Courage to Teach: We Teach Who We Are. So who are we? (Intro and Chapter 1) Question one: Intellectual

In the introduction to the book The Courage to Teach, Parker S. Palmer wrote,

“…the territory I want to explore in this book: the inner landscape of the teaching self. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—and none can be ignored. Reduce teaching to intellect, and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions, and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual, and loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on one another for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and I have tried to interweave them in this book as well.” (page 4)

“I have no question that students who learn, not professors who perform, is what teaching is all about: students who learn are the finest fruit of teachers who teach. No do I doubt that students learn in diverse and wondrous ways, including ways that bypass the teacher in the classroom and ways that require neither a classroom nor a teacher!”

“But I am also clear that in lecture halls, seminar rooms, field settings, labs, and even electronic classrooms—the places where most people receive most of their formal education—teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal—or keep them from learning much at all. 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.” (page 6)

“’Who is that self that teaches?’ is the question at the heart of this book—though answering that question in print has been more challenging than I imagined. In writing and rewriting this book many times over the last five years, I have learned how tempting it is to stay with the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ and ‘whys’: those questions are more easily answered in prose and translated into proposals for fundable programs!

But I have persisted with the ‘who’ question because it marks a seldom-taken trail in the question for educational reform, a trail toward the recovery of the inner resources that good teaching always requires. Real reform is so badly needed—and we have restructured education so often without reaching that distant dream—that we should be sending expeditionary parties down every trail we can find."

I have persisted for another reason closer to the bone: “Who is the self that teachers?’ is the question at the heart of my own vocation. I believe it is the most fundamental question we can ask about teaching and those that teach—for the sake of learning and those who learn. By addressing it openly and honestly, alone and together, we can serve our students more faithfully, enhance our own well-being, make common cause with colleagues, and help education bring more light and life to the world.” (page 7)





What I’m proposing as an experimental beginning to our book discussion is setting off three forums that invite personal sharing with the community about these paths.

This is the forum for Intellectual.

From Palmer: “By intellectual I mean the way we think about teaching and learning—the form and content of our concepts of how people know and learn, of the nature of our students and our subjects.”

Questions: What is your intellectual orientation to your teaching? What are you fascinated by, what area of learning is your focus in education, your love, your passion, your grand endeavor to illuminate? We can also refer to Palmer’s subtopic: Subjects that chose us.” (page 25) What subject area “chose you”?

Note: If you are not a teacher, you can substitute in the word "life" (or whatever you'd like) for "teaching" or "education".

Tags: Palmer, The+Courage+To+Teach

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In thinking about the question what subject chose me, I realize that it wasn't a subject that chose me but rather a type of student- the student in need of extra support. I've been teaching "at-risk" students for over 22 years and absolutely love it still. I love the challenge of finding a way of reaching kids and helping them see that they can use their strengths to be successful. I want them to be able to define themselves by what they can do, not what they can't do.
It's so great to hear of someone who loves their work with "at-risk" students. There are several others on Fireside who share your passion, drive, and talent in that area. I think we need to get regular forums going about special ed and at-risk students.
Your students are lucky the area of "students in need of special support" found you, "chose you." Your heart's in your work and I'm sure you're making a big difference. Share some of your discoveries with us! Thanks for your comment.
While reading this chapter, I was struck by a couple of things. First, Palmer's reference to the lawyer hit close to home as I left law after 18 years to teach precisely due to my feeling that what I did really didn't matter. I was doing well professionally and financially, however the objective in my field of practice was to make more money for people who already had more than they could ever spend in a lifetime. I was having difficulty being motivated, and saw a void I may be able to fill in education.

The second thought I had in mind as I read, was the applicability of his ideas and premise to all professions and possibly relationships in general. Having spent most of my professional years in another profession, I see most objectives obtained largely as a result of the conditions created. Those who have genuine concern, compassion, and belief in what they do in any field are best able to identify those settings and conditions, and will work the most to reach success. It is not just teaching. We are talking about relationships and objectives between people. The technique is never what wins cases-- its the heart.

I was also thinking about a conversation I had recently with an administrator about a teacher who will probably not get tenure because of his lack of ''technique'' acceptable to the district. He has won numerous awards and honors from parents and students resulting from amazing care and concern for kids, and initiating many new programs to help in many areas. He really cares in an amazing way. As a mentor of new teachers, I asked the same question- Isn't it more important to have teachers who love kids and are willing to do what is needed? Cant the techniques come over time? Don't we want people who really care and see this as a calling? No- they want the new bells and whistles. Very frustrating.

I came to teaching to help kids feel good about themselves, see their strengths and have confidence to go forward in their lives. I work with and enjoy the tough kids- those most of my colleagues are happy to see drop out. My goal is to help them find their voice and know they have what it take to be successful. My focus in education is really not my subject. When my students see their strengths and weaknesses, begin to work on solving problems and believe in themselves, the "objectives" I most care about have been achieved. And the big surprise in my class is, once we have those lessons mastered to some degree, they can learn history as well!
Sue,

I agree with everything Skip said. It's great to hear about your history and your beliefs. It's a delight to have you as a colleague.

I think your administrator should think very carefully about his decision. Being emotionally attuned to the children, and being creative--those may be the more difficult things to learn. The teacher has clearly got those going. What "techniques" does the administrator feel are missing?

I especially like these lines that you wrote: "I see most objectives obtained largely as a result of the conditions created. Those who have genuine concern, compassion, and belief in what they do in any field are best able to identify those settings and conditions, and will work the most to reach success."
Hi Everyone,
Remember this discussion, on Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach?
I just wanted to say that Krista Tippett will interview Parker Palmer on the next "Speaking of Faith" radio show, Sunday, July 26th. It's a repeat from December, 2008, but I bet it'll be interesting. Did anyone hear it? It's available by podcast as well, so you've got in "on-demand." I think I'll listen next Sunday morning because it'll be just me and the radio in a little dorm room in Cambridge.
I'm sorry that I missed (my error) the choice of book; however, I'd love to answer anyway! I assume by 'intellectual orientation' that you mean...how I determine how I'm going to get my message across to the audience (my students)...so that they get the message (?). I probably teach because of Howard Gardner. I knew that when the day came that I had a classroom, his Multiple Intelligence Theory would not only drive me, but be the focus of my teaching...no matter what subject I taught. I am fascinated by the inumerable ways in which we humans learn. I am intrigued by the comment concerning...subjects that chose us. Amazing. I teach early childhood education to 9th-12th graders. I have changed the course title to 'Foundations of Education' with the hopes of tempting our youth to the field of teaching. We have an on site preschool. The high school students develop a bond with these little ones and eventually realize just how different each one is from the other...someday, they will understand just how different we all are from each other. Teaching one way is archaic and ineffective.

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