Gonzaga College professor finds friendship, fame and neighborhood on TikTok
As a teacher, principal, and now assistant professor at Gonzaga University, Dr. Catherine Zeisner is always up to date on the latest games and social media platforms that her students are using so that she can better relate to them.
“When Minecraft came out, I learned Minecraft, when Snapchat came out, I got Snapchat,” Zeisner said. “So I said to myself, I have to learn this TikTok thing because the students are coming back to campus and I have to be able to speak TikTok.”
Little did Zeisner know that her quarantine efforts to keep up with her students would turn into a way to connect with teachers around the world and a supportive community that helped Zeisner through a global pandemic.
TikTok is a social media platform that allows users to create videos up to minutes long using either their own sound or a sound created by another user. People can “join” their video with other people’s videos, or edit and “duet” them, which means your video appears next to someone else’s video.
In one of her first videos, released in April, Zeisner duet a then-viral video of a man in his car taking off his shirt. Zeisner did the same, but layered so many shirts that it took her more than a minute to take them all off.
Her friends saw her first silly videos and thought Zeisner had more to share with the world.
“All of my main friends in Canada called me,” Zeisner recalled and said, “You look like an idiot. You’re a professional, you’re a headmaster. You have great stories. Stop doing the stupid things and just start telling your most important stories. ‘”
So Zeisner started making videos of her “main adventures” and sharing successes, failures and funny moments.
These honest videos earned her over 205,000 followers, 10 million comments and 4.5 million likes on her videos, from teaching tips to fun moments learning what it’s like to be a school administrator.
Zeisner is originally from London, Ontario. She grew up in Canada, worked as a camp counselor and lifeguard during the summer, and taught Sunday school, where she discovered her love for children.
At 17, Zeisner moved to Paris, France to become a nanny and attend the Sorbonne.
“It was completely life-changing because then I could learn French well,” said Zeisner. “I have to travel. I’ve met lifelong friends. And I experienced a different culture. “
When she returned to Canada, Zeisner enrolled at Western University in Ontario and began studying kinesiology. She thought she was going to be a radiologist.
“When I talked to my parents, my father was also a university administrator. My mother was also a leader. They said education would probably be great for me and my creativity, ”Zeisner recalls.
Thinking her parents, Sharon and Robert Zeisner, were right, she set out to get her teaching certificate before getting a job teaching French at a school for grades 4-8.
That first experience as a teacher was a “disaster,” said Zeisner. She taught from a cart that went from classroom to classroom.
“It’s physically demanding; You do not feel like you have a home and you are constantly rushing. I just found it overwhelming, ”said Zeisner. “I found that I wasn’t making any connections.”
With the help of a friend, Zeisner campaigned for the school administration and was given a classroom.
“It really turned for me and I felt like I belonged here,” she said. “As soon as I cracked this type of clam, I loved it. I’ve taught French to thousands of children for years. “
But Zeisner knew she wanted more, so she enrolled for an online masters program at Charles Sturt University in Australia. She graduated in 2006 and became a principal at a K-8 school in Ontario.
“I was allowed to join school communities that were absolutely beautiful and unique and diverse, and I just had to help show the way,” said Zeisner. “It’s still an extraordinarily difficult job.”
Her two main goals as headmistress were to “protect children and help children learn,” said Zeisner.
“Relationships are the most important thing you have to have and develop and improve in order to ensure children’s safety and learning,” said Zeisner. “If you don’t spend the time building relationships first and then maintaining relationships, there is no safety in learning.”
Once again, Zeisner realized she wanted more and went back to Western University to earn her PhD. in educational leadership. After graduating in 2016, she took on an additional position at Western teaching at night while being the headmaster during the day.
“I was able to give real, current examples of things that happened in schools,” said Zeisner.
But working two full-time jobs was exhausting, so she looked for other opportunities. Gonzaga was a perfect fit, said Zeisner.
“Gonzaga’s mission and vision to build competent global leaders, enable people to be servant leaders, and the Jesuit way of doing things is exactly what the kind of life I want to live with and the kind of people with whom I want to live that I want to surround myself with is in harmony. Said Zeisner.
Zeisner has been with Gonzaga for nearly three years and is now leading the Master’s in Educational Leadership program. She is also a professor in residence and lives in an apartment in the Twohy dormitory.
The professor-in-residence program helped Zeisner connect with students as she only teaches Masters and PhD students.
“I am able to build really nice, trusting relationships, which then lead to them speaking to their academic professors and having the feeling that professors are just normal people,” said Zeisner. “They do their laundry like I do and wear their pajamas to take their dog for a walk.”
Zeisner saved her dog Nash earlier this year, another bonus for the students who live with Zeisner in Twohy.
During the pandemic, Zeisner has started making a live stream on TikTok every day at 4:30 p.m. so educators from around the world can gather.
“What we’ve all discovered is … it’s about having relationships with children,” said Zeisner. “It doesn’t matter what curriculum you use. It doesn’t matter what resources you use. It doesn’t matter what your classroom looks like. But when you know you need to have deep, trusting, and emotional relationships with your students, you can be successful. “
Teachers have created a Pinterest forum full of great resources for each other and continue to share teaching tips and tricks. Life also resulted in a series of videos titled “A to Zeisner” about educational jargon from around the world.
“I did this whole series of every letter of the alphabet,” said Zeisner. “What is the word and education that go with this letter that you want to share with the world? So it can resonate with people and has just been blown up. “
Zeisner is now turning the series into a book. From vulnerable videos to losing 45 pounds in quarantine and living with Crohn’s disease to stupidity, TikTok has become a supportive community for them.
“I just felt love, this incredible outpouring of love that I really needed, that I didn’t know I needed,” Zeisner said. “And that helped me get through this pandemic on my own.”