Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Sat, 11 Dec 1993

My walk this morning seemed like it was over before it had begun. After turning the corner that began my uphill stretch, I don't remember seeing anything. I don't remember hearing anything. I don't remember feeling anything. I was deep inside myself, really deep, enveloped by what you might call a profound and serene curtain of purpose. I'm not embarrassed to say that I have been very emotional since yesterday when one my freshmen history classes met for the last time. Several triads had just completed their final exam presentations and we were about to scamper out of class when Melinda excitedly stood up. With a broad, confidant smile sweeping across her face and a brightness shining in her eyes, she said, "Before we leave I want to read my class evaluation. I know Dr. Schmier said he would treat them confidentially if we wanted, but I don't want to." As Hope, an African-American young lady who was a member of Melinda's triad, sat to her right with a quiet, supportive smile on her face, Melinda continued. "I want you all to hear how important this class was for me and Hope."

"On day one..." she hesitated, got teary-eyed, and choked up. As she struggled to regain her composure, an image flashed across my mind. This was Melinda, a member of what I labelled by the second week into the quarter, "my hateful triad" of Melinda, Hope and Eric. Three separated students with stern and unapproving looks on their faces, sitting stiffly apart, circling their chairs reluctantly only after my daily "urging," staring ahead with blank faces and looking passed each other, refusing to converse at the beginning of class, surrounded by a heavy cloud of cold, silent animosity.

As Melinda struggled, Hope quietly leaned over, softly and caringly put her hand on Melinda's arm. And Melinda read:

On day one, I was excited and terrified at the same time. You seemed funny and humorous and interesting, but rumor had you as 'evil.' Then came your syllabus. It was a book. I had to set my mind for a challenge. I was thinking that ten weeks of you and I would be drained. But, the opposite happened. I was "filled." I learned more history than I could have imagined, but you took history and made it a part of my world. When I came to this class I had my box and my boundaries. I was prejudiced towards blacks and could care less to carry on any kind of conversation much less have an in-depth relationship with one. How have my views changed. I was skeptical at first to open up to Hope and work with her in class. But mysterious things took place in the triad that I can't describe. Maybe it was the honest class discussions about race, or your conversations with each of us, or simply that you gave us no choice but to work together. But my hatred and Hope's and Eric's began to disappear. The barriers began to break down. Now Hope knows some of my deepest secrets and I know that I can confide in her. And I always had trouble talking to my sister about who she dated (an African-American) and especially about the baby on the way. Well, now that little boy is 5 1/2 weeks old. He is to me family, and I love him dearly. His skin may be dark, but I am now proud to openly call him my nephew. Three months ago I barely even acknowledged that he was soon to be. I wouldn't trade him or my sister now for anything. I just wish that I could have opened my eyes and heart a little sooner.

As I looked around the class, I could see through my glassy eyes that there literally wasn't a dry eye in the class. Tears were rolling down Hope's cheeks. Eric's head was bowed. Melinda read on.

Now a little about the triad. I love it. At first I hated the idea. I prejudged those in my group and pre- decided that I would hate it. But not only did we learn to study together, we learned to laugh together. We've cried; we've hurt; we've become friends.

As she glanced at both Hope and Eric, she continued:

We call each other family. Thank you for the opportunity. Without this class I would not know these two wonderful individuals and I also would not have realized a lot of stuff about myself. You opened the doors and allowed us to take the steps that we needed to take.

Now you--they say that often there's that one course, that one professor, who enters your life and changes it. You're that person for me and I know for a lot of others in this class. And are we lucky. I didn't always agree with your values, but that's ok, and you never held it against me or anyone else. As a prof and as a friend--yes, a friend--and as a person you truly are great. I learned a lot of history; I enjoyed doing it--most of the time. You make history a work of art; you bring it alive for all of us and bring it into our lives. Yes, a lot of it hurts, but we're better for it. Thank you. Thank you very much.

That, to me, is what teaching is all about. The quarter had come to an end; the class is over. But, as Melinda reminds us, we teachers leave a lot of ourselves behind in each student. In that sense, the class is never over. To the extent that too many educators do not reach for the future beyond the classroom, do not reach for the stuff of life beyond the subject, are not aware of the students, are not touched, react rather than respond, do not see and hear others, students see no reason to reach for themselves beyond the grade or major. And so, the students too often come away from their college experience with the narrow sense that the purpose of life is merely to be a doctor, lawyer, an artist, or just a specialist of this or of that rather than to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better and be a truer person.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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