These days teachers often look to social media and podcasts to find community and unwind. That means educators are spending time following other teachers on Instagram or TikTok, or listening to podcasts where colleagues share teaching tips, joke about their classroom experiences or vent their frustrations.
It all adds up to a kind of virtual teacher’s lounge—a space for sharing their experiences beyond the confines of their classrooms—as well as a way for teachers to feel they have a greater voice and more agency.
But it turns out that documenting your teaching life online can bring big challenges to a young educator, as well as unusual opportunities.
That’s the case for Patrick Harris II, who arrived early to the trend of teachers making podcasts about life in the classroom. Back in 2017, Harris, who now teaches English at The Roeper School near Detroit, was still pretty new to the classroom when he decided to start a podcast with a teacher friend in another state. They called it the Common Sense Podcast.
The two friends actually met through social media—they found each other on Instagram, where they both had large followings. And they quickly found a sizable audience for the podcast they recorded in their spare time with about $100 worth of gear. At one point their DIY creation was even listed as one of the top 100 podcasts in education by Apple Podcasts, the biggest podcast platform on the planet. And it led to a book deal, resulting in Harris publishing a memoir, “The First Five: A Love Letter to Teachers.” He later joined EdSurge’s Voices of Change writing fellowship.
Over the years, Harris’s podcasting has served as a kind of a serialized documentary of his life and teaching career. And it has added up to a coming-of-age story of what it’s like to be an educator in today’s tech-infused world.
But there was one podcast episode that got Harris in trouble with his principal, in an incident that nearly derailed his career.
Harris joined us for an episode of the EdSurge Podcast to share the ups and downs of his journey, and what he has learned from all that social sharing.
EdSurge: What made you want to start a podcast?
Patrick Harris II: There was this movement of reflective teachers [on Twitter and Instagram and podcasts], and also the birth of influencer teachers, meaning these are teachers who are using social media every day to process what they are doing in the classroom. This is when teachers were posting their lessons and setting up cameras in the back of their rooms and filming their students in class discussions.
So I was on Instagram, and I was posting every day—about things like, ‘This is what we did today.’ Like, ‘Look at me making copies.’
I was teaching at an all-boys school in southeast D.C. and [my friend Antonia] was teaching in Houston. And we [would talk every day]. Things like ‘Did you see that teacher talk about this today on social media? What’d you think about that? This take is so trash, right?’ … All the things that were mattering in this little-bitty bubble of a community [of teachers online].
So I said, ‘Do you wanna just do this podcast with me?’ And she said, ‘Sure.’ So we bought Blue Ice microphones off Amazon. We bought headphones. And that’s how the Common Sense Podcast was born, because we just thought, ‘Some of this stuff that people are arguing about online, we gotta see it as common sense. It’s just common sense.’
What was the goal?
The intention was just to have a space to process and to be real because we thought that there were so many teachers online who were being fake and who were showcasing their classroom in such a manufactured way, like this toxic positivity.
When we launched a podcast, we got like 500 views in the first 12 hours. And then that doubled overnight. And then we had a thousand. And so we were like, ‘Oh my God, people are listening.’
How did that inform your teaching, this experience of sharing these podcasts every week?
It definitely made me more reflective. It helped me to make sense of what I was experiencing that day. Me and Antonia never talked about what happened in the classroom prior to the podcast, so nothing was scripted. It was all real and in the moment, and I have such a respect for Antonia. She was so instrumental to who I am as a teacher today.
And I strengthened my teacher identity. My teacher voice got louder—and more confident. And in my classroom practices I was able to be more innovative. Because I was able to come up with new ideas on the spot while I was reflecting and thinking about what I wanted to do on this podcast.
But at some point the podcast led to an unpleasant surprise, I understand.
Antonia and I went to a conference together. And this was our live episode that we recorded in one of our hotel rooms. And that was our first time recording [in person,] not remotely.
We had just returned back from a session with Marc Lamont Hill, who had us all kind of fired up around this idea of what it means to be a leader and what it means to honor those who are on the ground doing the work. And at the time I was experiencing a lot of hardship with my principal, who was new, and this sort of culture of fear that I felt like she was setting in our building.
So I remember on the episode before we recorded, I was talking to Antonia about what schools would be like if we didn’t have principals. What is the purpose of a principal? Do we really need principals or are they just representations of a corporate ladder that create unnecessary hierarchy in our school systems?
And on the podcast, I said schools would be better without principals. And I never mentioned my school or my school leader by name. But that was the most popular episode because so many teachers experience conflict between their administrators. And I sort of was talking about my experience because that was my third school in three years, and I talked about the other conflicts that I had with my other administrators. And I sort of was alluding to a conflict that I was experiencing in real time. And I was saying things in a real and raw way.
And I don’t know how, but my principal got a hold of that podcast and fired me on the spot because of it.
Hear what happened next (and the complete interview) on the EdSurge Podcast.