The Courage to Teach captures beautifully the struggles and joys of the teacher.


Parker Palmer is keen on focusing on the teacher and her/his role within the class. Palmer is a fantastic author. The eloquence with which he pens his most famous work The Courage to Teach strikes the reader with the immense beauty that is involved in educating our youth. He captures marvelously the feelings and thoughts of many teachers as they engage in their vocation. His verses are prosaic and captivating and they make reading him a joy. His book should not only be treated solely as a treatise on teaching and education but more broadly as a work of philosophy as he captures the existential struggles that teachers (and certainly non-teachers) are bound to go through as they negotiate their identity  in the presence of Others.

Palmer’s The Courage to Teach has almost become mandatory reading for many aspiring teachers and rightly so. Ashamedly, I haven’t read his work until recently, and so far, I’m still in the early stages of this opus. However, even the very first chapter struck me with the sincerity and the vulnerability of Palmer’s reflections on being a teacher. His words convey with depth the inner monologue that teachers undergo as they teach. The very language he uses – “gladness,” “heart,” “vulnerability,” “personal truth” – speaks to the very nature of how he sees teaching as a personal, inner desire that teachers must fulfill. We don’t enter the field for reasons of money or fame or remembrance but because not to teach for the true teacher is akin to not fulfilling that which makes us whole.

Instead of bastardizing his work in my own language, words that would do little in conveying the beauty of his writing, I’d much rather share direct quotes from his work. At a future date, after a more thorough read, I will provide a longer and more comprehensive exposé of his work. All quotes are from the first chapter and, as I’m sure you’ll see, there are gems strewn across these two dozen pages.

The techniques I have mastered do not disappear, but neither to 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…Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher p. 10

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 and will converge in the human self p. 11

We must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives p. 12

Identity is a moving interaction of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being human. p. 13

By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am. p. 13

If the work we do lacks integrity for us, then we, the work, and the people we do it with will suffer. p. 15

Teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability. I need not reveal personal secrets to feel naked in front of a class. p. 16

Teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life. p. 16

As we try to connect ourselves and our subjects with our students, we make ourselves, as well as our subjects, vulnerable to indifference, judgment, ridicule. p. 17

This “self-protective” split of personhood from practice is encouraged by an academic culture that distrusts personal truth p. 17

The power of our mentors is not necessarily in the models of good teaching they gave us…Their power is in their capacity to awaken a truth within us, a truth we can reclaim years later by recalling their impact on our lives p. 21

We no longer need to use technique to mask the subjective self, as the culture of professionalism encourages us to do. Now we can use technique to manifest more fully the gift of self from which our best teaching comes. p. 24

If I can remember the inner pluralism of my own soul and the slow pace of my own self-emergence, I will be better able to serve the pluralism among my students at the pace of their young lives. p. 24

We were drawn to a body of knowledge because it shed light on our identity as well as on the world. We did not merely find a subject – the subject also found us. p. 25

My previous post On Education had to do with George Counts and his thoughts around power and education. Based on his reading, I surmized that “What you teach and how you teach, and who determines these two, is entrenched in power.” To read more on this topic, click here.