Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2000 08:12:25 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: A "Small" Challenge To Myself

Tough walk this morning. Slogging along those sticky ribbons of goo we call asphalt streets that sucked at my feet like tar pits and threatened to pull me under. Oh, for the cool, cool, cool of Dante's Inferno. Hell has got to feel air conditioned compared to south Georgia these days. It's brutal down here, people: 4:44 a.m.; 82 degrees; a foggy mist, and I don't want to think of the humidity and the heat factor. It was nothing more than an open-air inhalant this morning out there.

As I was being blanched in my own sweat, I was thinking about making a resolution for the New Year. No, it wasn't heat induced delirium. You know the New Year is almost upon us. Of course, for us in academics, we don't have to wait until December. The old just went out and the new will start up in August. For the past two months, I've been engaged in what until two weeks ago I described as an impossible project, attended a teaching retreat, participated in three conferences, given a workshop at one, given a keynote at a second and a plenary at the third. >From all that, combined with reading e-mail messagaes, hearing people talk at those conferences, talking with others, I sense that for far too many the last academic year didn't exactly end with a round of applause. It came to a close with what I call sighing end-of-the term days of "whews" and "thank goodness." Relief! We have endured; we have persevered; we have survived!! And, I'm not sure how many will start the new year, draped in celebrating confetti, with expectant toasting, tooting and hooting. Too many will trudge into the new year with a slogging, already beaten "here we go again!"

Our feelings are real, and no one should discount them or disrespect them. At the same time, we shouldn't ignore them, for they effect both us and others. So I ask how much disappointment is self-inflicted by distorting and exaggerating what students do or don't do, or should do. We are go quick to blame little things in students and ignore the larger issues in ourselves; we are so quick to proclaim how we suffer because of students. We're quick to talk about why students aren't ___________________ (fill in the blank). We blame the students for having surrendered our peace of mind and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to negative attitudes. So many of us have so filled up our spirits with the clogging silt of disappointed "if onlys" that our spirits are dammed up.

I don't think the the students or anyone can strip us or give us our sense of fulfillment. Only we can.

I think to many of us don't hear the warning alarm bells. Sure I get disappointed. I can't say that I personally like an occasional jolt of frustration when I am teaching. But, I do appreciate it. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, a bit of frustration is good now and then to keep things alive and going. When that happens, it's a kick in my butt to get out of the clouds, down off the mountain top, back on and stay the course. Disappointment or frustration is a vib. It shakes me and tells me that I've gotten a bit detached, that realty is conflicting with and violating my assumptions, my mythologies--or maybe my ideologies. It's saying, "Hey, your key won't fit this lock. Stop trying. Why get frustrated and angry because it won't. Just jingle your keychain and try another." My frustration jogs me to ask, "What am I missing?" "What do I have to do?" It tells me that I have to attend closely, to see and listen and feel to what is actually happening in the classroom with each of those great people; it turns the spotlight onto the student. And, I can be what I call the "servant teacher."

Yet, if we are not careful, when we feel that shove we play the exonerating blame game. Blame is an anestetic. It numbs our senses, emotions, and brain. We don't have to compare and contrast our assumptions about students with the real people and real situation, or look for an emerging need to change. We are looking for a kind of change where there is no difficult "letting go" and challenging "unlearning" and scary venture into the unknown. We go about looking for change without changing, almost looking for changing results without changing what we feel, think, say, and do. Our sighing is the result of unexamined assumptions. And, the more those assumptions go unexamined the more frustrated we get; and the more frustrated we get, the more..... We can get so disoriented, we can dive into a death spiral of "it's hopeless" despair and burnout without even knowing it until we crash.

You know, we teach who we are; we teach what we feel, think and speak; but we seldom think about why we feel what we feel, think what we think, do what we do, say what we say. We are reluctant to ask those "open, honest questions" of ourselves to ourselves--and struggle for the "open, honest answers." I think we have to meet the challenges head on, not exaggerate them, not ignore them, not rationalize them away, see them for what they really are. When I do that, I can't help but hear inspiring sound and see breathtaking sights and have electrifying feelings, and do exciting things.

So, here is my challenge to myself, my new year resolution: for the next semester I will not feel and think and speak any negatives about teaching or students. I will examine my assumptions each day. I will see that roses have thorns and that thorns have roses. And while I want my teaching and students' learning to be like a prize-winning rose, colorful, fragrant, beautiful, and "perfect," I will also accept the thorny challenges and scratches, the aches and pains of tending those roses, and learn how to accommodate to them in order to help them grow.

Then, I may find that I can enter--no, dance into--the classroom with greater serenity, faith, hope, and confidence; that my outlook may have become a little brighter; that I might be a tad more excited by and enjoy my own friendship; that I can be that better "servant teacher," and that I might make myself a bit more into the kind of teacher I will enjoy being in the classroom with.

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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