The Celebrity Teacher

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about the rise of the celebrity, perhaps cult-like teaching profession.


If you are a teacher, then you will recognise the following scenario;

  • Teacher: (After a 60-hour week teaching, marking and completing reports, [teacher] heads out onto the high street to buy a book of stamps!)
  • Student: (Spots their teacher from across the road and shouts;) “Hi sir!”
  • Teacher: (Teacher offers a wry smile and a sheepish nod of the head.)
  • Student: (Monday morning) Sir, I saw you in Muswell Hill on Saturday. I didn’t know teachers went shopping; or that you wear jeans!”
  • Teacher: “Incredible!”

Teaching is a modest career for many of us, and no doubt we have all encountered the above scenario in a variety of situations with many of our own students. But, you may be surprised to know that teachers in South Korea are treated like celebrities! This is far removed from the culture of teaching and the reputation that we have here in the UK. We are far too humble for our own good; and despite the constant bombardment from the media and politicians, we know far too well, that we do a bloody good job and when asked, we defer to the position; ‘we are doing it for the kids.’

Double The Effort?

Consider this example;

“In South Korea, Cha Kil-young sings with famous actresses, works out of an office in Seoul’s exclusive Gangnam district, endorses brain-boosting drinks, and takes home an $8 million paycheck—all in the name of teaching math to high schoolers.”

According to this source, these apparent celebrity teachers in South Korea are not your regular teachers who work in schools! No. They have their own brand and merchandise. Are they ex-teachers-come-consultants? Perhaps even YouTube stars and bloggers? I have no idea. But, one reason is “because South Korea’s educational climate is so competitive, students often double their study efforts after they get out of school in the afternoons.”

“Lecturers are going online, donning costumes and singing with celebrities to get their academic messages across – and making a lot of money in the process.” (The Independent)

celebrity teacher korea-maths

Image: The Independent

The Rise of the Celebrity-Teacher:

Cha Kil-yong (above) is one of these teacher-type celebrities. According to various YouTube subscriptions, he has 300,000 students who have registered for his online classes! You can see him here, speaking alone in this humble video. The current state of the nation, is that celeb-teachers are now developing ideas to compete against each other and win the minds of their students. This cutting-edge ideology appears to be creating a generation of risk-taking teachers and is welcomed by many students.

But, is this enough to bring new, talented teachers into the profession? And beyond the web 2.0 revolution that allows many to take the world by storm online? Or even beyond the 5-year attrition rate we have here in the UK? Despite working with Teach First for 7 years, their latest advert and strap-line is far-flung from the realms of South Korea! Would everyone want to start out in comprehensive teaching if they were shown the first two minutes of this video? Really?

Are we now amongst the rise of the Web 3.0 teacher? Teachers who are doing it for themselves …

Despite a government-imposed curfew on cramming schools closing at 10pm, students often spend long hours studying at home and online; as well as at expensive hagwon (a for-profit private institute, academy or cram school), which according to The Telegraph, has become a £13bn industry. The following quotes taken from ICEF (International Consultants for Education and Fairs) are noteworthy (Source);

“In 2009, spending on private tuition in South Korea was the highest as a proportion of GDP among OECD countries, and according to the Ministry of Education, South Koreans spent 19 trillion Won (US $17.9 billion) on private tuition in 2012. More disturbingly, Statistics Korea and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family last year reported that worry over career and academic performance is the main reason youths aged 13-19 contemplate suicide. According to the report, suicide was the biggest cause of death among people aged 15-24 in 2011.”

No research has been linked to this pressure-filled education system in South Korea, but apparently the government is starting to take notice. Have celebrity teachers in South Korea found a niche-market for tuition? I can also see something similar with Canadian-born, Lilly Singh; a self-made blogger who I have shared with my Twitter followers before. Singh publishes her own videos on YouTube and has almost generated 5-million subscribers.  The impact of her videos clearly reaches countless teenagers on topics ranges from teaching, after-school studying and bullying.


Since 2000, the OECD has been measuring and evaluating the knowledge and skills of the world’s 15-year-olds through its ‘Programme for International Student Assessment’ (PISA) test. More than 500,000 students in 65 economies took part in the latest test, which covered maths, reading and science, with the main focus on maths. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development regularly ranks South Korean students among the highest in the world in maths, reading and science.

Varkey Gems:

Now, let’s compare South Korea to the Global Teacher Status Index, published by Varkey Gems Foundation, the world’s first comprehensive attempt to compare the status of teachers across the world; and perhaps an indication of teacher-reputation (and potentially, celebrity-like status). Here are three key questions:

  • How teachers are respected in relation to other professions?
  • The social standing of teachers?
  • Whether parents would encourage their children to be teachers?

Varkey Gems

The diagram (above) states the average teacher respect rankings, versus the percentage of respondents who would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ encourage their children to become a teacher. You can see that there is a 20% difference regarding teaching as a profession, despite the teacher-respect ranking being almost the same in both countries. You can read the remainder of the Varkey Gems report here.

The Web 3.0 Teacher:

In a recent post, Mark Anderson blogged about the Web 2.0 Teacher and as a result of the internet revolution, teachers are adapting web 2.0 tools for blogging, tweeting and using educational apps and tools to reach students in and out of classroom hours. He left the reader with this question; “What’s next in store for Teacher 3.0?”  I can recall several conversations with many friends and strangers back in the 90s when I first started out in teaching. When asked what I did for a day-job, when mentioned, teaching did raise a few eyebrows and generally a surprised response. Although I still receive these reactions today, many responses are blighted by a reputation portrayed by the media.

Can a tarnished reputation be improved?

Can Celebrity Teachers Mobilise Ivory Towers?

You! Yes, you reading this right now! There is a cult of the celebrity teacher evolving amongst us. And that is within reach for all of us, regardless of how we define web 3.0 celebrity-teaching. This may be a prolific blogger or tweeter? A teacher with a YouTube channel and a published author. It may even just be an unsung and modest hero in our school, going about their day-to-day business in the classroom. Whatever it is, we are now in the midst of a teaching landscape where teachers online are mobilising each other and themselves. As a result of viral blogposts and tweets, we see ‘teachers pricking the ears’ of those who work within ivory towers, through round-table discussions at the DfE, Ofsted, Ofqual and even meetings with politicians in various parts of the country.

Are You A Celebrity Teacher?

Can we all become a Web 3.0 teacher? Now, I am not saying for a moment that I am a celebrity or even a celebrity-teacher! Far from it. I am just Ross. I’m just a teacher. I’m just a deputy headteacher, doing a job that I love best. I am here to influence the lives of the students I teach and support and inspire colleagues I work with to become the best teachers that they can be. I do not tweet or blog for fame or fortune, despite what some insipid trolls may say. With the rise of the teacher-blogger and especially with teachers who tweet, I’d be lying to my readers if I told you that I’ve never experienced some form of celebrity-like welcome at some of the CPD events I’ve attended.

Despite the embarrassment this brings, this welcome and credibility from peers is the result of teachers working hard beyond school hours, using social media for their own professional development. There are teachers who reflect, share and contribute to discussions and resources for the profession in order to improve themselves, as well as help others at the same time. Whatever it may be for you, each teacher tweeter and blogger has their own purpose for using social media and the web 3.0 teacher is truly within reach for all of us!

When I first started blogging, it was merely a platform for me to place my thoughts online. A matter of reflection; a diary of sorts, knowing that one or two people may read what I’ve written.

I never in my wildest dreams expected blogging and tweeting to be exponential as it now is today. A reason for this could be that there are more teachers than ever before using social media to inform their own practice; to connect with like-minded individuals beyond the school gates …



5 thoughts on “The Celebrity Teacher

  1. Very interesting post. I like being challenged to consider my blogging as a positive influence. That is certainly my unspoken (unwritten) goal. I am not ready for YouTube but I feel encouraged to stretch my wings a bit! Thanks!

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