Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach is an incredible book that gets at the heart of why we are teachers, and in so many ways, as we grasp this ideology, we will be challenged to evaluate the atmosphere of our classroom.
How ‘complete’ are you prepared to be in the classroom? Is there a part of you that you strive to hold back? There probably is but I challenge you to evaluate not only what you keep private but what do deliberately do not; what you use from your own experiences as an element of your personal pedagogy. I believe what Palmer says about teaching from a place of identity and integrity has a significant role to play in the choices we make regarding classroom discipline / atmosphere.
How do you see identity and atmosphere intersecting in your classroom?
After three decades of trying to learn my craft, every class comes down to this: my students and I, face to face, engaged in an ancient and exacting exchange called education. The techniques I have mastered do not disappear, but neither do they suffice. Face to face with my students, only one resource is at my immediate command: my identity, my selfhood, my sense of this “I” who teaches—without which I have no sense of the “Thou” who learns. Here is a secret hidden in plain sight: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. 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.
Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching—and, in the process, from their students.
Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a “capacity for connectedness.” They are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem-solving, creative chaos. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts meaning heart in its ancient sense, the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.
As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart – and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach 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 subjects can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.