A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings November 15, 2021

A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, and I have given away several copies over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been in education for over fifty years, and I have been back in direct teaching for twenty years plus and have watched teachers burn out and another fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting them all into what they do, and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there, to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting like gangbusters succumb to teaching blues and boredom due to standardization and forced curriculum. They come in full of zeal and are borrowing premade transparencies from their next-door neighbor within a semester because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happen to be teaching. If you genuinely want to connect with your students, you open your heart, as palmer indicates, which is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a particular person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer, in his writing, discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect on John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and, more critically, a necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

In my journeys in life, I use a word whose connotation is plural discussing my journeys since I have been in several directions before where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude, which is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead, and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred, and some will scoff how you can say it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching, and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

In the years that I have been back in teaching, it has been about respect and trust. I have gone about this through building relationships with students; in my own opinion, that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books; it is relationships. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience in any way this knowledge. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for a human development course I was taking. It follows a similar concept that I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. I was thinking about a new week ahead, a few days left this week, and the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I hope each of you can take a moment to reflect, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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