Disability activist speaks out against TikTok's harmful 'new teacher challenge'


Aug. 11 2020, Updated 8:39 a.m. ET

The New Teacher Challenge is one of a string of TikTok challenges that have proven to be more negative and damaging than it was perhaps first intended. In the challenge, parents prank their kids into thinking their teacher for the upcoming school year is someone who is...definitely not their teacher.  

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Parents pretend to be FaceTiming with their kid's new teacher and ask them if they'd like to say hi. Then, they show them the picture of the randomly chosen person and record their reaction. You may understand where the problems are here. 

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While some of them are over-the-top and silly like the one above, others have been using pictures of people with physical deformities or other disabilities to "scare" their children into thinking that's their teacher. And one activist wants to put a stop to it right away. 

Lizzie Velásquez is a motivational speaker, activist, YouTuber, and author. She was born with a rare congenital disease that prevents her from gaining weight and body fat. She was once called the "World's Ugliest Woman" in a YouTube video, an incident that spurred her to speak out against bullying and build a platform to educate others about the harmful effects of making fun of people who look different from you. 

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Lizzie wrote on Instagram that the second she saw the New Teacher Challenge trending, she knew one of the videos would use her picture. And she wasn't wrong. She reposted the video to Instagram with a very moving caption. In it, a mom shows her son a picture of Lizzie and tells him she's his new teacher.  

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"I knew this was coming," Lizzie wrote. "When I saw this trend start I knew it was coming. Some have been cute and funny but then it starts to cross the line. Showing your kids a photo of someone who looks different in hopes of them having a scared reaction is vile." 

She goes on to say that she has seen some New Teacher Challenge videos that have used pictures of disabled people or even babies with Down syndrome. She reminds these challenge participants, "The people you put in photos or videos are human beings!!" 

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She continues, "Please PLEASE don't teach your children that it's funny to be afraid of someone who doesn't look like them. When adults are upset their kids are being bullied, this is the perfect example that teaching kindness and acceptance starts AT HOME." 

Lizzie also posted her appeal on her own TikTok and took the plea to Twitter, where it went completely viral. "TikTok, I need your help!" she says in the video. "This trend where you are pretending to FaceTime someone who is either disabled or is a baby or is some crazy mugshot, and you're showing it to someone to get their reaction, saying, 'Oh hey, talk to this person," just to get a quick laugh, this is not funny! This is not a joke! 

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She continues, "If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn't look like them is OK. Please. Everything that these kids need to know about having empathy and being kind to one another starts at home. Please. This is not OK. This is a trend that needs to stop because we are human and we have feelings, so please just keep that in mind." 

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Lizzie isn't the only one to recognize the toxicity of the New Teacher Challenge, but she is someone who was not only personally affected by it but has faced similar terrible treatment on the internet for years. 

Before you take a picture from the internet and use it in a mocking way, consider that the person in that picture has a whole life and feelings of their own. A TikTok challenge is no excuse for being a bad person. 


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