The Courage To Teach

Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life

Parker J. Palmer

Introduction – Teaching from Within. 1

We Teach Who We Are. 1

Landscapes Inner and Outer1

A Seldom-Taken Trail1

Chapter I The Heart of a Teacher – Identity and Integrity in Teaching. 2

Teaching Beyond Technique. 2

Teaching and True Self2

When Teachers Loose Heart2

Mentors Who Evoked Us. 2

Subjects That Choose Us. 2

The Teacher Within. 2

Chapter II A Culture of Fear – Education and the Disconnected Life. 2

An Anatomy of Fear2

The Student from Hell3

The Teacher’s Fearful Heart3

Our Fearful Way of Knowing. 4

Be Not Afraid. 4

Chapter III The Hidden Wholeness – Paradox in Teaching and Learning. 4

Thinking the World Together4

Introduction – Teaching from Within

We Teach Who We Are

p1    For teachers who love learners, learning, and the teaching life.

p2    Teaching requires a command of content that always eludes our grasp, in spite of reading and research.

p2    Teaching holds a mirror to the soul.

Landscapes Inner and Outer

p3    How can the teacher’s selfhood become a legitimate topic in education?

p4    Progression of questions to ask about good teaching: what, how, why, who.  The “who” question is seldom asked.

p4    Three paths to chart the landscape – intellectual, emotional, spiritual

p5    The more familiar we are with out inner terrain, the more surefooted our teaching – and living – becomes.

p5    Technique is what teachers use until the real teachers arrive.

A Seldom-Taken Trail

p6    Teaching is the intentional act of creating conditions that help students learn.

Chapter I The Heart of a Teacher – Identity and Integrity in Teaching

Teaching Beyond Technique

p10  Good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity infuses their work.

p11  Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching.  Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.

p11  Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness.  They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects and their students.

p11  The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open…

p12  If identity and integrity are more fundamental to good teaching than technique, we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives – risky stuff.

Teaching and True Self

p13  Identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am.

p13  I choose life-giving ways of relating to forces that converge within me.

p13  It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.

p13  Identity lines in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death.

p14  Story of Alan and Eric.

p15  Alan taught from an undivided self.

p16  If the work we do lacks integrity for use, then we, the work, and the people we do it with will suffer.

When Teachers Loose Heart

p17  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.

p18  There is an academic bias against subjectivity – “It is believed…” instead of “I believe…”

p20  The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart…

p20  Pain of dismemberment – the pain of people who thought they were joining a community of scholars but find themselves in distant, competitive, and uncaring relationships with colleagues and students.

Mentors Who Evoked Us

p21  Mentoring is a mutuality

p22  There is a sense that thinking and reading and writing are not real work.

p22  The life of the mind is the mainstay of this vocation.

p23  Mutual illumination from being willing to explore our inner dynamics with each other.

p24  The key to my mentor’s power was the coherence between his method and himself.

p24  the proper and powerful role of technique: as we learn more about who we are, we can learn techniques that reveal rather than conceal the personhood from which good teaching comes.

Subjects That Choose Us

The Teacher Within

Chapter II A Culture of Fear – Education and the Disconnected Life

An Anatomy of Fear

p36  We are distanced by a grading system that separates teachers from students, by departments that fragment fields of knowledge, by competition that makes students and teachers alike wary of their peers, and by a bureaucracy that puts faculty and administration at odds.

p36  Teacher’s fear – asking a question is met by a stony silence, lost control, irrational conflict, students get lost.

p37  Students are afraid also

p37  What is the fear?  Fear of losing job or image or status.

p37  We collaborate with the structures of separation because they promise to protect us against one of the deepest fears of the human heart – the fear of having a live encounter with alien “otherness”.  We fear encounters in which the other is free to be itself.

Oh come on!  This is not real!

p38  Sequence of fears:

·      fear of diversity – as soon as we admit pluralism, we are forced to admit that ours is not the only viewpoint.

·      fear of conflict

·      fear of losing identity

        So, embrace the promise of diversity, of conflict, and of “losing” in order to “win”, but then face another 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… the most daunting threat of all.

p39  Fear is a cultural trait.  We practice it in politics, in business, in religion.

p39  Remember that fear can be healthy.

p39  The fear that makes people “porous” to real learning is a healthy fear that enhances education, and we must find ways to encourage it.  But first we must deal with the fear that makes us not porous but impervious, that shuts down our capacity for connectedness an destroys our ability to teach and learn.

The Student from Hell

p42  Our assumption that students are brain-dead leads to pedagogies that deaden their brains.

p44  The student from hell helped me understand that the silent and seemingly sullen students in our classrooms are not brain-dead: they are full of fear.

p45  Students are marginalized people in our  society.

p45  Implicitly and explicitly, young people are told that they have no experience worth having, no voice worth speaking, no future of any note, no significant role to play.

p46  The behaviors generated by fear – silence, withdrawal, cynicism – often mimic those that come with ignorance.

p46  What does it mean to listen to a voice before it is spoken?  It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other, honoring the other.  It means not rushing to fill our students’ silences with fearful speech of our own and not trying to coerce them into saying things that we want to hear.

The Teacher’s Fearful Heart

p47  A variety of fears: having our work go unappreciated, being inadequately rewarded, finding we chose the wrong profession.  Another fear we rarely name: our fear of the judgment of the young.

p48  The young seem to signal, in ways crude and subtle, “You’re history.  Whatever you value, we don’t.”  These are usually signals of fear, not disdain.

p48  Erik Erikson, reflecting on adult development, says that in mid-life we face a choice between “stagnation” and “generativity”.

p48  faculty in midcareer don the armor of cynicism – an intense cynicism.

p49  creativity + generations = “generativity in the service of the young”

p49  the need to be popular with the young

p50  good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young.

Our Fearful Way of Knowing

Be Not Afraid

Chapter III The Hidden Wholeness – Paradox in Teaching and Learning

Thinking the World Together

p61  The culture of disconnection is driven partly by fear, but also by our Western commitment to thinking in polarities.

p61  Chapters I & II try to correct several imbalances:


to correct


overemphasis on technique

teacher’s identity and integrity

obsession with objective knowledge

subjective engagement

excessive regard for intellect

power of emotions to freeze/free the mind


p62  With an analytical lens, we fragment the world into an endless series of either-or.  In a phrase, we think the world apart.

p62  Niels Bohr: “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.”

p63  The paradox: truth can be found not by splitting the world into either-ors but by embracing it as both-and.

p63  A list of paradoxes in teaching.

p64  Want a richer, more paradoxical model of teaching and learning than binary thought allows.

p64  We get into trouble when we enter adulthood with partitions between thinking and feeling, personal and professional, shadow and light.