Palmer J. Parker is no stranger to the Student From Hell.
Years of standing in front of classrooms has yielded an indelible definition of such a student in Parker's mind: Sits in back row, folds arms, pulls cap down over eyes, rarely speaks.Many teachers, Parker opines, would hesitate to reach out, afraid of being rejected as an educator. And the student, likely paralyzed by fear of failure, won't reach out to a hand that is not offered.
"Connecting with the young is a daily opportunity for our profession," he said. "Teachers get isolated and cynical because there is no community support with other teachers."
Parker, author of "The Courage To Teach," told current and prospective educators at Utah Valley State College on Tuesday that a major problem in schools is that teachers have become "disconnected" from students and subject matter.
Parker, a so-called "master teacher" from Madison, Wis., was the keynote speaker at a daylong workshop for UVSC professors and education majors.
Teachers need to be more "deeply engaged" with those who enter their classrooms and what they explain on chalkboards. If an educator's motions are rote, students notice, he said.
"Pedagogical debates over whether to create teacher-centered or student-centered classrooms are moot," he said. "The focus should be the subject."
Personal talents also should be applied in classrooms. Teachers should not adopt current instructional fads if individual styles buck the theory, he said.
"Students can pinpoint bad teachers because they are all the same," he said. "With bad teachers, there's some type of disconnect with the person teaching and the subject of which they are speaking."
Asked what types of teachers made lasting impressions, he said students typically answer: "I liked this teacher because this teacher was real. This teacher had passion."
Lucille Stoddard, vice president for academic affairs at UVSC, said the school's council of deans were asked to read Palmer's book this summer. Insights learned from the text, and how to help faculty realize new teaching skills, were discussed at a retreat.
"His words help us focus on what we are about - a teaching institution," she said. "Teaching is our business and we should do it the best we can."
Stoddard also hopes students are taking notes. Nearly all of last year's recipients of the first four-year teaching degrees at UVSC have been offered contracts, she said.
In 1996, administrators convinced the Utah State Board of Regents there was a need for an education degree at the Orem school. Students at UVSC had been taking education courses for five years through Weber State University.
Regents, worried the market was saturated with education majors, capped the program at 30 students and determined to monitor the program for three years.
Palmer said discussions with peers - and students - about good teaching is vital. Watching other teachers moderate debates over Shakespeare's sonnets also helps.
"There is only one honest way to evaluate the many varieties of good teaching and the subtlety required: It is called being there," said Palmer.