The Courage To Teach by Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, 1998. Print.

Hello everyone! My name is Molly and I am the Graduate Research Assistant for Library Instruction Services. As a GRA I aid the librarians in LIS with co-teaching courses designed to enhance information literacy skills or introduce research tools such as Zotero, edit instructional content, assist in library outreach events, and speak with students who have questions. Also, I will now be a contributor to our Instruction blog!

As someone who is new to teaching in the library (well, actually, in any setting), I found a number of articles and books that were on my GRA to-read list very helpful in overcoming my beginner’s anxiety. Though I have experience in presenting and public speaking, I knew that teaching was going to be different. It’s one thing to stand up in front of an audience and speak about a subject or a project that’s exciting to you, but another thing entirely to actually try to engage a group of human beings (any age) in the learning process.

One book, however, stood out as being particularly helpful to curb this fear. That would be Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. True to its title, this book discusses how to rediscover or find the passion that you have within you and how to use that passion to get students to focus their attention on your subject.

Palmer writes about how there is a high volume of fear in academia and in education at large: fear of covering controversial topics in the classroom, fear of setting standards too high or too low, fear of not having a traditionally structured classroom, and even the fears that students themselves bring to the classroom. About this, Palmer states “the roots of education are sunk deep in fearful ground. The ground I have in mind is one we rarely name: it is our dominant mode of knowing, a mode promoted with such arrogance that it is hard to see the fear behind it—until one remembers that arrogance often masks fear” (50). This arrogance comes from the desire to have control—to manipulate and change what we can in the objective world. However, it is only through giving up this control, working through this arrogance and fear, that a teacher can “enter a partnership with the otherness of the world” (Palmer 56) and therefore have a true connection with students and the subject they are teaching.

Palmer spends quite some time on the dangers of privileging objectivism over subjectivism and how it has done damage to the teaching profession. He also discusses using the classroom as a learning community and the structure of a possible reformation in the institution of education. Palmer expresses several times throughout the text that this reformation must come primarily from the teachers themselves: by choosing to move past the fears that inhibit us and students and to honor the inner world that informs our teaching style as well as the original passion we had for our subject.

For anyone interested in a great overview of the philosophy behind teaching and learning, as well as a fearless discussion of that inner world which our conventional or institutional view of objectivism has often overlooked or even disparaged, but which is essential for a teacher to examine, I wholeheartedly recommend The Courage to Teach.

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