize that if the kids like you, and they feel like they know you, they’re going to work so much harder to do well, like so much harder. 

Sometimes my kids, they don’t feel like doing anything but putting their heads down because they’re kids, and there’s a pandemic, and they work, and play sports. They have longer days than us. We’re tired when we get off work. They go to school, and then go to work, and they’re not getting home until 10:00, 11:00. And then doing homework, and they’re still doing the things that they need to. But it’s only because they don’t want to disappoint me, they want to impress me, they want me to be proud of them. And that’s all because of relationships that have been built. Some of them will even say, “Oh, I didn’t feel like doing my homework, but I did yours because I like you.” Crazy stuff like that. For kids, it’s a narrow lane.

It’s like, “I like you, I will do this, I will study for my tests.” All because they want to get that praise from you and that smile. It’s crazy, it makes such a difference from just jumping straight into content. And I know, like I said, I’m not knocking them for it. It’s just hard to find a way to, I guess, get through the content as quickly as we need to. And also, take the time to let them have some days that they goof off and think that they got you off topic. Just to kind of let them decompress some.

What advice would you give to new teachers who want to spend more time focusing on relationships but feel like they can’t because there is too much content to get through? 

I guess just practice. We’re supposed to work bell to bell. That’s always what we hear, “Bell to bell, bell to bell.” But maybe, plan a little less or allocate a little more time, so then you do have time for those transitions to sometimes goof off with them for a second, or talk about, I don’t know, whatever Netflix show you’re watching right now. So then they can talk to you about it. Or just finding little ways to not let them realize that you guys are not on track at the moment, but just kind of sneaking in those conversations, and just giving them time to get to know you.

Why is modeling relationship building skills so important for students’ lives outside the classroom? 

I talk about this to my students, about real-world impact all the time. We work on things like emailing a recruiter to talk to them, just learning to be comfortable reaching out to people in general. 

I know once technology came around, it seems like as far as talking on the phone, scheduling appointments, little skills like that, people aren’t the best at them. So then for them to have never even made an appointment at this age that they’re currently at, to picture them talking to a boss, or having to go talk to a college professor about needing more time for an assignment … they just don’t have the skills. And it seems like most of the time, they’ll just take the loss on something and be like, “Oh, well. I’m not going to call, I’m not going to email, I’m not going to talk to them about it.” It’s important for them to realize that they’re going to be in relationships one day, and they’re going to have to talk to people.

I teach to prepare them for even just simple day-to-day, regular grownup-life things. It definitely will help them learn how to engage, and listen, and converse. That’s really all relationships are. 

What about relationships with other teachers? Are these skills useful outside of the classroom for teachers, too? 

Definitely. And I can say that’s the big help of TikTok. Teachers are finding community even outside of their own corridors. Because, I don’t want to say not everybody gets along, that doesn’t sound nice. Not everybody meshes and blends well, so it’s nice that even with social media, between stories, and videos, and reading those long captions, that it can help people get through one more day and one more day, and sharing resources with one another, and tips and tricks. It’s all stuff that essentially makes our job easier.

And also, people see that not everything about teaching is perfect. For a long time, anybody that you idolize in your hallway or something, someone who had everything together, they’ve never expressed feelings of being burnt out or frustrated, and then you’re judging yourself. So it’s really nice to, yes, have a school community within your own building. But also, in the world of social media, finding teachers like you since we’re all so different, can definitely keep people in the game a lot longer, and not feeling so isolated and down on themselves for all these emotions that come with teaching.