Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 08:00:23 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: What Teaching Really Means

Had a situation yesterday. If you were listening to this student, a confusion of hurt, shame, and bewilderment, gazing with empty eyes and speaking with a pained voice, explaining an absence of over two weeks. She was back in the class, but she was still absent. If you had heard the story your muscles would have gone taut. Your lungs would have emptied. Your lips would have straightened like a stretched rubber band. While your blood would have boiled, tears would have swelled in your eyes. The sweat would have poured into your palms as your hands slowly clenched into fists. You would have been a mixture of anger and sorrow. No joy in Mudville today.

And yet, it was a good day, a very good day. She felt she could talk with me, whom she hadn't had a previous paragraph's conversation, because she knew I am "for real." I was gratified, but I was happier for her for being there when she needed someone. I listened in an increasingly dense daze, said a few things, wouldn't let her walk away--she didn't want to walk away--took her to my office, made a few inquiries, left her in my office alone to make a phone call. She passed me in the hall with an almost invisible nod and what I thought was a slight, cautious glimmer of hope. Laying amid the landfill of my desk was a piece of paper on which was written a simple "Thank you. I'm going to get some help."

I walked out of the building into the brilliant sunlight and warm air, paused for a minute, looked at some cooing pigeons, took a deep breath, headed for the V.P's office to get some coffee, and then it would be on the Union to grab a couple of sinful doughnuts and chat some students whom I might find there. I have to admit that I felt energized by an indescrible overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was as if a fire was burning inside me that was more warming than the sun shining down on me. I was able to help that student in desperate need.

I put her message among my sacred objects of teaching because she helped me realize that the greatest fulfillment of being an educator does not lie in that pubication, that conference paper, that grant, that reputation, that title, that position, that promotion, that getting tenure. No, it comes when we use our unique gifts and our humanity to reach out and help another person. The quality of academics does not run from the outside-in; true north is from the inside-out. Teaching is not about things or even information. It is about loving, a sense of purpose, making a difference, leaving a legacy.

Doing something transcendant, for something higher than yourself, for a purpose beyond yourself, for a person other than yourself, contributing in a meaningful way truly nurtures the spirit and lights up the soul. Then, teaching is a true joy, a mighty force, burns like a glorious torch--and lives, and live, and lives on!

Make it a good day. 


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

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