The Courage to Teach

Rereading “The Courage to Teach” was really helpful. It is always helpful to remember that there are others, even well-established and experienced professionals, who struggle with the insecurities that arise during teaching. The fear that arises during teaching seems insurmountable–what if the students openly rebelled, and left all at once? What if they don’t even respond when you ask them a simple question? These sorts of fears lead teachers to lecture, to avoid those risky moments. They certainly lead me to avoid taking chances in the classroom. 

To supplement this reading I chose an article entitled “Good Teaching” by Parker Palmer. Though published in 1990, the themes in this article are still pertinent. In fact, the last section of the article is titled “The Courage to Teach,” and includes this incredibly insightful passage: “Fear is a driving force behind objectivism, that mode of knowing that tries to distance us from life’s awesome energies and put us in control. Fear is a driving force behind the kind of teaching that makes students into spectators, that pedagogy that tries to protect both teacher and subject from the give-and-take of community, from its rough-and-tumble. When our fears as teachers mingle and multiply with the fears inside our students, teaching and learning become mechanical, manipulative, lifeless. Fear, not ignorance, is the great enemy of education.”

I must try to acknowledge and then conquer this fear. I have to find a way to put myself out there. Otherwise, my sessions will be boring and un-engaging. 


    My first blog post for this instruction internship is about nerves (a subject, I am sure, many other interns have written about). I did not think that I would have this specific internship opportunity because I am heading down the public libraries path, but luckily I have been welcomed and encouraged. My previous experience has not been unbelievably formal. I have reflected on these experiences to develop some of my ideas and goals for this internship and the corresponding course (User Instruction).

I taught ESL courses in Seoul, Korea for 8 and a half months in 2010 through 2011.When I started work the first day, I was just tossed into the classroom with no training and little to no experience. I was able to observe some classes for two days, but I was on my own after. I quickly realized that I needed some guidance, and I borrowed a book on teaching English as a foreign language. I learned some basic techniques, but my teaching style and techniques were something I just developed independently. After having taught for several months, I realized that I was able to survive my classes with little to no anxiety with moderate success. However, I had to move past merely covering the content. Eighty percent of my students were comprehending, but I had to reach the other 20% . I did some research in some ESL forums, through some teacher’s supplemental texts, and by observing and collaborating with other teachers. I was able to increase my success and saw my students exceed the goals set for them by the school’s administration. My students comprehended more and were eager to be involved in class. Working with the students was less like pulling teeth.

While my time in Korea was in no way an example of exceptional teaching, or even good teaching, I was and still am, very proud of what I accomplished. I suppose that I am aware of what I need to improve, and this is what I am most self-conscious about. I am still quite nervous about how rusty my teaching is, how teaching English speaking students compares to ESL students, and if my teacher mentality will come back; but I guess the only way to find out is to try? Hopefully my nerves will calm down.

Re-thinking Instruction

Today I re-read our first article, “How Do They Conduct Class?” I was struck by this article even more than last semester, and spent a long time considering its implications. I was struck by how daring and innovative the professors in the article appear to be. They risk total silence, student abandonment and confusion, and more. They risk all this because they are not overly concerned with their “performance,” though they do give consideration to how they behave in front of a class. They risk all this because they are student-focused. What will engage the students? What creates curiosity or even basic attentiveness?

What I found, when re-reading this article, is that I am very attached to playing it safe. I explain the topics to my own satisfaction, rarely considering whether the student is interested in what I have to say. This semester, I want to make my students critically think about research. What makes searching the online catalog so difficult? I would like to explain this is terms of everyday activities to the students. I want to explain the concepts we are teaching in terms the students can understand, then build on that simple knowledge base to construct something more complex. I want to create a narrative that is engaging. These are tall tasks, but I feel it is time to risk more in the classroom.

“I have a bad feeling about this…”

So, this is my first blog entry for my new instruction internship with Gorgas Information Services!  Is there a word that encompasses both a sense of overwhelming terror AND mounting excitement?  Hysterical, I think would be the word, but in a totally good way.  I’ve met with my internship coordinator, Sara Whitver, and I’ve mapped out my semester so as to keep myself on track with all my “duties” as a newly minted instruction intern.  Lesson plans, tutorials and instruction sessions, OH MY!  And while I’m a little bit overwhelmed (make that “quite”) I have found that the assigned readings given to us by Sara have been extraordinarily comforting in their own way.  For example, our reading this week, “How Do They Conduct Class?” made sure to note that good teachers/lecturers/instructors are not made by their ability to speak publicly (something I struggle with) but by their shared concern for the learner.  “Their focus is on the nature and processes of learning rather than on the performance of the instructor” (134).  So, while I may be nervous as can be, I know that if I make the focus of my internship the potential “learner” and treat my planning processes with care, then I should be prepared enough to pass on a rewarding instruction experience.  (Or so I tell myself.)