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Teaching from the Heart and Soul
The Robert F. Panara Story

Harry G. Lang

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Read reviews: SIGNews, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

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The Sixth Volume in the Deaf Lives Series

From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.
                                                Gail Godwin
In 1944, a twentysomething Deaf college student wrote in an essay: “What the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.” This incredibly insightful student went on to become what many consider to be one of the best teachers to educate deaf students. His name is Robert F. Panara. Like Cal Ripken of baseball fame, he is probably the best there is, was or ever will be. This is the gist of Harry Lang’s biography, Teaching From the Heart and Soul—The Robert F. Panara Story.

This sixth volume in Gallaudet University Press’ Deaf Lives Series is a narrative of Panara’s personal journey as a self-educated deaf professor, Deaf Studies pioneer, who helped found the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and the National Theatre of the Deaf. It was written partly in hope of helping future generations of teachers see how Panara’s excellence in the classroom can be achieved through a lifelong pursuit of beliefs, values, knowledge, and skills.

Lang does a remarkable job in delving chronologically into Panara’s life to seek out what is meant by teaching from the heart and soul. Weaving together humorous and touching anecdotes on Bob’s Italian heritage, his wife, family, baseball, and teaching along with poems and photographs, Lang illustrates how this phenomenal teacher was shaped by life experiences and the powerful influences of other great teachers.

It is difficult to say if this book will appeal to a broader audience than those in Deaf Education. I am somewhat biased, being a former NTID/Rochester Institute of Technology student of Panara’s (my role model), a working theatre professional, a profoundly deaf professor of deaf and hearing students, and knowing many of the “players” in the book. Anyone who has a passion for teaching should be able to enjoy this book. Regardless of the issue of deafness, the characteristics of a master teacher that Panara developed were those that would make any teacher exemplary. As Lang wrote, “this biography invites the reader to explore ways of emulating Panara’s ability to touch the lives of others. More than anything else, Panara’s legacy is one of cultivating in others an appreciation for the power of language.”

I wish the book could include a DVD showcasing examples of Panara’s theatrical modus operandi in the classroom. This would help underscore descriptions of his hands-on, interactive approach with students. Also, viewing samples of Panara’s unique, “be-the-book,” recital of his own poems, or Shakespeare’s, may shed light to the general readership on how poetry goes beyond the printed page when expressed in sign language. As one nonsigner stated, “I had read the poem [On His Deafness] three times . and it didn’t move me. I see it signed, it gives me goose bumps.”

Some judicious editing could have cut out redundancies such as the Alex Haley quote about finding and praising the good, or the mention of Great Deaf Americans that Panara authored with his son, or the song You Gotta Have Heart. Also, it would be easier to locate citations under Notes if the chapters were numbered.

This 5.5” x 8.5” paperback is sharp and handsome like its subject. The front cover photo of Bob is as I last saw him over 25 years ago—broad-shouldered, wide grin, a twinkle in his eye, and at the ready with his trademark recitation of poetry, character portrayals, booming laugh, and that infectious zeal for lifelong learning unselfishly shared with every one of us who were in contact with him.

Harry G. Lang is Professor in the Department of Research and Teacher Education at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester, NY.

Print Edition

ISBN 978-1-56368-358-9, 5˝ x 8˝ paperback, 232 pages, photographs



ISBN 978-l-56368-389-3


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