I have used memes in the class, and I considered it to be successful. I have used the "Son I am Disappoint" meme to light-heartedly indicate to a student that I was displeased with performance on a task in class, and the student laughed with me, and made corrections (and also told the class about my timely use of the meme).
On several occasions, I have used the "Unhelpful Teacher Meme" to poke fun at my own mistakes, all in an effort to connect with the kids at their level. I have been lauded by some for my ability to connect with kids; for my classroom management, I typically build a rapport with the kids, and when things go sideways in class (either academically or behaviourally), I will utilize my relationship to help the student see the issue from my perspective, and to help build a bridge to help move the student along and to align both of our goals. I find that communicating with students at their level is an effective way to reach them.
I am now re-evaluating this approach.
This week I read the article by Zittran, Reflections on Internet Culture (2014) and an important note stuck with me. The author makes a good point, in that nobody can own or claim a meme, and its symbolism can change at a moment's notice. Zittran makes this point by mentioning how a meme was commercialized by a clothing manufacturer and put on t-shirts, and an internet community (Reddit) decided to give the meme a racist symbol, thus reclaiming it for themselves and making the t-shirts undesirable..."The commercialization its use of the meme represented
angered Reddit users...If the Redditors weren’t going to have it, no one was going to have it" (p. 384). Recently, an internet cartoon named "Pepe The Frog" was co-opted by alt-right neo Nazis, and is now used by the staunchest of Trump supporters.
I wonder what would happen if, in an effort a few years ago to connect with kids, that I used the original Pepe meme on an assignment, and did not know that its significance had changed? How would a student in my class feel about seeing that meme, during the height of the 'muslim ban' in the news coming from the US? I certainly would not want to suggest any kind of support for this initiative in the US, and I would hate for students to feel unsafe in my class if they thought I was pushing this agenda.
Use memes at your own risk, if you choose to do so at all. You are using a nuanced communication tool that you don't have full control over, and the pitfalls could be as disastrous as they are advantageous, and could end up creating an emotionally unsafe environment, and jeopardize your career and the learning of your students.
Nuzzi, O. (2016, May 26). How Pepe the Frog Became a Nazi Trump Supporter and Alt-Right Symbol. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/how-pepe-the-frog-became-a-nazi-trump-supporter-and-alt-right-symbol
Son, I Am Disappoint. (2016, March 25). Retrieved from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/son-i-am-disappoint
Unhelpful High School Teacher. (2017, June 26). Retrieved from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/unhelpful-high-school-teacher
Zittrain, J. L. (2014). Reflections on Internet Culture. Journal of Visual Culture, 13(3), 388-394. doi:10.1177/1470412914544540