We all make mistakes. But for educators, mistakes can be particularly difficult to deal with. For one thing, they can have big consequences: after all, a teacher’s role is to help train young minds. And living with the mistakes made in the classroom can feel lonely, since there is a culture in education that rewards by showing teachers their best and glossing over some of the biggest challenges.
An educator decided to change it. It’s Jon Harper, assistant principal of Choptank Elementary, a public school in Cambridge, Md. He is also host of a podcast called my bathroom, where he asks a teacher to share a big mistake they made and talk about what they learned from it.
“I want people to listen to this podcast and realize they’re not alone when they screw up,” she said. “Yet we think so because what we see on social media – Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter – you see the perfect classroom, or hear about the perfect moment. The highlight “.
He has been making the podcast for more than five years and has released more than 100 episodes. The format is short, with each episode lasting only about 10 minutes. But they are often emotional and cope with the human struggles of teaching, including dealing with insecurity, work-life balance and, these days, isolation and burnout exacerbated by the pandemic.
Harper even turned the podcast highlights into a short book, titled “MY BAD: 24 educators who got it wrong and grew up!“
EdSurge: Why do you think teachers are often reluctant to share the mistakes they have made?
Jon Harper: I think it depends on psychological security. And in the teaching profession, many times people are judged by mistakes. People will come in and make a remark. Many times someone is looking, where did he go wrong or did he make a mistake? And you are [marked] down for this. As opposed to in some circles [in other professions], people embrace mistakes. They say, everything is fine. Take this chance. Just do it. Maybe it didn’t work. But I think teaching is a scary profession as you are worried that someone is always valuing you.
This was especially true last year [teaching remotely] with zoom. I mean, you have parents, grandparents, guardians watching your every move.
Since we live in that world, do your guests worry that coming to your podcast will be detrimental to their career?
I had a recent interview with a teacher who was very brave and came on the podcast. When she started teaching her how to cope with all the stress and anxiety it was through alcohol. And it was really powerful. I applauded her so much for it. And I’m sure she must have been a little worried that other people would hear it. But he talked about how he has [now been sober for a long time]. And he wanted people to know that they are not alone.
Does it seem that there is also an impact on the relationship with students when teachers and educators are more vulnerable?
Absolutely. It helps when teachers share, once they are willing to be vulnerable with children. I noticed it myself. It has been a while since I was last in class, but I take anxiety medication and have already shared it with students and parents. And I’ve noticed myself that once I talk about it – and I don’t go into deep detail with them – but once I share it with them and I’m vulnerable to them, they let their guard down a bit. Once you are willing to open up and share with them, the children will reciprocate. I mean, if we’re being honest teachers for that long, we ask kids to come into circles and class meetings and ask them to share.
Yet, we often don’t share.
The more we can share, especially in this day and age, with all the anxieties, stress, depression and things that are going on. If you are in a classroom where someone feels safe to share and they throw you aside one on one or after class if they have a problem. It is so powerful.
Hear the full conversation on the EdSurge Podcast episode.