Reflection on The Courage to Teach

This was a splendid and inspirational article.  It jives very well with my personal interpretations of Taoist philosophy, particularly in its emphasis on the value of integrity as an intersection of authentic, realized relationships.  This point is particularly salient in bringing together the ideals of courage born of compassion and vulnerability with techniques that thereby “reveal rather than conceal” our character as instructors.

What captured my attention most was the section on mentoring.  It got me to thinking about my own mentors and how they (as the reading says) appeared at crucial times in my life and changed my personal and professional trajectories in ways I could not have imagined at the time.  I spent some time remembering my first mentor, a third grade English teacher Claudia Isaacs.  I was shy and easily embarrassed then, and when we had to give our book reports in class I remember being petrified.  I was also sure that the other kids would see my terror and make fun of me.  But I got through it, and afterward she complimented me.  Again, after class she called me to her desk to discuss my reading choices (I had given a report on The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis) and she encouraged me, saying I had a gift for writing.  No one had ever told me so before, but she seemed so wise and spoke sincerely to me, and then gave me an “extra credit” assignment to write about another book I loved.  Rather than seeing the extra work as a punishment or a burden, suddenly it became an opportunity as well as a compliment.  I do not remember much of the content that was covered in that class (well, hopefully I remember the content but I don’t recall the occasion of it being taught).  But her kindness and enthusiasm became a part of me that day, and I probably did pay closer attention in all my classes because of it.  I have been blessed with several other great mentors since that time, some of whom dazzle me with their intellect, others who impressed me with their sheer delight in teaching and learning.  It is humbling and fills me with a deep sense of respect and responsibility in my interactions with others as I try to learn the techniques of teaching.  It reminds me of another old Taoist analogy:  That a voice coach can teach all the exercises to overcome impediments and imbue the voice with discipline, but in the end each singer has to sing his or her own song.

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