“To educate is to guide students on an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world… ‘Who is the self that teaches?’… is the most fundamental question we can ask about teaching and those who teach—for the sake of learning and those who learn. If I care about teaching, I must care not only for my students and my subject but also for the conditions, inner and outer, that bear on the work teachers do.”
Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach
We can see these inner and outer conditions at play through the example of Dr. Palmer's own best and worst teaching moments, which happened in two different sections of the same class in the same semester.
Discussion with one group led to "a deeper understanding of the book and a deeper understanding of the students’ lives." In the other section of the course, the students' "entire emotional range seemed to go from silly to sullen to silent."
When Dr. Palmer angrily confronted the misbehaving students, they seemed surprised he was taking it personally. It was a required course they hadn’t wanted to take, so they'd decided to "blow it off" before the semester had even begun. When he heard this, he became even angrier, because
“My sense of self is so deeply dependent on others that I will always suffer a bit when others refuse to relate to me; there is no way around that simple fact… I know, intellectually how naïve it is to assume that other people, especially students, are here to help me fulfill myself… But that assumption is what did me in as that class unraveled, and my own growth as a teacher requires that I face such awkward facts."
The Courage to Teach is a book for educators who have the courage, or are trying to find the courage,
- to become more aware of how our own strengths and weaknesses impact our classes;
- to help our students engage meaningfully with our subject; and
- to begin dialogues with colleagues that go beyond safe discussions of technique to address challenges and dilemmas;
- to find ways of changing a flawed educational system.
Or, in Dr. Palmer’s words,
"If you are a teacher who never has bad days, or who has them but does not care, this book is not for you. This book is for teachers who have good days and bad, and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life."
[note: I originally wrote this review in 2012 and revised it in 2015.]
Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education
Never Work Harder Than Your Students (recommended book)
A Path with Heart: The Inner Journey to Teaching Mastery (recommended book)
Teaching: The Sacred Art (recommended book)
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