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The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  2,296 Ratings  ·  248 Reviews
"This book is for teachers who have good days and bad -- and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts, because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life."
- Parker J. Palmer [from the Introduction] Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care dee
Hardcover, 199 pages
Published December 5th 1997 by Jossey-Bass (first published November 21st 1997)
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Jun 03, 2009 Cappy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
This book teaches teachers how to teach like the teachers they already are.

"The personal can never be divorced from the professional. 'We teach who we are' in times of darkness as well as light." (pg. xi)

Consider a teacher's "heart-deep commitment that keeps them coming back to the classroom - their commitment to the well-being of our children." (pg. xii)

"But at other moments, the classroom is so lifeless or painful or confused - and I am powerless to do anythign about it - that my claim to be a
Jul 28, 2007 Laurel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Teachers and people close to them
The one complaint I have, even though this is a book I keep near me all school year, is that it's a little bit too "self-helpy/new-agey/mystical". But, that aside, it's helped me to be a more confidant teacher. Palmer talks about how teaching is a profession where you HAVE to be yourself or you won't have integrity. It's about letting who you are as a person inform your instruction. Once you've lost the ability to do that, it's impossible to do your job well. Full of anecdotes from Palmer's own ...more
Kendel Christensen
May 12, 2012 Kendel Christensen rated it it was ok
I think the genius of this book was just lost on me. I really resonated with the beginning that talked about the "teacher within" and the "unique subjectivity" that each person can bring to the profession. I certainly feel like I have a unique perspective, and that my viewpoints and even personality makes my classroom unique (If I was given the freedom to unleash my style freely).

But the core of the book, I just didn't have the mental patience at this time in my life to take the time to fully pr
Oct 18, 2010 Charlie rated it really liked it
What I look for when reading a book about teaching is twofold; that it gives me ideas that I want to apply to my classroom, and it confirms the direction I have chosen in my life as teacher. The Courage to Teach supplied both.

Palmer clarified why we teach and linked that to why we learn. A good read for anyone who is a teacher or is thinking about becoming a teacher.
John Martindale
I thought this an excellent book. Palmer mentioned how he wrote and rewrote the manuscript again and again, and it shows in a good way--it was very well written. I loved the thoughtful way he worded things and the poetic nature of some of his pros.

Palmer emphasized the importance of the inner life of teacher, and how this is just as (and maybe even more) important than technique. Among Palmer's students who shared about their favorite teachers; there were those interactive types who encouraged
I got to meet Parker Palmer at a conference. He wasn't a very dynamic keynote speaker, but what an inspiration. I reread this book when I'm feeling overwhelmed by my job. This one sustains me.

So -- I just reread it for a project...some things feel dated to me, and impossibly idealistic, but then that is exactly what I love about Palmer and his book. He reminds me WHY I teach (taught) -- to be an authentic human. I am authentic when I am with students. I am real.

I was intrigued by his challenge t
Dec 16, 2008 Britt rated it really liked it
Palmer is a little bit gushy about the great ineffable glory and torment of being a teacher, and I found myself skimming vast swaths of the book. However, I did find several important points to that I am trying to integrate into my thinking about teaching.

One is a frank acknowledgment that teaching is scary, that we can be so desperate to be liked by our students and to get them to learn that we can lose track of our own identities. We should not become over-invested in technique. Not every tec

Jul 06, 2010 Marcy rated it liked it
I agree with a lot of what Parker Palmer has written in this book. Teaching is not a magic wand; One can't just quickly conjure up a lesson without thinking of oneself, the subject, and the students' needs in the class. The book was extremely difficult for me to read. "We must find an approach to teaching that respects the diversity of teachers and subjects, which methodological reductionism fails to do." I had to reread and reread to figure out Palmer's meaning. Much of the book was written wit ...more
May 24, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book resonated in my heart more than nearly any book I have ever read, but with a caveat. While the themes Palmer discussed resonated with my heart, I didn't always find the specific example or the writing to be on par with the "truths" explored. The key truths for me were: Teach out of identity and core not technique. Fear and alienation are the enemies of effective teaching. Greater truths are often paradoxes. Trying to resolve paradoxes too quickly short-circuits learning. The tension fr ...more
Apr 02, 2011 di rated it it was amazing
Palmer writes eloquently & honestly about the challenges of teaching, especially why the current debate will not lead to any meaningful change. While some readers may dislike the reflection & introspection that makes up this book (Palmer disdains "technique talk" or "quick fixes"), this book really helped me sort out my anxiety & baggage from my own imperfect & difficult seven years in the classroom. It helped me see where I "lost heart," & better, how I can gain it back agai ...more
Heather Morgan
Jul 19, 2014 Heather Morgan rated it really liked it
Occasionally Parker J. Palmer can be wordy, and his concepts delivered in a cumbersome prose. Most often, though, his crystalline insights on teaching from a whole heart describe both the research and practice of sound pedagogy. Two concepts are particularly salient and lifegiving: education that does no violence to the teacher or the learner, and teaching from authenticity and integrity rather than fraudulence and fear. His storytelling and Quaker variety of discernment make it an engaging read ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Gina rated it really liked it
The most interesting thing about this book is that it is actually motivating and affecting. It seems like it should be full of cliches and fluff, but somehow it is the real deal. You must be authentic yourself to be a great teacher. You put a Great Thing at the center of your class - math, law, whatever - and let that Great Thing shape the dynamics. It sounds like it would be fluffy, but I was constantly thinking of ways I could improve in my classroom, or back to dynamics between my students an ...more
Decided to re-read this wonderful book by Parker Palmer. Since my main spiritual gift is teaching, and teaching will play a role in my future ministry career, I wanted to refresh myself on the incredible insight that Palmer has about the internal aspects of teaching. One of my favorite quotes from this book is on page 1: "I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway ...more
Katy Resop Benway
May 01, 2016 Katy Resop Benway rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
I would've given Palmer a perfect 5 if not for the last 8 pages, although I want to attribute his enthusiasm for institutions to the fact that he wrote The Courage to Teach in the 90s. I'd also love to hear what he has to say about the corporate world's influence on academia today. Something tells me he'd be much more critical at what's become of our post-secondary system. I hope.

The same mystical tone Palmer uses that turns some readers away is what drew me in. Teaching for me is a type of spir
I just completed rereading this book in order to give my current review as a response to the material. I was swept up in the author's ability to create a poetic essence that can be a foundation for practical ideas. This style kept me fascinated and eager to reread the book.

It seemed there was a "conversation" in reading this book which enabled me as a teacher/student to grow and expand my own inner core as Palmer encouraged me to dare to move into a dance with other teachers and learners, instit
Apr 15, 2010 Ben rated it really liked it
The whole idea of learning in community is new to me, but something I’ve been introduced to before reading this book. Our church, Life on the Vine, is a very community oriented church that has opened my eyes to that idea. I was, therefore, open to the ideas of the 2nd part of Palmer’s book which focused on learning in community. Our American culture places so much value on individualism that we limit ourselves incredibly.

I also found myself in agreement with the ideas he present
Jun 08, 2008 Mike rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
I have read and re-read this wonderful volume--both on my own and in conjunction with educator colleagues from several schools. I have highlighted and re-highlighted many passages. This book really bears re-reading well. To me, that attests to its lasting value.

One of my favorite excerpts, for instance, is this one (which falls on pp. 107 - 108 of Courage to Teach):
"When we are at our best, it is because the grace of great things has evoked from us the virtues that give educational community its
Mar 05, 2012 Jennifer rated it did not like it
So I opted to take an online professional development class in which this book was the text. I really wanted to like the book and author because he is a fellow cheesehead. The first chapter was okay as it dealt with the ideas of what makes a great teacher, how your topic found you, passion, etc. Chapter 2 dealt with fears: fears we had as students (fear of failing or looking stupid in front of our classmates); fears we have as instructors (fear of looking stupid in front of the class or not bein ...more
Megan Knippenberg
Apr 11, 2013 Megan Knippenberg rated it liked it
Even though this is a book geared toward those in higher ed, I still found sections applicable to the elementary teacher.

Some of my favorite thoughts:

"We teach who we are." ~p.2
"Teaching holds a mirror to the soul." ~p.3
"Good teaching requires self-knowledge." ~p.3
"Technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives." ~p.6
"The more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be." ~p.11
It is essential to teach from an "undivided self." "In the undivided self, every major thread o
Oct 25, 2014 Kiwi rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
This book was useful to me in validating my philosophy on teaching and on providing thoughtful stories/strategies (rather than techniques). It was less useful in its new-agey, hippy-dippy, self-helpey take on things; I tended to gloss over those despite being a spiritual person myself (and one who even reads self-help books on occasion).

Loved the focus on identity and integrity as the major requirements for teaching. Also the differentiation between a student interacting with a subject through a
Rose Peterson
Apr 21, 2016 Rose Peterson rated it liked it
I was cautiously optimistic about this book, underlining quite a few quotes in the first chapter and trying to talk myself into accepting the new-age-y stance Parker took. However, as the book continued on, I grew frustrated with the lack of substance behind the gauzy words Parker uses, and I found myself increasingly skeptical of his pedagogical underpinnings. While I'll take away a few good quotes, perhaps this book's main purpose for me was to hone my refutation skills.
Jun 16, 2014 Carrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I finished the last page of this book and said, "Thank God! I've finished!" And that accomplishment came only from sheer determination and force of will. What a disappointment! I started this book mid-January when I was starting to get the mid-year, I-just-can't-do-this-anymore blues. "The Courage to Teach" - it sounded uplifting, encouraging, renewing... just what I needed at the school year's half-way point. Instead, what I got was a bunch of philosophical ramblings. Ok... that's a little hars ...more
May 02, 2009 Sue rated it it was amazing
Parker Palmer is one of my favorite authors and people. I had the privilege of first meeting him in Wisconsin when I invited him to speak to the graduate learning community I was teaching. He spoke to the group, then traveled to a small book store, Buffalo Books, in Montello, Wisconsin to do a book signing for us.

My next meeting with him was a few years later at a "Courage to Teach" workshop in Kalamazoo, MI. I will never forget his image and advice of helping and supporting others. He describe
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it it was amazing
In many ways, it is itself an act of courage to read this book. Mr. Palmer has taken the rare, difficult task of probing to the heart of the learning experience and seeks to reveal its essence for any teacher willing to explore with him. In this task--like a good teacher--he asks more questions than he answers and he is concerned in discovering the process and the means of learning and teaching.

For me, what lingers after finishing the short book are two key concepts his identifies: identity and
Dec 06, 2014 Phil rated it really liked it
Shelves: teaching
This is a re-read from my early days at teaching. I admit that, back then, I didn't take much in and wound up feeling more anxious than I started. On my second reading, ten years into my career, I took in more and only felt slight anxious. Progress, I think.

What Palmer is really good at is reflecting on the spirituality of teaching, particularly on reflecting on the impact of fear on teaching. That sounds funny, of course, because most people see teachers as authority figures and they are, but
Pashew Majeed
Sep 01, 2014 Pashew Majeed rated it really liked it
The Courage to Teach
Parker J. Palmer

Review and Reflection by Pashew Majeed

Reading any book, I usually take notes. During reading this book, somewhere on my notebook I wrote. Read page 19 over and over again. That was in the outcome of the unique thought and reflection of the writer who fascinated me within in a way that I was obliged by the thought to read it again and again, not because it wasn’t understandable but rather because of its excellent, unique and wel
Sep 01, 2014 Patrik rated it really liked it
This book is challenging. It challenges us to carefully reflect on who we are as teachers; why we teach; how we teach. His writing is challenging to me as it is full of long philosophical reflections, quotes from poems, and spirituality. Thankfully he offers many examples, which brings the discussion down to a more interesting and applicable level. I like these pages the best.

Parker Palmer takes us on his journey towards a teaching and learning philosophy; his ultimate goal is to start a moveme
Scott Wozniak
Sep 17, 2014 Scott Wozniak rated it really liked it
Parker Palmer discussed the inner aspects, the mindset and character qualities, required to be a great teacher.

This is a profound book, carefully written and humbly presented. It is geared directly for college professors--that's what he does--but is easily applied to teachers in other settings, from kindergarten to corporate trainers.

Perhaps his core idea, from which all the other ideas branch off, is that you are the message. Not only is it better to teach explicitly from your life, it's impo
Susan Siow
Oct 03, 2015 Susan Siow rated it it was ok
This book fell short of my expectations, mainly because I had a lot of trouble connecting with the author's prose.
Vivien Naomi Lee
Palmer is amazing. It took me some time to get used to his language, which can be quite technical, and sometimes makes me feel as if I am reading a scientific paper. But once I got used to it, Palmer's intelligence and wit and passion really shone through every single sentence and paragraph and story. I LOVED THE BOOK precisely because it was so insightful and so real and so relevant to all those who love teaching and have tried teaching before. If you say you enjoy teaching but are somehow conf ...more
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Parker J. Palmer (Madison, WI) is a writer, teacher and activist whose work speaks deeply to people in many walks of life. Author of eight books--including the bestsellers Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness--his writing has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates and many national awards, including the 2010 William Rainey Harper Award (previously won by Margaret Mea ...more
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“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” 90 likes
“I want to learn how to hold the paradoxical poles of my identity together, to embrace the profoundly opposite truths that my sense of self is deeply dependent on others dancing with me and that I still have a sense of self when no one wants to dance.” 41 likes
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