Well, it looks like the gears are in motion for plans to have staff (and eventually students) return to school buildings this week. Admittedly, the announcement from our school administrator indicated that we should be ready for such an occurrence in “May/June” triggered a deep visceral reaction within.
My sudden angst was augmented by the exhaustive list of ‘issues’ in our building from a lack of sufficient sinks, a lack of hot water in our sinks, playground protocols, gym and other shared facility regulations to name just a few. This looming uncertainty (felt by every school worldwide) has compelled me to reflect deeply on what the new norm will be come September.
In my sudden need for solace, reflection, and inspiration, I found myself reaching for my Kindle last week. And there, lo and behold, on the index page at the top was Parker Palmer‘s landmark discourse, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.
Full disclosure: It has been nearly two decades since I first read this book as a newly minted teacher with very little lived experience and even less vocational sophistication. But, what a different and extremely refreshing perspective twenty-three years and hundreds of students later brings to my second go round of The Courage to Teach!
The first chapter of Palmer’s seminal treatise on what it means to be a teacher alone possesses a deep cache of pearls. Selfishly this post (and the following three) will serve as a bookmark page of many of those nuggets that enrich and nourish those who are called to engage and commit to the most beautiful, often ugly, and frequently rewarding calling.
These are just a few selected thoughts from the first chapter alone:
When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life–and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well. p.3
To educate is to guide students on an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world. p.6
Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act. p.7
“Who is the self that teaches?” is the question at the heart of my own vocation, I believe it is the most fundamental questions we can ask about teaching and those who teach–for the sake of learning and those who learn. p.8
The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts–meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit will converge in the human self. p.11
The courage to teacher is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require. p. 11
Identity lies in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relation to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death. p.14
When I forget my own inner multiplicity and my own long and continuing journey toward self-hood, my expectations of students become excessive and unreal. p.25
We cannot see what is “out there” merely by looking around. Everything depends on the lenses through which we view the world. By putting on new lenses, we can see things that would otherwise remain invisible. p.27
When I seek my identity and integrity, what I find is not always a proud and shining thing. The discoveries I make about myself when I remember the encounters that have shaped and revealed my self-hood are sometimes embarrassing–but they are also real. Whatever the cost in embarrassment, I will know myself better, and thus be a better teacher. p.30
When we listen primarily for what we “ought” to be doing with our lives, we may find ourselves hounded by external expectations that can distort our identity and integrity. p.31
The teacher within is not the voice of conscience but of identity and integrity. It speaks not of what ought to be but of what is real for us, of what is true. p. 32
The kind of teaching that transforms people does not happen if the student’s inward teacher is ignored. p.32
Fear is what distances us from our colleagues, our students, our subjects, ourselves. Fear shuts down those “experiments with truth” that allow us to weave a wider web of connectedness–and thus shuts down our capacity to teach as well. p.36
Some fears can help us survive, even learn and grow–if we know how to decode them. My fear that I am teaching poorly may be not a sign of failure but evidence that I care about my craft. My fear that a topic will explode in the classroom may be not a warning to flee from it but a signal that the topic must be addressed. My fear of teaching at the dangerous intersection of the personal and the public may be not cowardice but confirmation that I am taking the risks that good teaching requires. p.39
Students are marginalized people in our society. The silence we face in the classroom is the silence that has always been adopted by people on the margin–people who have reason to fear those in power and have learned that there is safety in not speaking. p.45
It means entering empathetically into the student’s world so that he or she perceives you as someone who has the promise of being able to hear another person’s truth. p.47
Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest. The teacher’s hospitality to the student results in a world more hospitable to the teacher. p.51
If we regard truth as emerging from a complex process of mutual inquiry, the classroom will look like a resourceful and interdependent community. p.52
Knowing is a human way to seek relationship and, in the process, to have encounters and exchanges that will inevitably alter us. At its deepest reaches, knowing is always communal. p.55
Part 2 coming soon!