The Courage to Teach
Parker L. Palmer
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998
183 pages ISBN: 0-7879-1058-9
Maureen Connolly,  Elmhurst College,IL
nown for parades and college football games, the first of January is
also known as a day to reflect. We ponder as to where we've been and
where we're going and the result is often a list of new resolutions.
For teachers, the book The Courage to Teach may be the guide for an early
reflection about one's self as a teacher.
Palmer states in his introduction that this book does not concentrate
on the what(subject), how(technique), or why(purpose) of teaching but
rather on the who. The who is the self that teaches. The concept is
allied with his premise that "good teaching comes from the identity and
integrity of the teacher."
In the first chapter Palmer takes the reader on a reflective walk to
identify that self, He asks the reader to recall mentors and subjects
that attracted one to teaching. Even more importantly, each teacher
should consider the teacher voice from within and the best sign of this,
according to the author, is gladness. In other words, if the work of
teaching results in gladness, then the work is an integral part of the
person. Working as a teacher is a true fit.
This true fit will result in good teaching but there are other forces
which exist. Palmer looks at fear and the "disconnected life" which tends
to distance teachers from students and subjects. He reviews paradoxes in
education. Of particular interest is his six point list of paradoxes
found in his personal design of teaching/learning space.
In the last three chapters, Palmer focuses on community. He describes
three traditional community models but offers the "community of truth" as
the most comprehensive form. This community places the the subject as
the center of the community and all people(students and teachers) become
knowers. His references to medical school education reinforce the belief
in the community of truth. >From this topic he moves to teaching
communities and suggests new ways for teaching evaluations.
The final chapter, about movements, is a shift in focus to educational
reform. Palmer identifies four developmental steps of a movement and
applies them to the educational scene. Here his goal seems to be to
counteract educational despair by showing that we are currently in a
movement for educational reform.
The Courage to Teach is reflective reading for all levels of teachers,
from the novice to the seasoned professional. Parker Palmer consistently
shares stories from his own teaching experiences to illustrate his points.
Occasionally, these stories become confessional but they all invite a look
into the heart of a passionate teacher. Moreover, his writing provides a
guide to discovery or rediscovery of who we teachers are. This reflection
is most appropriate for the new millennium.