Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching as a Spiritual Practice

"To educate is to guide students on an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world," writes Parker J. Palmer in The Courage to Teach. He defines spirituality as "the diverse ways to answer the heart's longing to be connected with the largeness of life." We have been inspired by these definitions of education and spirituality to create a "map" to some of the resources on this website about teaching as a spiritual practice. Reading about teaching as a vocation and watching movies about some idealistic teachers, we find ourselves contemplating how teachers live out these spiritual practices.

Connections: Teachers encourage us to cultivate the art of making connections.

Enthusiasm: Many of them are energized: they do not hold anything back.

Hospitality: they welcome alien and different thoughts and ideas.

Imagination: Teachers spur us on to express ourselves and to be creative.

Listening: They make it clear that all things in the world want to be heard.

Meaning: They are meaning-makers par excellence.

Nurturing: They help us learn how to take better care of ourselves and others.

Openness: Teachers model empathy and a love of diversity and pluralism.

Questing: They savor questions and the thrill of the journey.

Transformation: They are catalysts of change and seekers of wholeness.

Unity: They want us to see the commonalities that tie us to others and to respect differences as well.

Wonder: They hope that we will become more curious.

You: They want us to become all we were meant to be.


The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer, one of the Living Spiritual Teachers profiled on this website, has taught for more than 30 years and is a senior adviser to the Fetzer Institute. He is the founder of the Courage to Teach Project for k-12 teachers nationwide. His book on the subject is an exhilarating and illuminating read designed to help teachers emphasize identity and integrity over technique, honor the sanctity of students and their yearning for knowledge, and realize afresh the community of truth and "grace of great things."

Palmer tackles some of the major challenges facing educators who have lost heart. He suggests ways to reclaim selfhood, overcome fear, and deal with paradox. He believes that teachers must jettison the armor of self-protective professional autonomy and cherish the conversation of colleagues. The Courage to Teach brims over with spiritual insights into the mystery and the magnificence of knowing, teaching, and learning. Here are a few gems from the text:

• "Teachers must be better compensated, freed from bureaucratic harassment, given a role in academic governance, and provided with the best possible methods and materials. But none of that will transform education if we fail to cherish-and challenge-the human heart that is the source of good teaching."

• "The courage to teach is the courage to keep one's heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living requires."

• "Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching's great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn."

• "If we embrace the promise of diversity, of creative conflict, and of 'losing' in order to 'win,' we still face one final 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 is really out to get us. Otherness, taken seriously, always invites transformation, calling us not only to new facts and values but also to new ways of living our lives-and that is the most daunting threat of all."

• "Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest."

• "To become a better teacher, I must nurture a sense of self that both does and does not depend on the responses of others-and that is a true paradox. To learn that lesson well, I must take a solitary journey into my own nature and seek the help of others in seeing myself as I am-another of the many paradoxes that abound on the inner terrain."

From Spirituality and Practice