The book cover for The Courage to Teach. The accompanying text reads "Book of the Month: The Courage to Teach”.

Book of the Month: Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection & Renewal

The Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection and Renewal (2017)
By Parker J. Palmer with Megan Scribner. Published by Jossey-Bass.

You’re nearing the end of term: the grading and student requests are piling up, and you’re swimming in administrative miscellany:   

  • Jamie, the student rarely seen in class (or who comes late if at all) has asked you to regrade all their assignments in hopes they might squeak out a pass. 
  • Leni has requested three reference letters and a meeting to discuss why their A- couldn’t be bumped up to an A.  
  • Your laptop is on the fritz and you can’t remember the password you changed on your office phone voicemail. It’s been blinking for a couple of weeks.  
  • What was the workaround to bypass the tax code on the Workday submission again? 
  • You finally figured out how to create a new quiz or assignment on Brightspace—only to discover days later you created it for the wrong course. 
  • Oh, and the cat’s dental surgery? Suddenly canceled. The meowing is incessant. 

You need a break. Or an assistant.  (Or both.)   

What does this all have to do with this book about courage? (I promise, I’m getting there.)  

We all have these stories.  We all can relate to moments of disconnection in our teaching practice when we find ourselves lost, overwhelmed, and disoriented—wondering why we first entered this profession. On this solitary journey, we rarely get a chance to pause and reflect on this, so often, challenging work before us.  

Enter the Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection & Renewal. First written in 1997, the guide catalyzed a veritable social movement. 25 years later it has been linked to research, publications, conferences, workshops and even a non-profit with hundreds of facilitators located the world over.  

The guide occupies a genre that’s less self-improvement and more self-enlightenment. Consisting of reflective questions and activities for both individual and group study, it asks us to think about who we are as teachers; it invites us to explore our hopes, our fears and build the courage to make deeper connections with our students, colleagues, and ourselves. 

Sample questions include:  

“What methods have you used to try to connect your students with your subjects? Which ones were effective? Which ones were ineffective? (pg. 28) 

“What aspects of your identity and integrity feel most supported by and engaged with the work you do? What aspects of your identity and integrity feel most threatened or endangered by your work? (pg. 29) 

“What sorts of fear are healthy for our students? Are those same fears healthy for ourselves?” (pg. 37) 

The slim, paperback version of Courage to Teach is easily picked up and put down, in between transit connections, cups of tea (or shots of whisky, if it comes to that). A mandatory gift for any new teacher; a dog-eared, coffee-stained copy should sit on every seasoned instructor’s shelf.  

Suffice to say, it’s recommended reading for everyone who has the courage to teach.

Alex Samur