‘It hits you in the heart’: Teacher considered leaving school over ‘ridicule’ on TikTok

ASTI teachers back calls for stronger laws to prevent online abuse and cyberbullying

A second level teacher said he considered leaving his school after the “heartbreaking” experience of seeing his image being used in fake TikTok videos created by a student.

Dublin-based Ciarán Kavanagh told the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) that he became aware of his image and those of other teachers circulating among students in what was intended to be a “humorous” video.

“When it happens – and though it could have been worse – you lose all sense of logic,” he said. “You think you’re trained to put up with it, you think you have thicker skin. But schools are, by and large, happy places and when you hear kids laughing, and you know that a video of you is circulating, you automatically think they are laughing at you.

“You feel like every time you turn a corner, and someone looks your way, they’ve seen this video, this concoction, which was just created for someone’s amusement. You feel like its directed at you.”


Mr Kavanagh said he considered leaving the school in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

“It hits you in the heart. It doesn’t make sense. You know you’re stronger than that – you can put up with the comments and the sly digs and the under-the-breath things in the classroom, but when it happens in such a public sphere and open way, it’s heart breaking,” he said.

He added: “Every part of your heart and soul goes into the job – and then you start to question what did I do? What did I say? How did I upset them to make myself this figure of ridicule? That’s what I felt like for a very long time.”

Mr Kavanagh said he and school management reported the issue to An Garda Síochána, with officers coming into the school and, ultimately, identifying the student responsible.

“I chose not to find out which student was responsible – I didn’t want it to impact my relationship with them if I ever had to teach them,” he said. “We need to stand up to this issue – yes, they are children, but they also need to understand that they have responsibilities once they access the online sphere.”

ASTI delegates also backed plans to ballot for industrial action - up to and including strikes - unless austerity-era additional working hours are terminated before the start of the 2025/26 school year.

Under so-called Croke Park hours introduced in 2010, teachers are required to spend an additional 33 hours a year in staff meetings or in-service training.

The annual conference heard that members regarded them as “detention for teachers”.

Cork-based delegate Ann Piggott said teachers regard then as “waste of time” and “detention for teachers”.

“Teachers hate them with a vengeance. They were introduced as an emergency measure in 2010. 14 years later, the hours are still here and other professions have cast off their shackles - but not teachers,” he said.

Mark Walshe of Dublin north east was one of many members who argued in favour of the motion, while Donal Buckley of Tipperary cautioned that strikes were a “nuclear option” and the union needed a cleverer strategy to avoid a repeat of related industrial action in 2016/17 which saw members penalised by financial emergency measures.

The conference also heard that teachers were experiencing stress and mental health problems from being “always on” as well as pressure from parents.

Limerick-based teacher Dervilla Butler said staff were increasingly facing “aggressive and demanding expectations” from parents.

“When there are loud hurlers on the ditch, the game becomes exhausting,” she said, referring to parental threats made to sue schools, principals and teachers.

“A young teacher taking students to a match had a parent ring in to complain that their child was sunburned. Are things getting so bad we need to open up a conversation on what parts of the body teachers need to put the cream on?”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent