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COM 502 Methods of Teaching Communication
Fall, 10

Dr. Marcia D. Dixson









Questions* to Guide our Discussion of

The Courage to Teach

by Parker Palmer

Chapter 1

1. Write a personal statement trying to express what is at the heart of your life as a teacher. Consider the following questions: Why did I/do I want to become a teacher? What do I stand for as a teacher? What are the "birthright gifts" that I bring to my lifework? What do I want my legacy as a teacher to be? What can I do to "keep track of myself" to "re-member" my own heart?

2. What aspects of your identity and integrity feel most supported by and engaged with the work you do/could do as a teacher? What aspects of your identity and integrity feel/might feel most threatened or endangered by that work?

3. Jane Tompkins discovered that her goal as a teacher had been to put on a "performance," thus distancing herself from students and subject (pp. 28-29). Do you identify with her self-criticism? If so, do you share Tompkins' diagnosis of fear as the driving force behind this distancing? In what ways other than "performance" do teachers set themselves apart?

Chapter 2

4. What are some of your fears in the classroom? In relation to colleagues? In relation to your professional career? How have you dealt with them? What have you learned about yourself and about fear as a result?

5. Draw three columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, list some negative images of today's students. In the second column, list some of the fears faced by young people in today's society. In the third column, list the positive attributes that you've observed in today's students. How do these lists relate? How might this profile inform your teaching?

6. Tell about a fear, not necessarily related to teaching, that once controlled you but no longer does. What caused you to confront that fear? What helped you get loose from it? What were the results? What did you learn?

Chapter 3

7. List some polarities that dominate our thinking about education (for example, teacher-student, individual-group, facts-feeling, faculty-administration, school-home). Choose one pair and identify: a) the reasons this polarity is so compelling; b) the price we pay for holding to it; c) alternative ways of framing the issue in question that might bridge the so-called opposites; d) the benefits of doing so.

8. Palmer discusses six paradoxes of pedagogical design (pp. 73-83). Choose one to focus on. Share examples of teaching environments you have experienced where this paradox is honored. Have you ever been in a classroom where only half of the paradox was honored while the other half was ignored? Describe what that classroom was like.

9. What questions are you living at this stage of your life - from "How can I get up in the morning?" to "How can I get a raise?" to "How can I become a better teacher?" to "How can I witness to truth?" Are the questions you are now living the ones you want to live? If not, what questions would you like to be living? How might you hold these questions at the center of your attention?

Chapter 4

10. Do you agree that many people in our society are seeking community in their lives? If so, what do you think is behind that yearning? What are the positive and negative potential in that yearning? What forms of life together are people finding to meet those needs?

11. Is there "objective knowledge" in the field you teach? If so, how is it achieved? Does Palmer abandon the idea of objectivity with his concept of the community of truth, or does he redefine it?

Chapter 5

12. How do we "provide readings with substance that students need to know, but with gaps in which students can think their own thoughts" (p. 133)?

13. What is Palmer referring to on page 134 when he says "I must learn the skill of lifting up and reframing what my students are saying so that we will have benchmarks of how far we have come and how far we have to go toward whatever we are tying to learn."?

Chapter 6

14. Draw a long horizontal line on a paper to represent this course (COM 502) from start to finish. Brainstorm the critical moments that happened along that line. Locate and give each a name. A "critical moment" is "one in which a learning opportunity for students will open up, or shut down - depending, in part, on how the teacher handles it."(p. 145). We will compare these course "maps" in class.

15. Think of a moment when you were teaching at your best (in any context, formal or informal). Then fill in the blank: "When I am teaching at my best, I am like a ________________________." Don't censor your metaphor even if it seem nonsensical. We will consider the implications of these metaphors in class.

16. Discuss the ground rules our class (either as a class or in your teaching teams) has used to respect each other's voices and vulnerabilities. Which of these rules has worked, and which have not? Have any of them affected the way you interact in other contexts? Can any of these be exported outside the classroom? To what context?

Chapter 7

17. Palmer argues that despair comes when we "internalize the logic of the organization" and then find our vision of hope blocked by the same organization. Give examples of what it means for a person to "internalize the logic" of an organization. What are the personal trade-offs involved in doing so?

18. Can you identify a moment when you decided to live "divided no more?" What circumstances brought you to that moment? What resources and supports helped you in that moment? What changes, internal and external, resulted from your decision? How lasting were those changes?

19. Is there an area of your life today where you feel a need to live divided no more? What resources and supports do you need to help you examine and act on that need?

*Many questions taken or adapted from Livsey, R. C. (in collaboration with Parker Palmer). (1999). The courage to teach: A guide for reflection and renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.