Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 12:41:31 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: To Listen

Went out more than a bit late this Sunday morning. The sun was already nestling among the budding branches. I am always amazed at the amazing things, the new things, the astonishing things, the touching things I see and hear walking the streets day after day, month after month, year after year when I "listen." Today it was a fallen pine cone forlonly lying in the middle of the street, a lone echineacha scouting the way for the others in the bed, a pile of grass clippings heaped on a curb, the rivulets of collected dew on the car window in my driveway, the metalic cadence of a woodpecker high above me rapidly drumming on a power generator, a squirrel jumping from branch to branch. Each seemed so unimportant, so trivial. And yet, by the end of my walk they all had a way of adding up to a magnificent experience. But, if I was not open to these things, if I was not listening with my eyes and ears and soul, I would have missed something grand. I would have been cut off from all this around me--and in me.

Listening. That's a very good word for my dictionary of teaching.

There is so much power in listening, much more than in talking. So many of us think that the greatest power we as teachers have is our abilty to talk and transmit. It's not, you know.

When we talk, we talk about information; we talk about ourselves; we focus on our importance.

When so many of us say we are listening, we really aren't. We're thinking about how to reply. I once was very good at that. When we are convinced the students have no viable voice, that they are too young or inexperienced or lack the education to be heard, we're convinced we're right and they are wrong, we hear with a "be reasonable, agree with me" attitude that plugs our ears. We don't want their opinion or even their question. We want submission, obdience, and a cloning in our image. It's a conscious or unconscious form of arrogance.

But, when we truly listen we value others. That is why the truly memorable teacher is a good listener.

No, the greatest power of influence a teacher has, the greatest gift a teacher can offer a student is the ability and willingness to listen. The best communication skill we as teachers can have is to listen four or five times more than we speak. Listening works wonders. Listening says to eveyrone that we are less concerned about who is right then about what is right and doing the right thing. Listening says that a student can have something to say, be a resource of ideas, a repository of principles, a fount of different perspectives and insight. When we listen, we try to understand, to see things and people differently. When we listen we close our autobiography and genuinely try to understand their biography, maybe lose our arrogance and find some humility in the process. Real listening It says to a student, "you aren't in my way. You are the reason I'm here." Sincere listening shows respect; it gains trust; it builds relationships. Listening to a student lets a student feel that you are intent on what he or she has to say, that what he or she has to say is not insignificant, that you value him or her as a person, that you have all the time in the world for him or her. Students yearn to be heard, to be understood. They want and have to be able to explain themselves.

Listening overcomes the distance of strangers. It is an important way to overcome distance, to take our "me" and their "you" to reach and touch to form a "we."

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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