Heart of a Teacher

The following is a reflection by a teacher after reading “Heart of a Teacher” by Parker J. Palmer. Palmer’s essay is included at the end of this post.

Parker Palmer’s “The Heart of a Teacher” encourages teachers to know themselves and to project their inner selves to their students. Essential to that, is an awareness of their own shortcomings. I agree that teachers need not be an encyclopedia of knowledge responsible for transferring what they know to students using a model of instruction that does not come from the heart. Rather, they should immerse themselves in their instruction, revealing their passions, strengths and weaknesses. Students would find this to be a more appealing approach to teaching than teachers putting an aloof front in the name of professionalism. It is a more honest way of teaching, where students can accept their teacher as imperfect and as a learner just like them. Holding such a view, students are likely to take greater responsibility for their learning, view their teacher as a facilitator of learning, and be willing to take risks in the classroom.

Having done my primary and secondary schooling in India during the 80s and 90s, I have had little exposure to the teaching philosophy that Palmer describes. Unsurprisingly, I never really enjoyed my earlier years of education. Many of my teachers were intelligent and implemented a variety of teaching strategies, but were emotionally detached from us. As Palmer states, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”

I did not meet my favorite teacher until my undergraduate years. When I reflect on what is it that made her classes so enjoyable, I can pinpoint one major reason: her class discussions. She engaged us in the curriculum by encouraging us to infuse our own opinions and perspectives into what we were learning. Each class we were assigned a reading which was a springboard for discussion in the next class. During the discussion, she demonstrated a knack for prolonging and keeping us engaged by interjecting questions that tempted us to respond. The discussions were spirited, at times contentious, and often exceeded the planned time. In fact, she rarely covered her planned topics for the day. But she loved conversation and was intent on getting students to express their thinking. Her inclination to question everything was contagious; by the end of the course, I found myself being a more active critical thinker. She was certainly the teacher that Palmer describes.

Palmer’s discussion of an inward teacher is particularly relevant for 21st century educators. When teachers reveal their inner selves, they are teaching their students an important lesson: we should be proud of our uniqueness and share it with others. Students also learn to be accepting of the diversity that surrounds us. Reflecting on my own teaching, some of my most effective lessons occurred when I allowed my interests to drive my practice. For example, in one of my placements, I taught several lessons about early First Nations communities inNorth America. My own preference to learn experientially compelled me to search out and offer my students photos, videos, artifacts, and a guest speaker which the students responded well to and gave me positive feedback on.

Similarly, I must not hide my weaknesses, such as an unease with using technology. In fact, I should face it head on by utilizing it in the classroom. Sure, my students will see that it is a struggle for me. But I can involve them by seeking their assistance in setting up equipment and, in the process, I may be able to become more comfortable using various technologies, thereby overcoming a weakness.

Palmer’s “The Heart of a Teacher” makes a strong argument in favour of teaching with honesty and openness. This also means that I should not shy away from expressing the passions in my life because it could motivate students to pursue their own interests in life. This is an approach that I intend to practice.

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