Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 06:40:20 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: I'm Positive

Negatives and positives. Obstacles and possibilities. Problems and opportunities. I was thinking about these couplets as I waltzed through the dark this crisp morning.

Late Monday afternoon, as the fates would have it, a bunch of stuff came together like tributaries at a confluence: the moaning and groaning of a lot of faculty about students, getting ready for the Lilly Conference where the participant do anything but complain, my return from an exciting meeting about finally being allowed to get involved in the all too little known but exciting learning community on campus, and most of all getting tackled in the hall by a student, by what some would have called a "problem student,' who had taken a class with me a year or two ago.

Our conversation went something like this:

"Hey, Dr. Schmier," Rita (not her real name) greeted me, "glad I bumped into you. I've got an assignment for one of my classes. Can you help me?"

"Sure. What is it?"

"I want to find out what teachers think their biggest problem with teaching is."

"Okay. I was just talking with another professor about that."

"Do you have teaching problems?"

"Of course. I teach. You're asking me the wrong question."

"I am?"

"Sure. It's not having problems that you really want to know about."

"It isn't?"

"Nope. It's whether I see the problems as obstacles or opportunities."

She hesitated for a second. Then she asked, "Well, then, what is your biggest problem?"

Without missing a heartbeat, I quietly smiled and replied, "Me!"

"You? Isn't it the students? That's what everyone has told me."

"You asked me and I answered you. I guess I'm not everyone. Nope. The biggest problem I have to face in the classroom is not any student. It's Louis Schmier. I struggle to be negative or positive. It's up to me whether I see a 'problem student' as either as an 'obstacle student' or a 'possibility student.'"


"It's a matter of whether I see a hidden devil inside a student who I let give me hell or I see a hidden angel who I let bless me."

"What are you talking about?" she smiled.

"You. Go a few minutes?"

"For you? Yeah."

"So do I. Come here and let's sit down."

We sat down and talked about how in the context of the classroom a problem student becomes an obstacle to me only when I am so attached to a way of thinking or a way of doing something that I am inflexible, have no room to maneuver, and am not prepared for surprises. "A problem student--like you were--is an obstacle when things don't go the way I want or a student doesn't do what I want, and I demand that they do. Then, I put myself through hell and believe I am in hell."

"So what do you think a problem is," I asked Rita.

"What you think is it? How you decide to look at the situation?

"But aren't problems, especially problem students bad?"

I asked why she thinks she works problems in her math class or science classes.

"It's supposed to be a way to learn how to apply what we know in all sorts of different ways and different situations."

"Neat! They're 'a way to learn.' An opportunity. What if I do the same thing with people? What if I see a 'problem student'--or a 'problem situation'--as 'a way to learn?" What if I see those situations and students as positive challenges and not as negative barriers? What if I see a 'problem student' as an opportunity and not as an obstacle?"

She looked at me.

"Remember all those talks we had, all your problems, the stuff you got into?"

"Don't I ever. I was that 'problem student.'"

"You were that 'problem person.' Remember what I did?"

"Sure do. You were in my face and on my ass so that I could start getting in my own face and kicking me in my own butt. But, you never were negative. You were kindly. You so believed in me that you wouldn't let me not believe in myself and fail the class. You let me take the class again without anyone knowing it. You said I just needed more time to see that real face in the mirror."

"That was the first time I ever did it. You were a 'problem student' which I chose to interpret to mean an 'opportunity student,' not an 'obstacle' student. I was flexible; I gave myself room to experience new challenges, to figure out new approaches, to learn from these experiences, and to grow from what I learned from these situations."

We talked some more. At some point I remember saying, "You want to be a teacher? Don't just talk in your classes about developing skills in problem solving, maybe even problem perceiving when it comes to your subject. Practice what you preach when it comes to people. Don't forget all those problem-solving and problem-perceiving techniques when a student problem pops up."

"So that's why you say you are your biggest problem with teaching," she said as if the light had come one. "and why you are also your greatest opportunity. It's your choice on how you look at things. You make it happen or not happen. You decide if things stand in your way and if they show you the way."

I paused. Slightly stunned. "Damn!! That's beautiful. Wish I had thought to say it that way. I've got remember that....."

As she left, I sat there thinking about her last words. Such poetry. Sightful. We notice things the way we are, that we think about, and that reflect who we are. Every situation we create is first a thought within us, starts with us, and emanates from us: I imagine, which leads me to create my words, which leads me to generate my emotion, which leads me to energize and direct my action. It's that "simple." We choose to have nightmares or dreams--and live them, have fear or have faith--and live it, be distant and inactive or engaged and active, be anxious or calm, mistrust or trust, negative or positive, see obstacles or see opportunities, see situations and people standing in our way or showing the way.

If I have learned anything in my decade long journey, it is that nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Life in the classroom is messy. I have to deal with it, get over it, roll with it, use it, guide it, get on with it. Nothing really works out the way I want. I can't really control anything beyond me. That's the nature of life; that's the nature of life in the classroom. I always am tested--every minute, every student, every class. And, my test scores can be negatives or positives, barriers or opportunities.

I also have become positive about the limits imposed by negatives. We just can't build with can'ts. When we send out negative energy, all we will get an echoing negative energy bouncing off the classroom walls, the students, and our spirits. And, we will eat at ourselves. If we choose to be negative, to be naysayers, to be academic Henny Pennys proclaiming that the academic sky is falling, then we will meet students with emotional clenched fists, attitudes of folded arms, and spiritual stern faces and sneers. And, all we can do in our hearts is tear them down--and tear our hearts out. And, all we will see are unwanted, discomforting problems--and we won't want to be there among them. We'll be blind to the opportunities and eaf to possibilities. Negatives impose a dormancy and unfulfilled existence, a foundering in the everyday stuff of the classroom, failing backward. They prevent us from stretching forward and out to be the teacher each of us is capable of being. We can't be negative, pessimistic and critical and expect to be happy, positive, and excited; we can't expect students to be happy, positive, and excited. Seeing the worse in people will not evoke their best. Being judgemental and criticizing will not lead to understanding and support and encouragement. You don't have belief that way; you don't have faith and hope that way; you don't love that way.

I'll repeat what Rita said with such poetry. We choose what we let stand in our way and we choose what we let show us the way.

So I say to myself and you, with unapologetic passion: make it happen. We let students be a series of obstructing problems or we see each of them as an opportunity. We have the power to change the face of faces. We have the power to enliven lives and enhearten hearts. We have the power to awaken in the minds and spirits of students the same beliefs we have in them. We are the designers of our today and tomorrows. We get what we choose to expect. We choose to see the handwriting on the wall is a forgery or not. What shall it be: negatives or positives. Tomorrow is pure possibility. The only limits that exist for our tomorrows are the doubts and negatives we have today. And, I am positive that we have the power to create a positive tomorrow. If we expect the positive, if we speak it, if we act it out, we will be a force for and set the state for a promising possibility.

Make it happen.

Make being positive and acting positive a habit of your spirit. Making see possibilities and opportunities a habit of your heart. Forgive students' weaknesses; seek out and build on their strengths; commit to serve rather than be served; greet each student in your hearts and minds with open hands, broadened smiles, extended arms. Do that, and you will work to bring them up and help them reach for their potential. Then, you will seize the tremendous opportunities before you. So, if it is positive, excited, engaging students you want, focus on the positive, excited, and engaging

Make it happen.

No, the students are never the real obstacle. We are. It's our relationship to and attitude towards and interpretation of them as either obstacle or opportunity. We choose what we let stand in our way and we choose what we let show us the way

         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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