Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 8/12/2002 6:36 AM
Random Thought: A Vacation It's Not

Come on! Grab your hat! Put on your sunscreen! Take your Fodor's! Trees and sun and water awaits you! Visit lush green rolling hills! Walk among ancient ruins! Stay in historic Inns! Eat exotic foods!

Sound like an alluring travel brochure, don't I. I just finished reading Alain de Botton's ART OF TRAVEL. Interesting book. What he said about the art of travel reminded me a lot about how so many of us travel into the classroom and deal with the students.

In many respects, so many of us think that entering a classroom is like going to a vacation place. This is especially so at the beginning of a semester or the beginning of a career. So many of us, unchaste, look at the classroom as a pristine place. It is a place of great expectation. Each term, each day, We set out to be happy; we think we can be happy; we expect to find a happy place. Like a vacation, we expect a vacation place that is free of every day threat, worries, and challenges.

And then, we find that the place or getting to the place isn't the picture perfect place pictured in the travel brochure. Our dreamy expectation is confronted with reality. You have to deal with dinky or vast and jostling airports, long and tiring flying or driving times, miserable weather, lines, delays, more lines, awkward digestion, fatigue, boredom, confusing money exchanges, traffic jams, sunburn, and still more lines, lost property, frayed nerves, financial anxiety, confusing maps, confusing road signs, another language, misplaced luggage, time changes, getting lost, forgotten essentials, unavailable car rentals, crowds, unaccommodating rooms, strange plumbing, sickness, accident, odd tasting food, banal food, rushing, worrying about what's going on at home, conflicting interests, and a host of exasperating unexpecteds. The quiet and hypnotic trance of exotic scenery competes with concrete ribbons of highway, billboards, parking lots, gas stations, noise.

We have spent a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of money to go to a happy and relaxing vacation place. And, we work hard to make it a happy and relaxing place. Then! We spend a lot of time with the anxious and picky: "Didn't you bring it?" "This is how much?" "Where is the...." "How did this happen?" "What do you mean no reservation?" "We're going to be late." "It's closed!" "We missed it!" "They told us...." "Run!!" "Why do we have to get so and so something?" "What's it? It's just a..." We get annoyed when things don't go perfectly as planned. We get upset at the smallest and least significant things. We let the littlest of things get deepest under our skin to make the biggest difference and generate the largest--and silliest--arguments. And, then we blame that thing for "ruining things" and, we wish we were home or someplace else. At times, we do and go, we reluctantly and often begrudgingly, temper our desires to fit the expectations of traveling companions or others. They have a particular vision of what we should see, what we should go and where we should go. We inhibit what we see and do and go in order to seem normal to others although deep within us we are at the least uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we continue on because we don't want to come home to a "you didn't see?" or a "you didn't go to?" or a "you didn't like?" We stress ourselves to make sure that the vacation goes well. We stress ourselves when it doesn't. We're particularly unhappy because we're unhappy in that the special place and at special time because they aren't what we conjured up in our dreams and plans. Then, as Botton says, we "absent ourselves." We withdraw. We brood. We skulk. We blame. We complain. We bicker. We argue. We make it worse. And, when we get home, we drop the lead-weighted luggage in the middle of the floor in a gesture of "thank god we're home," collapse into the couch, and deeply sigh, "We really need a vacation now." And, the planning and dreaming starts all over.

And so, it is with the classroom. Too many of us, and the institutional administrators as well, in higher education especially feel forced into the bread-and-butter teaching place away from the hallowed place of research and publication in order to put food on the table and pay bills. So often, the classroom of students is not how we imagined or want to imagine. We think that by going to the classroom we can be another person. We forget that we can't forget ourselves; we can't leave ourselves behind; we cannot step outside ourselves. We must bring ourselves with us, with all our idiosyncracies, our expectations, our frustrations, our issues, our hurts. Students do the same. Botton says something amazing. We don't realize that happiness is not a place; it's all in our hearts and heads. Maybe, he says, to really get a lot our of a vacation, we have to know about ourselves.

So many of us enter the classroom as if we had been mesmerized by a quick scan of the enthralling brochure. We look improperly with a too often superficial glance that leaves us indifferent. Few of us stare at the vacation place for a long period of time. If we do stare, we would get a truer sense of the place. We would see that the classroom isn't a photogenic campus recruiting brochure come to life. Imperfect students are there with their regrets and worries; imperfect we are there with our regrets and worries.

And so, as Botton says of the vacationer, we should enter the classroom with a mind set the chief character is of which is "receptivity." We should approach the new semester, each class, each student with a receptive humility without any rigidity to what is or is not beautiful, important, wondrous, worthwhile. We should be alive to the layers of which each person is composed. We have to make appear those whose faces and expression had been invisible. We have to unlearn our habits of being blind to what we assume is the known and routine and develop a piercing and searching eye. We have to obey a mental command of seeing the subject, the class, the students as if we had never seen them before, and marvel in their newness. He is right. When we do that, our uvea widens and we become eyes wide open. Our habit of inattention is slowly, and arduously, replaced by active, conscious seeing. We intentionally start noticing instead of merely seeing, listening instead of merely hearing. We being to make a conscious effort to notice and apprehend the smallest of things and the faintest of words and the littlest of expressions and the slightest of movements. On our travels or in the classroom oases begin to appear in the desert; we begin to take heed; people release their worth, people becoming interesting and beautiful and individual. We start to travel through the landscape of people and begin to feel their spirit. We begin to understand. And as the scene changes in our spirits and before our eyes, so do the values it suggests and so we.

Someone once said that teaching is no vacation. After reading Botton, maybe it is--if we vacation properly.

         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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