Iler turns mistakes into learning moments for his students

Biology teacher Josh Iler is congratulated by Kiwanis member Dianne Klein.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

Biology teacher Josh Iler isn’t bashful about his failures.

“Failure is the best thing on the planet,” Iler said with a grin. So he teaches his students at Bowling Green High School to not be afraid of making mistakes.

“Embrace failure. You will screw up way more than you will ever succeed,” Iler said as he spoke to the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club after being named one of the district’s inspiring educators of the year.

Not one for public recognition, he titled his talk “Mr. Iler – an inspirational educator or just a guy doing his job?”

To Iler, that means showing students how much can be learned from mistakes. Some of those mistakes he shared with Kiwanis – like the photo of him in the crawl space after neglecting to turn on the sump pump.

“You will learn to never do that again,” he said.

Or the photo of the deer that he missed because he left his rangefinder at home. “I’ll never do that again.”

Or the video of the deer lungs that he inflated in his classroom by blowing into a tube – allowing students to see them expand and retract.

“You may ask, ‘why is this on the failure page, Mr. Iler,’” he said to the Kiwanis. That would be because he made the mistake of inhaling through the tube, causing many in his audience to cringe.

That’s part of what makes Iler an unconventional teacher. He has a natural talent with students, according to Jodi Anderson, secondary curriculum coordinator for Bowling Green City Schools. He excels at creating meaningful relationships with students, she said.

That was evidenced when Iler enlisted the help of students in taming the overgrown courtyard area at the high school – building a koi pond and planting landscaping beds. Superintendent Francis Scruci said seniors came in on weekends and during their spring break to help with the project.

“That’s a testament to what you do in the classroom,” Scruci said.

Iler’s response was, “I don’t know any other way.”

Though he’s been teaching biology and anatomy for 13 years at the high school, his lessons go well beyond textbook science. His unconventional approach includes philosophical advice from his hero, Bill Murray.

“Don’t worry,” Iler said. “Failure and lifelong learning is the only path to success. That’s exactly what I think about every day.”

“Don’t follow your dreams,” Iler advised. Instead, take them along on your journey.

Iler’s path to becoming a teacher was also non-traditional.

He credits his parents for making him who he has become. His dad is a hard-working tow-truck driver, and his mom is retired from working in BGSU Residence Life.

“My dad always told me I was going to be a teacher. And like most teenagers, I didn’t listen,” he said.

After high school, he worked with local builder Sam Pahl. He and Pahl shared the same stubborn traits and wacky humor. But one day, Iler arrived on the job to find Pahl dead on the construction site.

“It changed my course,” Iler said. “His son said, ‘you don’t want to do this the rest of your life.’”

So Iler went to BGSU, still unsure of his direction. But several professors succeeded in making science exciting.

“I fell in love with science,” he said, crediting his professors with accomplishing the almost impossible. “I wasn’t a science person. I wasn’t even a school person.”

As his studies continued, one of his professors told Iler he would make a great teacher.

“It’s those little things that stick out,” Iler said. “The little things in life add up to something bigger.”

So in addition to teaching his students about biology, Iler tries to inspire them to work smart and work hard.

“There’s no such thing as a bad job,” Iler said.

When he’s not teaching, Iler can be found building watersheds or painting fire hydrants for the Northwest Water and Sewer District.

“That’s what I try to tell these kids,” he said. “College may not be the answer for everybody.”

Iler lets them all know that they matter. And whatever route they take in life, they can find their dreams and bring them along for the ride.

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