Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2000 08:54:12 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Four Little Big Words

You might want to call it a "nothing to speak of" incident. A student I'll call Angela didn't think so. To me it was nothing less than miraculous. It happened Friday. The students in each community had presented their portfolio covers and were finishing up their biographical interviews. In the midst of the hopping cacaphony, one young lady "secretly" motioned to me. I wove through the scattered chairs and over a few reclining bodies. I knelt down on my knees. Not wanting others to hear her, she whispered to me, "Dr. Schmier, I want to run for the Student Government. The deadline has passed and they're giving me a special exception. I need fifty names on a petition today to support me and I thought I could get the others in the class to sign it." I smiled, looked in her eyes, but I didn't say anything.

She went on, almost quivering. "Do you think the others here would help me? Would you ask them for me?"

"Don't you think you should ask them," I softly answered.

"Yes, but I couldn't do that."


"I'm nervous standing in front of people I don't know very well."

"Aren't you going to do that when you campaign and after youget elected."


"Haven't you've already done it when you stood up, introduced yourself, and showed your object, and just presented your portfolio cover with your community?"

"Will you get their attention?"

"Why don't you do that."

"I can't. I'm so nervous."

"That's okay," with a tone of sympathetic understanding. "It's all right to be nervous. I'm nervous every time I come into class."

"You are?"

"Sure, I don't know what's going to happen or if I'm going to screw up. I just don't let it control me."

"How do you do that?"

"I have faith in myself. You heard me apologize for messing up on Monday. Have faith in yourself and in them. You might be surprised."

As I got up, I smiled with a confidence in her, and walked away. I went off to sit in a chair in the room's alcove hoping she could muster her courage. Then, after a few minutes of looking around and getting prodding encouragement from her community members, she slowly --agonizingly--got up, hesitantly wove her way to the front of the class, lifted her hand to get the attention of the other students. The classroom went unnaturally quiet. All eyes turned to her. She nervously explained about the petition, and asked them for their support.

A broad smile appeared on her face as she heard an instant chorus of "neat," "sure," "where is it," "hand it here." She got her fifty signatures.

At the end of the class period, she came over to me proudly holding the filled petition. "I was nervous. Thanks for having faith in me that I could do it and making me do it. It was a good lesson."

"Who had faith in you?"


"Don't forget that. Thank yourself. You did it. You taught yourself. Have more faith in yourself?"


"Then, it's a great day. You learned something. You took a step today"

"I'm going to think about what I did."

"Also think about what it says about you that you did it. Now, take another step. Take one step each day and you'll surprise yourself. Make it a good weekend, and don't drink and drive."

"It already is."

She smiled and went off. A small event that won't make recorded history. It may not even stick in her memory. It will stick in her soul. I still think it was a great miracle.

So, thinking about that little/big event, I want to talk about four little/big words that I told a gathering of inspirational Christie McAuliffe Scholars in D.C. last month should permeate every fiber of our teaching and learning: faith, hope, love, and miracle.

Faith, hope, love! Inspirational words. Powerful feelings. Meaningful experiences. Uncomfortable words, embarassing words, for most academics. Rarely included in their vocabulary. Less seldom spoken. They punctuate my conversations with students. I, more often than not, write at least one of them on the board as part of my "Words For The Day." They are inscribed in all my syllabi. They are the guides for all I feel, think, and do. They are what I call "heart words." I take each of them to heart. They are the movers, the doers, the sensors, the adjustors, the touchers, the connectors, the transformers. They are more than words or ideas offering a verbal or conceptual formula. They are experiences; they are a personal and professional meaning; they are a vivid sense of life and teaching; they deepen what my teaching--and my life--is all about, and is always becoming. They fill in the holes and tie up the loose ends. They are for me threads of meaning that when woven together make a thick, textured and meaningful professional and personal tapestry. They are at the heart of everything I struggle to be and become, and consequently what I do as I struggle to make a heart to heart connection with student.

You see, I have come to see it is far more the size of a teacher's heart than the size of his or her bank of knowledge or the size of his or her resume or the size of the class that leads to successful teaching. As my friend, John Lawry at Marymount College, reminded me, and as I experience day after day, students really learn what the teacher is doing inwardly and spiritually. Why? Because we teach with our words, tones, movements who we are. And as John once again reminded me, we are all spiritual guides, and everything we say or write are confessions of faith whether we like it or not, want to be or not, know it or not. We teachers are, as Maslow said, theraputic or pathological agents. We teach faith or fear, hope or despair, love or hate, strength or weakness, courage or submission, joy or sorrow, excitement or boredom, life or death. It's always our choice. Over the past decade I increasingly choose faith, hope, and love.

It's faith that merges the spirit person with the flesh person; hope adds the angel person to the human person; love adds the heart person to the mind person. When you add up spirit, flesh, angel, human, heart, and mind, they total the whole person.

Faith is a "can do" word. I weave my faith in each and every student into each and every fiber of my teaching being to assist each student like Anglela to awaken his or her own faith in themselves. No successful teacher lets faith take a holiday. It's faith that lets each of us dream dreams while we're wide awake. It lets me look for and see the invisible, listen for and hear the inaudible, reach out and touch the intangible, and do the impossible. It lets me see beyond the subject and grade into the person. Faith is an opening attitude, an arch enemy of closed-minded pre-judgement. As long as my faith is kicking in, it's kicking "can't" out; and its kicking open doors "can't" closes. Whenever I utter a barricading "but," it's faith that kicks me in my butt.

When faith is around, hope, thrives. Hope is that vibrant "could be" word, that "this isn't it" attitude, that "there are moments yet to be"feeling. It doesn't say things will happen, only that they can happen. Hope is an "it's possible" attitude. And, if something is possible, doesn't it make sense to explore every way to convert the "could be" into an "is," that "maybe" into reality. Hope, then, is a "hey, get with it" attitude. It's a "keep going," "you can do it," "don't give up," "don't walk away," "don't despair" comittment.

When hope thrives, love, appears. Now love is that simple, magnificant, supporting, encouraging "aaaaaaaah" word. It is my first principle of teaching. It is a truth of teaching. It says "you are somebody, you are worth it, I see you, and I care."

And, when love is present,!

Faith stimulates.

Hope sustains.

Love sanctifies.

Miracles form and transform.

That's what teaching and education is really all about. That's why Goethe said that the teachers who had the greatest impact on him were the ones who were into his heart and not their heads, the ones who loved him the most and not the ones who knew the most. That's why Kahlil Gibran speaks of the teacher in THE PROPHET as the person who "gives not of his wisdom, but of his faith and lovingness."

I have discovered during the last nine years that successful teaching doesn't mean achieving tenure; it doesn't mean getting that grant; it isn't reflected in the size of a paycheck or a promotion to that administration position. You won't find it in the publication of that article or book. It's not to be found in a resume. You won't hear it in classroom eloquence. It doesn't shine in professional brilliance. It's not to be uncovered by covering the material or having a proper distribution of grades. It isn't scored in the scores on a standardized test.

Want to be a successful teacher? Make a difference! Take those four little/big words to heart. Smile on each student. Teach faith, hope, love to their hearts and heads with joyful faith, hope, and love. Believe in miracles. Look for them. Stir up each student's faith and hope and love in him- and herself so they can smile on themselves. Make a difference! Make for miracles!! Alter the course of a life!!!

Make it a good day. 


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

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