The Heart of a Teacher by Parker J. Palmer


Immediately, Palmer invokes a sense of empathy with his audience as he recounts the familiar path of the educator winding amongst our human emotions (from joy to frustration and everywhere between). After being drawn in by his pithy illusion of the life of an educator, Palmer (1997) explains his philosophy behind the article as “we teach who we are,” (p. 2). Weaving this perspective of the inner teacher with the meandering (and difficult to navigate) path of an educator was an intriguing way to begin this class.

Dr. Kemp consistently repeats his mantra to us, “You are AR”. Action research cannot be separated from the self and I feel that Palmer was reinforcing this point to a higher degree by saying good teachers are a hybrid of people and specialist. One of my students wrote me this spring saying, “Although you may not know it, you’re one of the school’s favourite teachers because you’re fun, witty, kind and crazy.” Another student this spring wrote, “[…] you are one of my favourites, not necessarily because of your abilities as a teacher, but because of your abilities as a person.” Students respect teachers who care, teachers who know their students and who take the time to grow with them as people. Notice that both of these heart warming comments relate to my connections with these students on a more personal level; they didn’t enjoy my class because of my brilliant lectures on Physics, although I’m sure they listened intently :), they enjoyed having a teacher who was an a person in the classroom. A good teacher makes an attempt to connect with their students and allows their students to connect with them, and a GREAT teacher allows this to be done through the medium of the content they are covering.

I strongly agree with Palmer (1997) when he explains “we became teachers for reasons of the heart, animated by some subject and for helping people to learn” (p. 5). I remember entering the College of Education in 2006 and being asked, “Why did you become a teacher?” At the time, I did not have an answer and I became increasingly frustrated with every paper I had to write on the subject. However, I now understand that most people do not simply fall into the profession of teaching (and it certainly is not the pay cheque drawing people to the profession). People become teachers because they are excited about something and they want to help other people catch their enthusiasm. Although many may begin teacher training with the ideal that they will be employable when they graduate – not everyone will become a teacher. Graduates can still become employed and have a classroom, but not everyone will become a teacher.

I look around at teachers I know – those in our cohort, those I work with, those I graduated with, and those I previously learned under – and I can say that being a teacher is a completely unique profession. Teachers are the epitome of balance within oneself. This brings to mind the image of the Yin-Yang; a person is often divided into binary parts, but we must never forget that to live successfully, these parts need to be united and allowed to permeate into each other as we grow as humans. Teachers must walk in two worlds – professional and public self (Palmer, 1997, p. 6). Teachers must know who they are as people and be able to weave this knowledge with content in their classroom (Palmer, 1997, p.2). Teachers are not simply educators, they are co-learners, guides, weavers and so much more.

In the past year, I have learned about the value of analyzing and understanding my personal experiences and how they have contributed to building me as an educator. Today when I am asked why I became a teacher, my answers are instantaneous. I love what I do. I love having a job which requires me to constantly grow. I love having a job which will always challenge me. I love being able to look back on what I taught today and knowing that I will have a chance to make it better next year.

Over the past year I have felt myself growing exponentially as an educator and I now feel as though I am able to listen to my “inner teacher”. Palmer (1997) explains the ‘inner teacher’ as the part of an educator which allows us to grow in integrity, recognize our potentials, and realize our limits. The ‘inner teacher’ allows educators to teach as people and not to rely simply on technique. I believe that speaking with the inner teacher is a bit like learning a foreign language; at first, it sounds like complete gibberish, but spending time immersed with others who challenge you to use the language forces you to pick it up pretty quick. The past year has been spent learning how to communicate with our inner teacher.

It is both exhilarating and terrifying when I can hear myself having a conversation with my inner teacher. It can be quite disconcerting when I catch myself in an ‘inner conversation’ while teaching a lesson, but I feel as though this is a growth as a teacher. All teachers need to learn how to have this conversation. Luckily, I am completing this master’s course early on in my career and I will have my ‘second language’ to help me with the next 27 years or so!

Article available at:

The Heart of a Teacher

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