My knowledge of schools around Oʻahu island continues to grow as I Google Map my way to my education students so that I can watch their 15-60 minute “mini lessons” with their students. I am continually amazed at what passion and a desire to be with children can do for all of us. I hope that passion and amazement stays with my students for the rest of their careers.
Parker Palmer (1997) in his piece “The Heart of Teaching” talks about how we can lose heart when teaching. He says, “teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life” (p.6). To reduce or alleviate that vulnerability, then, we disengage from our students, from our subject area, and even from ourselves. What is his solution for finding our way back to ourselves and finding our way back to the heart of teaching?
In some ways it is about the ability to stop searching for the one answer. As teachers, we often think the one answer is the foolproof technique, the amazing lesson plan, the awesome unit plan, the Pinterest idea that will turn our teaching around. Palmer says no, it is again about finding yourself and understanding that you have all the answers. So it is not about finding the “proper 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. We no longer need to use technique to mask the subjective self, as the culture of professionalism encourages us to do. Now we can use technique to manifest more fully the gift of self from which our best teaching comes (p. 11).
At $700 for a weekend retreat with Parker Palmer, this perspective seems like a lot of fantasy and smoke to me. Seriously, find your inner teacher? But his message is an old one, connecting to my own understandings of Indigenous epistemology and Hawaiian ways of knowing. Palmer (p. 16) looks at two truths as argument for his perspective.
- What we teach will never stick unless it connects with the inward, living core of studentsʻ lives, with our studentsʻ inward teachers.
- We can speak to the teacher within our students only when we are on speaking terms with the teacher within ourselves.
These truths connect to the Hawaiian concept of aʻo aku aʻo mai. It is the acknowledgement that teaching and learning are done by all, and that within the process of teaching, both the kumu and nā haumāna share the kuleana of teaching and learning. Aʻo is to teach, advise, counsel, coach. Aku and mai are directional markers with aku being away from the speaker and mai being towards the speaker. Like Paulo Friereʻs (2008) argument against the banking concept in education, aʻo aku aʻo mai reveals a two-directional give and take of conscious beings: the teacher and the students as the student and the teachers. In this approach the roles of students and teachers become less structured, and both engage in acts of dialogic enrichment to effectively hoʻonaʻauao (educate).
So seriously, what is the “technique” for finding our way back to the heart of our own inner teacher? Palmer does not offer a technique. Dialogue with yourself. Find a place that allows you to be a reflective being. Have meaningful conversations with others (save money to go to his yearly retreats).
For my students, I hope they will reflect back to the eager teachers that they are right now in this moment. When the act of teaching full time starts to get overwhelming and they feel like they are losing the authority to create because of time, demands, initiatives, I hope that they remember this time of their life when they had more breathing room to be creative, conscious, reflective beings who had a whole semester to pour their passion into one 30 minute lesson. In every lesson that I have seen so far, I realize that the mentor teachers and I laughed – not out of meanness or ridicule, but because for veteran teachers who are seeing this process, it brings us back to the joy of flying. There is a joy that comes after all the worry; it is the joy of standing in front of the students with all of the work of planning behind. I call this the joy of just jumping off the ledge. It is an adrenaline rush because no matter how much we over plan, when our plan interacts with the conscious beings that are our students, only the inner map of our own fortitude, what Parker calls the heart of a teacher, will guide us.
Watching my students teach is like watching my kids on a roller coaster from the ground. Itʻs that kind of pure joy and so we laugh and sometimes remember our own first solo jumps. Being in the process keeps my teacher identity grounded. What helps you?
Freire, Paulo. “The “Banking” Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. 8th ed. Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. 242-254. Print.
Parker, P. (1997). The heart of a teacher: Identity and integrity in teaching. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 29(6), 14-21.