The Courage To Teach: The Heart of a Teacher (Repost)

Courage to Teach Cover A couple of weeks ago, I finally checked out The Courage To Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. Palmer’s book has been on my “To Read” list for awhile now. I’ve read some of his work before for my College Teaching course. I also had a brief conversation with Michael Wesch last year and one of the things that came up was Parker Palmer’s book.

Anyways, Chapter 1 is entitled “The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching”. Parker defines Identity as “an evolving nexus where all the forces that my life converge in the mystery of self…,” (pp 13). Basically, our identity is everything that makes us who we are. Integrity as Palmer puts it is, “whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as it’s vector form and re-form the pattern of my life,” (pp 14). Integrity then requires us to teach from a position within our true identities.

To illustrate his point, Palmer compares and contrasts two academics. The academics were friends growing up, children of craftspeople. Both identified themselves as such. However, one academic taught like a craftsman, but the other relied more on technique. What academic was successful? I don’t think that one is hard to figure out…

Though finding or re-finding our identities can be hard. We lose focus, we lose ourselves. The better half of Chapter 1 focuses on this point. One thing Palmer suggests is reflecting on our mentors — examining not so much about why he or she is our mentor, but what about ourselves allows that person to become a mentor to us (pp 22). A second suggestion from Palmer is to look at why we chose our fields of study. Or, as Palmer suggests, why did our fields choose us (pp 26)? There’s a reason we teach what we teach. Finding that reason can help us reconnect with our identities.

I think I’m just like everyone else, there have been times were I’ve started to lose focus. I don’t blame technique though. I’m an Instructional Designer and a fairly technical person — sometimes too technical according to my students — technique is a part of life. I think that’s a part of the reason I connect with my mentors. They valued, and required everything to be academically sound and proper, technically sound execution. That’s how I expect my students to preform. I’m also a troubleshooter. Part of the job is trying to figure it out. I expect my students to troubleshoot — which frustrates them. Ironically, that helps create the disorientating dilemma that’s required for transformational learning to take place, which I believe in.

I think a lot of my loss of focus comes from content. Don’t get me wrong. I like Instructional Design and I like studying at how people learn. I believe my technology skill set is above average. From what I’ve seen and read, people in Higher Ed seem to have one skill set or the other. I have both.

All that said, I’m an Adult and Higher Ed person, K-12 Ed is just not my thing. Sure, I dabble in it and follow it. After all, Ed Tech spans across both horizons, and I teach in a college that’s almost exclusively K-12 teacher prep or development. It just doesn’t interest me. (Which, on a side note, is making a doctoral program hard to find. I’ve been looking for an Ed Psych program that will allow me to concentrate in Higher Ed instead of K-12.) It’s hard not zoning out sometimes when the conversation takes a turn towards IEPs and NCLB.

Whether K-12 interests me or not, I have an obligation to my students to stay in the game and connect with them. An idea Palmer suggested to connect with your students was to reflect back to being a student. Ironically, that’s not hard for me since I was a grad student myself two months ago. Though that’s a post for another time, maybe…

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