Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2000 10:25:31 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Teaching Is Tough!!

I was sitting on the couch in the den, sipping a cup of refreshing freshly brewed coffee, fishing around with the remote just after my walk, when I settled on a sports channel to find out about some of yesterday's scores. Instead, the "tail end" of a fishing program was on. Even though the news program I wanted to catch was about to come on, I decided to cast about and see what was on the gardening channel. Just as I was about to click that angler into oblivion, he something that caught my ear. He said, with a smile on his face and a relaxed cast, fishing for this particular type of fish was tough. As the fly went flying through the air and plopped into the water, he said he could control his equipment and how he fishes to land that fish, but he could not guarantee what the fish would do. He, the expert angler, hadn't caught one all day, but he had expected that, and, as he said, "it takes off the pressure and doesn't kill the fun. Just have to be 'easy does it' about the whole thing...."

"Fishing for this fish is no picnic" were his last words as he turned toward the camera showing his empty basket without shame, "but fishing for it sure is fun."

That got me thinking about some bemoaning conversations I had overheard on campus and some wailing messages I had read on the internet that "fishing" for students these days is really no fun.

"Why don't we think like this expert angler?" I said to myself forgetting the scores.

Well, maybe the answer to my question lies partly in a prevailing illusion or two in academia that teaching is low or no maintenance, that it's easy, that it's something anyone can do if that person knows the subject. Unlike this championship fisherman, so many academics and non-academics think that teaching is like dropping an unbaited hook over the side of the boat into the water with a guarantee that a "whopper" will just voluntarily take the bare hook and flop into our boat without any real sweaty effort on our part.

Sound silly? Does it? Really? Think about it. Need an adjunct, just pull a body off the street with the proper degree and/or expertise and throw him or her into the classroom to talk and assign and grade. Happens all the time. Need a tenure-track academic, just hire a person with the proper degree and scholarly resume and hopefully some reputation intent on research and publication to talk and assign and grade. Happens all the time. After all, all a person really needs to do is to put together a short, daily research paper called a lecture, maybe doll it up with some new-fangled technological stuff, walk into a room filled with expectant mini-scholars who are waiting on the edge of their uncomfortable seats with baited breathe for some oral pearls of wisdom, talk about and transmit some information, make a reading or research assignment, put together an exam about what you and/or the textbook said, grade it, and march off into the sunset like little Jack Horner with his thumb covered with sticky plum syrup.

But, such words about teaching are in in rhythm with the real tune. And so, when myth and reality clash, when things go unexpectedly awry, when things don't go just the way so many of us academics expect them and/or wanted them because we consciously or unconsciously think teaching to be that easy and without challenge, so many of us utter a long sigh of disappointment and disillusionment, clutter up our thoughts with annoyances, say and think unkind things, are loudly impatient, hunt out teeny molehills and make mountains, transform incidents into a crises, and point fingers of blame at students and administrators, and goodness knows at whom else.

Such reproaches seldom improve a situation. Like Speedy Alka Seltzer, they may offer momentary relief, but in the long run our resignations and frustrations turn back on us. They only continue to weigh heavy on our spirit, sap our energy, cloud our vision, drown out our serenity, make us prone to doubt the power of hope and the wonderful possibilities of the future, make our difficulties even greater and matters worse. We become like the stinging bee, we kill ourselves in the process.

If there is one great truth about education, a truth so releasing, it is that teaching is tough; teaching is demanding. Get used to it. Live with it. Stop complaining that the students will not devote themselves to making you happy. Stop being dependent on how the students react for your teaching happiness.

Like the fisherman, once we acknowledge the fact that teaching is difficult, that there is no such thing as no-maintenance teaching, then teaching students, in the words of that angler, doesn't kill the fun of teaching. Once we accept teaching as challenging, the fact that it is challenging is irrelevant. We can let go of burdens that were never ours to carry. As that fisherman said, "the pressure is off." We are at peace. And if we're "easy does it" about teaching, when we see we can't do all we'd like or do it all in one felled course or some things seem not to go right, we can guide ourselves into a less hectic attitude that creates a more comfortable rhythm that smooths out the bumps, pitfalls, and other rough spots. We can take the disappointments as they come which makes them easier to take; we can use the troubles as opportunities to grow and learn, to make us better rather than bitter. We can make the troubles get smaller and smaller while we get bigger and bigger. Like the Burning Bush, we can burn without getting burnt up and burnt out.

In other words, once we accept the fact that teaching is tough, the challenge doesn't frustrate or anger. No reason to feel sorry; no reason to be tense; no reason to become strangers to those hard times; no reason to run from them or avoid them; no reason to put fences around ourselves; no reason to be cut off from and strangers to those around us; every reason to have our eyes and heart wide open to receive new impressions that make each day a new adventure and a fresh delight; every reason to be aware of the people around us and appreciate the chance to touch someone and grow myself.

And so, remember those words of the fisherman, and if our Jiminy Cricket, idyllic "if only" wishes on a star do not to come to pass, as they likely are not, we can still love teaching, we can still love each student, and we can say, "It's a nice day," even when the weather seems not so fine.

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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