Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 08:43:20 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Compassionate Teaching

Good morning. Had a nice six mile walk. The sun was still groping for the eastern horizon. Its advancing rays were slightly tinting small clouds forming pale red and purple puffs that stood as the day's heralds in dawn's ashen sky. And talking about ash, I thought I was going to be burnt to an ash before I finished my route. The windy and chilly climes of Newfoundland made the breezeless heat and humidity of south Georgia seem unbearable. Coming to think of it, they are--without Newfoundland's help!! At 5:00 am after last night's rain the heat factor was 84 degrees! That is unbearable in anyone's book!!

As I was "cooling" off with a cup of freshly brewed coffee by the darkened fish pond, the soothing sound of the waterfalls as the only evidence of its existence, I was still thinking about a letter I received yesterday from Japan. It is from an exchange student who was in a spring semester class. It is a strong reminder we educators are first and last in the people business who should be engaged in compassionate teaching. No, I am not a Bush Republican. I just have come to see that teaching has an emotional calibration. It must, for it deals with feelings--attitudes, if you will--as much as, if not far more than, it does with information. You see, we are not just in the information and knowledge business. We are also in the compassion business engaging compassionately in works of compassion. We are not merely in the transmitting "here's what you need to know" business; we are also in the caring "you are worth it" and "you can do it" business. We are not just in the brain and intellect business. We are also in the heart and spirit business. And, I have been learning this past decade that you can't really teach with your brain if you have no heart or your heart is not in it; you can't teach to the brain of someone if you've taken the heart out of him or her.

Let me tell you what compassion has come to do for me over the past decade since I have struggled to embrace it in my teaching. It makes THE difference. It's that overriding spirit, that single, mysterious, indefinite, connecting quality that has the power to sanctify, to transform, and to elevate both me and the person with whom I come into contact. It's a deep caring for the dignity, well-being, and respect of each student. As my e-mail friend, Margo, might say, it washes, clothes, cures, feeds, and frees.

Compassion is a love potion. It takes an otherwise indolent spirit on an exhuberant daily and endless faith walk!

Compassion adds dimensions to my teaching. First, it is my direction finder: it tells me where I am going and what I am doing; it helps me help people. Second, it's is my definer: it tells me who I am; it tells me that I can encourage, support, smile, hug. And finally, it is my driver: it's my single motivating, stimulating and fulfilling "do whatever it takes" high-octanle fuel; it's my energizer; it's my daily pick-me-up; it's my spiritual vitamin regimen; it gets me over the bumps in the road.

Compassion is that powerful updraft that let's me feel like I'm soaring with the eagles. It the wings that lets me fly into the wind to find those updrafts. It is my life force that sharpens my focus, clears my head, lightens my step, tones every part of me, freshens the air, provides me a purpose, endows me with eternal patience, manages my bounty. It keeps my spiritual and physical arteries clear. It converts any anxiety I might have into positive expectation, into a positive expedition into the unknown and unfamiliar that embraces all the possibilites of today and tomorrows.

Compassion allows me to be warmed and extend warmth, to be understood and be understanding, to be sensitive and to extend sensitivity, to be encouraged and be encouraging, to be open and extend openness.

Compassion is the nobler option; it's the worthier choice; it's the higher road. And yet, it is the less traveled road. But, I'll tell you something. Once you've chosen it it, once you've traveled it, once you feel that high, that goodness, that humbleness, the Ellas in the class, there's no turning back and coming down.

And what's really sad, is to think that the one thing that can turn a student on and around, that can elevate a student, is the one thing that most students feel they don't receive in the classroom: compassionate teaching.

Think compassion is touchy-feely b.s.? Believe me. It's not. Think compassion is watering down. It's not. Think compassion is being soft? It's not. Think compassion is a weakness? It's not.

No, compassion is not for the faint of heart or heartless. It is for the weak-kneed. It's the harder choice and the rockier path. It comes with inordinate demands, challenges, and difficulties. Compassion is a committment! It is a dedication. It means to be involved, to get down-and-dirty, to persevere and endure. Compassion is not an occasional thing that you pull out for an occasion. It's not a convenience that you use when it's convenient. It's not something you select selectively.

Compassion is not a gloriously-sounding and obligatory mission statement; it's a deep inner compelling sense of mission. Compassion demands that you be present every day, that you be in the moment every moment for everyone, unconditionally. Compassion silences that exasperating, surrendering, escaping, throwing up of the hands, walk away "Oh, not again." Every day becomes an again, and an again, and an again. Every day is an again, a fresh, new beginning. It's compassion that's what keeps you feeling clean like a refreshing and cleansing rain--every day.

What I have found it that it is pretty darn hard for anyone to stay distant or in the shadow in the presence of compassion. No demon can stand up to the power of openheartedness. No anger can be sustained in the face of kindness. No fear can withstand the embrace of faith.

Compassion is the basic pigment with which you paint your teaching masterpiece every day. It places you among the ranks of the angels. When you feel that kind of power, you can't either lose it--or not use it. There's no risk, nothing to lose, no price to pay. If anything, I assure you, you get paid back ten-fold. For a teacher with compassion, it is never a matter of win or lose, success or failure, blessing or curse, darkness or light. It isn't even challenge. It is opportunity. No, no power is greater than the power of compassion.

Think I'm crazy? To paraphrase Pearl Cleavage, what looks like crazy antics on an ordinary day, looks like compassionate teaching when the light hits from the right angle.

         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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