Teaching Opinion

Necessary Grace: Am I a Hypocrite or Am I Human?

By Starr Sackstein — March 03, 2019 3 min read
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Guest post by Jon Harper

I am the father of a teenage girl. I had heard the horror stories and I have seen the movies. I mean who didn’t enjoy “The Breakfast Club” because it made them laugh but cringed because it was so accurate?

The peer pressure teenagers face is enough to drive me crazy. Nevertheless, I can’t figure out why others’ opinions matter so much to them. I try to give advice that is helpful and I hope that what I am saying makes sense. I say things like:

“It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, what matters is that you have a few quality ones.” And then I pat myself on the back because I feel like this is good advice.

But then it hit me!

I am a hypocrite.

I am expecting more from my daughter than I am from myself. And I am 48 years old. You see, I recently published a book. And for the first few weeks, I could not stop checking Amazon to see where it ranked and to read the reviews.

I was doing just what I had told my daughter not to do. I was comparing myself with others and I was counting accolades. Truth be told, I think my daughter is doing a better job than I am at ignoring the opinions of others.

Why did it matter to me how many people bought my book and why do I care what people think? I am proud of what I wrote and I have had a few folks tell me that they enjoyed the book. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Yes, it should.

But I am human, and there are times when my ego gets in the way. When it does, I have two choices. I can beat myself over it and feel shame over the fact that I allowed myself to become caught up in such childish behavior. Or I can forgive myself, move forward, and try to get better.

This piece is not about my daughter, and it is not about my book. It is about the ability to forgive ourselves. What I have found is that we are way too tough on ourselves and we must stop. There are plenty of folks outside education that try to tear us down. We can not add ourselves to that list.

We must get better at giving ourselves grace and we must get better at helping others do the same. I am certain that we can. Below are three suggestions I have to help you move forward once you’ve messed up.

Know That You Are Supposed to Make Mistakes

Why is it that we expect to be perfect in the first place? What we do is quite difficult, and the fact that we hold ourselves to some impossible standard is ridiculous. We would never hold our students and our colleagues to these standards, or at least I hope we wouldn’t.

And yet, when we make a mistake, we hold onto it for longer than is healthy. We let it fester until it hurts more than we’d care to admit. I think we are comparing ourselves to what we see on social media, which oftentimes, is someone’s best, their highlight reel if you will.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself"—Anna Quindlen

Don’t Allow the Bad to Outweigh the Good

As an assistant principal, I have the opportunity to mentor and guide new teachers. I have always warned them about focusing on the bad things that happen during the day and forgetting to remember all of the good. It is so easy to do. Oftentimes, on my 30-minute commute home, I find myself dwelling on the one or two things that went wrong and neglecting to remember all that went well.

It’s natural to reflect on the mistakes we made so that we can try to improve. But what about all of our victories during the day? We mustn’t forget them. Because I am quite certain if we tallied up the most memorable events from our day, we’d find that our victories outnumber our mistakes. We can’t let them fade away just to be overtaken by a few mistakes.

Life appears to me too short to be spent nursing animosity or registering wrongs."—Charlotte Bronte'

You Are in Good Company

If you’re anything like me, once you make a mistake, you think that you were the only person on the planet that could have done something so foolish. Rarely, if ever, do we get to witness other educators’ mistakes on social media.

But trust me, you’re not alone. I have spent the past four years speaking with educators around the globe. From New York Times bestselling authors to beginning bloggers, from superintendents to new teachers, from principals to education consultants. And what I have found is that they all have one thing in common.

They make big mistakes too. Getting to hear their stories has helped me feel better about mine. I now know that I am not alone.

That everyone is identical in their unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else."—David Foster Wallace


It’s time we start extending ourselves a little grace. If we continue to feel shame and guilt every time we make a mistake, we’re not going to make it to June. Heck, we’ll be lucky to make it to Spring Break. I hope you find the suggestions above helpful. One thing I am sure of, they work.

P.S. I’ve learned that my daughter is pretty awesome and I have as much to learn from her as she does from me. Now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go check something on Amazon. Just kidding!

Jon Harper's mission is to provide social and emotional support for educators through his writing, his podcasts, and his public speaking. Jon is the author of My Bad: 24 Educators Who Messed Up, Fessed Up and Grew!, the host of My Bad Radio, and the co-host of Teachers' Aid. His blog can be found at jonharper.blog. Jon is currently the assistant principal of Sandy Hill Elementary School and lives in Easton, Md., with his wife and two kids.

*photo created using Pablo.com

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.