“As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart – and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. 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 (kula) that learning, and living, require.”
-Parker J. Palmer
The initial thought in reading Palmer’s description of the “courage to teach,” is that I wish all teachers would engage students in a way that develops community and fosters connections between student and subjects. Too often in my experiences have I encountered teachers who perceive students as being items on an assembly line to be processed through a mechanized system of learning. I still have hope, however, because through the warpath that was my experience in the American education system (especially as a migrant), I have had the blessing of being taught by individuals who have truly shared pieces of their hearts with me.
If there was one strength of mine that transcends cultures, it was my artistic abilities. My parents always cultivated a passion for the arts and creative output, which in some ways seems to be more encouraged in the U.S. as opposed to in Korea. A teacher who could fuel me to approach projects through my artistic strengths, were the ones who saw and touched beyond my identity as a student. One teacher that comes to mind specifically, was my high school art teacher, Ms. Crist.
Ms. Crist was not necessarily a stereotypical “mother-figure” of a teacher, but through her passions in teaching art and the breadth of expressions, Ms. Crist showed that she truly cared about her students. Ms. Crist knew me from my introductory class taken as a freshman, to my senior year, at which point I was developing an art portfolio at the collegiate level. All throughout my time spent in her classes, Ms. Crist would probe past the surface-level of my abilities, tearing down the walls of procrastination, laziness, substance-less thoughts, which I would often hide behind. In her role as a teacher, Ms. Crist did not need to push beyond me simply completing my projects, but she critiqued, challenged, and craved me to strive for high expectations and high hopes…not for her, but for myself. Senior year when I came back to school after my father’s funeral in Korea, Ms. Crist looked at me and asked me if I was ok. I nodded and told her yes. “Good, then let’s get back to work.” Ms. Crist knew that I did not need a lengthy conversation on how I was processing my circumstances and that instead, I needed to begin channeling my emotions into art. Ms. Crist taught me how I can take my feelings and express them on canvas or clay, with powerful execution. In some ways, Ms. Crist showed me that in life, healing is a work-in-progress.
When I think about some of the students whom I met at Yaakoosge Daakahidi, I think about how important it was for the students to learn how to use education as a tool for processing life. At times the impact of the stories that my students shared with me felt unbearable, and I would often leave the school unable to focus on anything else but my shoelaces. In a week, a month, or a semester’s worth time, however, I would see the poems, the essays, the history projects, that students have used as a vessel for sharing their experiences, and my heart would become filled with joy and love. I think that for this upcoming year as a student teacher, I want to make sure that I do not lose the courage that Palmer describes, because when it comes down to it, I am not teaching for myself…I am teaching for my students, and my students deserve nothing less than the best of myself, and the strength that I may have for them.
One thought on “Parker Palmer Reflection”
This was a touching story- I was amazed at her response to your extremely difficult situation, that she knew exactly what you needed. I had a conversation recently about a perspective that, just as problematic as it is for a teacher to be cold, there is danger of some people in this position being (at the very worst) “emotional predators,” they feed off receiving vulnerable information and unsolicited coaching students through emotional situations. She clearly cared about you and gave you what you needed.