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facing what is

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In Tuesday’s post I ruminated on my ideas of the ideal teaching-learning environment. Right afterwards I reached for a book that came out ten years ago, right at the end of my teaching career. When I first read Parker Palmer’s The courage to teach, I felt both exhilarated to find such an inspiring teacher-writer and disappointed that I’d discovered him too late. Fortunately his work–steeped deeply Quaker sensibilities–speaks so deeply about human relationships that it reaches well beyond the confines of classrooms and the teaching profession.

Palmer claims that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (p.10). “[B]ut I do not mean only our noble features,” he continues, “or the good deeds we do, or the brave faces we wear to conceal our confusions and complexities. Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strength and potentials” (p.13). Re-reading inner landscapethese lines tells me that those two–identity and integrity–are crucial touchstones to everything we do.

By identity, I mean … my genetic makeup, the nature of the man and woman who gave me life, the culture in which I was raised, people who have sustained me and people who have done me harm, the good and ill I have done to others and myself, the experience of love and suffering–and much, much more. …

Intregity…  requires that I discern what is integral to my selfhood, what fits and what does not–and that I choose life-giving ways to relate to the forces that converge within me: Do I welcome them or fear them? By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.

Lofty aims, yet what else is there. How else can I live authentically, how else can anyone live honestly, ethically, and compassionately? That’s the ‘problem’ with standards: once I set my sights on them I’m unable to lower them. Especially the last line quoted above brings me face to face with that insight: acknowledging the whole of who I am. A Zen teacher once accured me that “you’re not an improvement project” and another urged me to “welcome everything–push away nothing” along this path towards selfhood. My chest tightens and my breathing becomes more rapid as I write these words. What is it?

source: Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p.13. image: “Inner Landscape” at

One response »

  1. What is it?
    That is both an incredibly profound and ambitious question to answer.


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