“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. ” – Parker Palmer
It’s January and as we welcome 2017, I’m sure many of us have been thinking about our resolutions for the new year – how to start, how to let go, and how to move on. I stumbled upon the writings of Parker Palmer in an article and he talked about the Courage to Teach. After reading, I was moved to pause and reflect about myself, who I truly am, and how that can never be separated from who I am as a teacher.
I guess two things we need to ask ourselves are – Who are you? What do you want to do? A writer once said that to create strong characters in a novel, you must be able to answer those questions about his or her identity. The identity must be established enough that you, the reader, should be able to predict what he or she will do in a particular situation.
I think it’s the same with teachers and students. Parker Palmer perfectly captures that when he says:
“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.”
So, my dear teacher, who are you and what do you want to do?
“Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials. 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.”
From a student dozing off in class to dropping out of school completely – we often ask ourselves what we did wrong. With the countless hours that you’ve invested on your students, whether in school or outside of it, you can’t help asking – what else could have I done?
Palmer reminds us that teaching is a call to love and serve. But when we love, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and hurt.
“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… We lose heart, in part, because teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability.”
With the hundreds of students that you’ve loved, at least a handful of them have broken your heart. You can love all of them but you can’t “save” all of them. Part of you will just have to let go and hope that on a really bad day, your student will remember that time you patted him or her on the back and said, “I believe in you.”
But all hope isn’t lost, because on some days your students are the ones who surprise you and remind you that you haven’t really been doing such a terrible job after all. 🙂
It’s a new year, time to step back, reflect, and soldier on. Hello, 2017!