I recently finished Park Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. It’s a powerful reflection born out of a lifetime seeking to understand the craft of teaching.
This isn’t a how-to manual filled with tips and tricks on how to teach effectively. Those hoping to plunder Parlmer’s decades of teaching experience for practical nuggets will find themselves disappointed. Instead, The Courage to Teach is offered as spiritual direction more than professional development. It’s a rich work that attempts to give voice to the nuanced, mysterious, complex dimensions of teaching that those who care about communicating ideas to others often struggle to articulate. It was a very satisfying and inspiring read. I highly recommend it to teachers of all stripes and expressions.
Here are the six quotes from The Courage to Teach that I found particularly powerful:
1. “This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The premise is simple, but its implications are not. It will take time to unfold what I do and do not mean by those words. But here is one way to put it: in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.”
2. “The behaviors generated by fear—silence, withdrawal, cynicism—often mimic those that come with ignorance, so it is not always easy for me to keep believing, when I look at some of my students, that anxiety rather than banality is what I am looking at. I need to keep renewing my insight into my students’ true condition in spite of misleading appearances.”
3. “The way we diagnose our students’ condition will determine the kind of remedy we offer.”
4. “If we embrace the promise of diversity, of creative conflict, and of “losing” in order to “win,” we still face one final fear—the fear that a live encounter with otherness will challenge or even compel us to change our lives. This is not paranoia: the world really is out to get us! Otherness, taken seriously, always invites transformation, calling us not only to new facts and theories and values but also to new ways of living our lives—and that is the most daunting threat of all.”
5. “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.”
6. “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.”