Mark Weisberg
1995 3M Teaching Fellow

The reason we’re here is because someone important once listened to us. Not because someone once told us something.

JANET EMIG, English professor, to a group of teachers; quoted in PETER ELBOW, What is English?

That’s what teaching should be about but isn’t: discerning the gift. Too often the central activity of our discipline is judging. The major thing we have learned to do in life is to assign grades.

MARY ROSE O’REILLEY, The Peaceable Classroom

Human beings, no matter what their background, need to feel that they are safe in order to open themselves to transformation. They need to feel a connection between a given subject matter and who they are in order for knowledge to take root. That security and that connectedness are seldom present in a classroom that recognizes the students’ cognitive capacities alone. People often assume that attention to the emotional lives of students, to their spiritual yearnings and their imaginative energies, will somehow inhibit the intellect’s free play, drown it in a wash of sentiment, or deflect it into realms of fantasy and escape, that the critical and analytical faculties will be muffled, reined in, or blunted as a result. I believe the reverse is true.

JANE TOMPKINS, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned

Attention: deep listening. People are dying in spirit for lack of it. In academic culture most listening is critical listening. We tend to pay attention only long enough to develop a counter-argument. We critique the student’s or colleague’s idea; we mentally grade and pigeonhole each other. In society at large, people often listen with an agenda, to sell or petition or seduce. Seldom is there a deep, openhearted, unjudging reception of the other. And so we all talk louder and more stridently and with a terrible desperation. By contrast, if someone truly listens to me, my spirit begins to expand.

MARY ROSE O’REILLEY, Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice

I would like to meet the concern about turning the classroom into “some kind of therapy group” … by observing that good teaching is, in the classical sense, therapy: good teaching involves reweaving the spirit. (Bad teaching, by contrast, is soul murder.)

The Peaceable Classroom

… every effective teacher owes it to students to teach them the art of reflecting on the personal and social meaning of what they are being taught.

WAYNE BOOTH, The Vocation of a Teacher

Conventional classroom hierarchies encourage extremes of both unreflective passivity and aggressive competition. The structure of professional control over the content and evaluation of the learning process discourages independent thought and encourages participation more designed to impress than to inform.

DEBORAH RHODE, Gender and Professional Roles

A class doesn’t get to know itself until it has been let go. People’s personalities won’t be visible, their feelings and opinions won’t surface, unless the teacher gets out of the way on a regular basis. You have to be willing to give up your authority, and the sense of identity and prestige that come with it, for the students to be able feel their authority. To get out of the students’ way, the teacher has to learn to get out of her own way. To not let her ego call the shots all the time. This is incredibly difficult. But I think it is a .true path for a teacher.

A Life in School

Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.

PARKER PALMER, The Courage to Teach

There are an infinite number of approaches to every concept. One can only wonder at the risks involved in grabbing a single way of looking at a topic and presenting it as a lesson.

VIVIAN PALEY, The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter

War begins in banality, the suppression of the personal and idiosyncratic. By contrast, “[a) language that takes our emotions seriously and gives them real weight in our lives encourages us to think and be and act differently …. [At] Harvard … the first thing they learn is not to say ‘I.’ That is forbidden …. In learning the language of domination these students learn to give up their subjectivity, their emotionality, their range of experience, their partisanship.,. Such education feeds the purposes of authoritarian structures, governmental and religious … fostering “a compulsive need for order, a fear of confusion or chaos, a desire for clarity and control … a culture of obedience.”

DOROTHY SOELLE, quoted in The Peaceable Classroom

The first goal of education-if we think it has anything to do with values-is to bring students to a knowledge of the world within: its geography and anthropology, depths and heights, myths and primary texts …. Our second goal should be to help the student bring his subjective vision into community …. The classroom, then, must be a meeting place for both silent meditation and verbal witness, of interplay between interiority and community.

The Peaceable Classroom

If research universities … are going to become places where people like to come to work in the morning, where the employees have a stake and feel they belong, then they will have to model something besides an ideal of individual excellence. By the way they conduct their own internal business, they’ll need to model our dependence on one another, our need for mutual respect and support, acceptance and encouragement. If the places that young people go to be educated don’t embody the ideals of community, cooperation, and harmony, then what young people will learn will be the behavior those institutions do exemplify: competitiveness, hierarchy, busyness, and isolation.”

A Life in School

How a community treats its outsiders is the mirror of its moral landscape.

The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter

When we listen primarily to what we ought to be doing with our lives, we may find ourselves hounded by external expectations that can distort our identity and integrity …. In contrast … Frederick Buechner offers a more generous and humane image of vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In a culture that sometimes equates work with suffering, it is revolutionary to suggest that the best inward sign of vocation is deep gladness-revolutionary but true. If a work is mine to do, it will make me glad over the long haul, despite the difficult days …. If a work does not gladden me in these ways, I need to consider laying it down.

The Courage to Teach

Teachers teach who they are as much as what they know.

What is English

The longest journey a person can take is the twelve inches from the head to the heart. Who is helping our students to make this journey? A Life in School