Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2000 07:29:14 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Practice, Practice, Practice

Good morning. It's still a brisk, chilly, damp, "Brrrrrrrrr" out there. The "quick frozen " koi in my pond are still; the delicate plants are covered in cocoons of protective plastic; I'm wrapped in my grubbies.

I was thinking this morning about a convergence of two conversations I had yesterday. They coincidentaly happened back to back within a five minute span. I was chatting with our VP of Academic Affairs in his office as I was waiting for the coffee to finish perking. We talked briefly, among other things, about how the enthusiasm that so many of the younger faculty bring with them to the campus for classroom teaching seems to wane as they hit and get ground up the academic culture that truthfully does not value teaching anywhere near research and publication.

I got my cup of coffee and decided to take a stroll through the perky outside chill instead of roaming back to my office through the steamy halls. And, talking about chill, I ran into a superheated Darlene (not her real name) as she stumped across campus. My cheerful "hi" was returned with a icy "grrrrrrrr!" that hit me with the force of an arctic blast.

"I've been on more than a few campuses taking classes as my husband moved from base to base. Let me tell you something that I've noticed. Most of you professors are branded with a scarlet letter on your chests."

"A scarlet letter?" I snickered, trying to turn the sharp twists of her lips into the graceful angelic curls of a smile. "Am I about to hear some salacious hot rumors that will warm up the air?"

An icicle came flying towards me. "Yeah,",her face twisted tighter taking on the contortions of a gargoyle. "'N', burned deep into their hearts, for being so damn negative about teaching and students. Why do so many of you people care less about caring about students. You people want to be in your books not in the classroom with us. I mean what is it about so many of you high and mighty professors that you have to come down on students just because we're not mini researchers and know less."

"I think that is a bit much."

"Think so?," she snarled like an angry pit bulldog. "Ask the students and see what they say, not that anyone really cares. You want us to be so perfect and your teaching so easy. Let us make a mistake, and you tell us we don't belong here--as if you never screw up. I think some of you get pleasure at watching students squirm. Everything is always our fault. You rarely take responsibility for what goes on. You just don't give a damn! It's hard to be positive when you are so positively negative about us. It's all over, not just here."

I didn't dare ask what triggered her outburst. Cowardice this time, my sixth sense told me, was the better part of discretion.

As she continued her stump off, my conversation with the VP popped in my head where it's stayed every since.

Oh, am I about to get myself into trouble. Oh, well, here goes. When it comes to ourselves and others, if we are honest, with what emotions **do** most of us profs and teachers tend to be most familiar, more than any other emotions in and outside the classroom? I think it's impatience and confusion and frustration. It's expressed in that forlorn litany of comments we hear and read about most from colleagues and say ourselves: "they-don't-belong" or "they-let-anyone-in" or "they-aren't-what-they-were-in- my-day" or "I-am-wasting-my-precious-time" or "I-can-be-doing-something-else" or "I-can't-do-anything-with-the" or "they-don't-care-as-much-as-we-did" or "they-aren't-as-smart-as-they-used-to-be."

If you leave most profs and teachers to their own devices we go in the exact opposite direction of connectedness. And so, what may start out as excitement, anticipation, and expectation usually devolves into spiritless disappointment, lifeless resignation, forlorn surrender, and maybe disgust or even anger. We become members of a put-down students society because we spend so much time practicing being carried away by our thoughts and feelings, our likes and dislikes from all but the "best" students. We practice anxiety. We practice anger. We practice frustration. We practice disdain. We practice joylessness. We practice distancing. We get good at these habits because the more we practice, through daily repetition, the "better" we get at them, are not conscious of them, and the harder they are to break.

So, what would happen if we recognized and acknowledged that reality, if somehow we got to the profs and teachers on the front end before their souls were scarred with that pernicious "N", and with spiritual scalpel in hand to those on the back end already branded, confronted false and frustrating expectations, counseled them that the classroom is a mixed breed rather than a pure bred, get them to understand that being "average"--or even "below average" is not a brand of shame anymore than being "above average" is a badge of honor, ground their teaching in faith, hope, belief, and the joy that power positive teaching?"

I am not talking about just throwing out a good idea or mandating a "thou shalt not" commandment, having an occasional teaching circle or offering a chance workshop or attending a conference. I am talking about letting every moment be a teaching moment, being our teacher. I am talking about a very aware one-day-at-a-time, just-today-don't-think-about-yesterday-or-worry-about-tomorrow, moment-to-moment, day-to-day self-discipline, an enheartening practice that liberates us from the deep disheartening patterns in our hearts and souls that keep us apart from ourselves and others. We have to practice love to break the habit of indifference; we have to practice faith to break the habit of disdain; we have to practice belief to break the habits resignation; we have to practice positive teaching to break the habits of destructive negativity.

To do that, would require lightning reflexes, herculean courage and strength, tough love, endless honesty, infinite patience, nerves of steel, unwavering resolve, addictive hope-oholism--and a touch of foolishness. Sort of an exhausting personal and community commitment, but well worth it.

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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