Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun 8/18/2002 6:45 AM
Random Thought: Three Laws of Teaching: Sales, Surroundings, Glue

Good morning. Went out real early this morning. It didn't go any good. It was still hot and hazy and clammy. Even in the dark I was getting a South Georgia tan. The mildew was turning my skin a slimy green. You'd think by the end of my walk, I had become The Hulk! Anyway, I was thinking about something my VP for Academic Affairs said me when I bumped into him and the new President at a local restaurant last Wednesday. He said jokingly that for once he would like to read a "non-random thought."

So, obedient servant that I am, I bow to his request. Here is his requested non-random, Random Thought. It has a planned spontaneity about it. It is something that I've been walking on and putting together for the last three weeks. It's sort of a Janus reflection on both looking back on what I've learned this past academic year and looking forward how I better can apply my learning in the coming academic year.

I always say that the classroom is a Roschach test. That is, what I do is an reflection and extension of who I am. If that is true, then what I do cannot be replicated. If it were to be totally true, then anything I share is virtually useless for others. Fortunately, that only is partly true. What I do, however, is to obey and apply in my own particular personal and educational and physical context certain teaching "laws." It's like composing variations on a theme. The problem was figuring out just what were these themes. This morning, as I excitedly thought of "opening night" tomorrow, it started to come together. The themes or laws seem so plainly obvious and commonsensical.

In my syllabus, I list two set of rules. The first set says that no one may look at the back of anyone's head; no one may say anything without first introducing him or herself; that we are all members of a mutually supportive and encouraging classroom community. The second set lists what we call "Rules of the Road:" 1. Give a damn! Care! Love! Don't just mouth it, live it; 2. Focus on the student and his/her learning and then worry about the subject and your teaching later; 3. Don't enter the classroom expecting students to fail. Expect them to learn and succeed. Help each student to expect that of him/herself; 4. The class is a "gathering of ones," of diverse, individual, sacred human beings. 5, No one in this "gathering" is dumb and unwanted; 6. Every student is entitled to the personal, equal dignity and treatment of a human being; 7. No one's face gets erased and no one goes nameless and no one is left in the background and no one is allowed to be overshadowed by anyone else; 8. Every student starts with a clean slate. Don't judge a student by any body piercing or tatoo or the whispers of other people or a GPA or the accent of the speech or the the color of the skin or religious and ethnic background or gender or sexual preference or....; 9. Love every student. It's OK to be disappointed in or even frustrated with their lack of effort or success, but don't stop loving them as persons. 10. The 3 R's don't mean a thing if they don't make the student more humane.

I am beginning to see that these sets of rules are really merely an obedience of three distinct, separate, and inseparable, but often ignored and unapplied, Laws of Teaching and Learning. These three fundamental Laws of Teaching are the tap root from which grows everything we should think, feel, say, and do. In a nutshell you can reduce them to three words: sales, surroundings, glue.

The first Law of Teaching and Learning what I'll call "The Law Of Sales." This law says that the master teacher is a masterful salesperson with a particular set of studied and natural personal and social gifts, abilities, and talents. They sell themselves far more than the subject matter. These kinds of people are all around us; they are even hidden within each of us. They are socialable; they are communicators; they are connectors; they are reachers; they are touchers; they are relators; they are smilers; they are persuaders; they are kindly; they are igniters; they are authentic; they are persuaders; they are optimists; they are synchronizers; they are senders; they are receivers; they are knowledgeable; they are helpers; they love people; they are infectious; they are contagious; they love what they do; they have energy, enthusiasm, charm, likeability. Teaching for them is relationship resting on love, fatih, belief, hope, and respect. This law says that the likes of them are infectious and contagious. They are "turners," turning on the turned off, turning the negative on its head, turning prison cells called classrooms into majestic cathedrals.

The second Law of Teaching is what I'll call "The Law of Surroundings." I once read a study on urban dropout rates that showed a student seemed to be better off in a good neighborhood and in a disfunctional family than he or she is in a bad neighborhood and a good family. This law says that students--as well as faculty and staff-- are a lot more sensitive to their surroundings than they let on or know themselves. They are extremely sensitive to the slightest changes in their surroundings. Students--as well as faculty and staff-- are strongly influenced by the circumstances, culture, climate, conditions, and specifics of the educational environment, from the prosaic to the subtlest, in which they find themselves. They are powerfully shaped by their external environment by a flow of outside-to-inside influences. This law says that the features of our immediate social--particularly peer influence--and physical environment are powerful in shaping who students--as well as faculty and staff-- become and how they act. The surroundings in which a student finds himself or herself affects his and her personal and social thinking, feeling, vision, field of view, capabilities, actions. This law says that if you salt the oats, you can lead a horse to water and get him to drink.

The third Law of Teaching is what I'll call "The Law of Glue." The law says that we have to spend most of our time not on what we say and do, but on thinking how to make what we say and do stick. Glue means adhesiveness or stickiness. It means what we say and do makes an impact, a lasting impact; they have a staying power; you can't get them out of our head; they're there glued in our memory. This law says that unless the student remembers what we say and do, he or she won't be more knowledgeable, won't change his or her attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. This law says that there are ways, ways most of us have not paid much attention to, simple ways of presenting ourselves and changing both presentation and structuring of information, for making what we say and do memorable.

I hope this satisfies my VP.

         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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