National Writing Project

Dissecting the Frog

By: Curt Yehnert
Publication: Turning Points in Teaching: Narrative Reflection on Professional Practice
Date: 2001

Summary: In telling the story of a Navaho student who, in her desire to be a nurse, breaks with Navaho taboo and dissects a frog, Yehnert understands that he, too, must be willing to put his teaching identity on the line. Yehnert is with the Oregon Writing Project at Willamette University.

 

Excerpt

Yet my biggest challenge as a teacher is to demand of myself what I ask of my students: to be willing to change, to be vulnerable, to put my own identity on the line. When I feel most insulted ("Are we doing anything important in class today? It's kinda sunny out..."), most tempted to lay down a thick wall of professionalism to hide behind— that's when I need most to take the challenge, to compete joyfully with a sunny day. When a student hands in a poorly written, ill-conceived mishmash for an essay, and I'm tempted to write snippy little barbs in the margins, that's when I need most to recognize an opportunity to teach rather than to wound. ...

As Parker Palmer writes, we know we are alive when we "feel the painful tuggings that teaching can bring and struggle to stay open to them. We know we are dead when we shut down so far that we can no longer feel either the pain or the joy." We must try to stay open, because to become unavailable diminishes both our teaching and ourselves. But when we succeed, reaching beyond what we had thought were our limits, we can accomplish the miraculous for both our students and ourselves.

About the Author Curt Yehnert taught college English in several Ohio prisons and on reservations in South Dakota and New Mexico before becoming associate professor and chair of the English department at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon.

Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from Willamette University.
Yehnert, Curt. 2001. "Dissecting The Frog." Turning Points in Teaching: Narrative Reflection on Professional Practice: 50–54.

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