Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun 8/10/2003 10:26 AM
Random Thought: The Most Important Word In Education

Dare I share another one so soon? But, gosh, lately I've been feeling like a Texas wildcat oil well that just came in. I'm just gushing with stuff. I guess my excitement about the coming semester is really building up after a roughly three month reluctant hiatus from the classroom.

What the heck. There I was, "basking" in the hot, humid mid-day summer sun among the front yard flower beds spraying them with a home made natural, noxious, nicotine based bug spray made from boiling chewing tobacco. Coating my superheated body was an equally noxious concoction of sweat, sunblock oil, and mosquito repellant made from being blanched in the hot humidity. My back was to the street. As I whiffed away the gnats, I heard the plodding of a runner. I didn't look around. I thought it must be a fellow mad dog or Englishman. I heard my name called out, turned, and there was sweaty Nessie. I waved. She stopped, came over, and started talking. Parts of our conversation went something like this.

Between gasping huffs and puffs, she said, "Hey, Dr. Schmier, this is crazy."

"Running in this humidity and sun?" I asked in a tone of agreement that questioned her sanity.

"No. A bunch of us were talking about you the other day over a pizza. We were singing our Bruce Springsteen project songs. It was a hoot. We were doing that crazy rap stuff about Reconstruction at the table. The people around us thought we had lost it. Then, we got to talking about the class and how we felt about it. We came up with a puzzle for you that we were going to throw at you when classes begin. But, hey, you're here now. We wanted to know what you think is the most important single word for a teacher or anyone on this campus?"

I turned off the hose. "Love," I shot back.

"No. We know that. I mean if you could say only one word that says it all, just one word, to a student when he first comes on campus, when he first enters your classroom, when he first comes into your office, what would it be?"

"One word? You gotta be kidding." I moaned. For a second I facetiously thought that in the future I should only work my front yard at night when no one would see me.

"One word," she continued. "Not a phrase. Not a sentence. Not a sermon. Just one word. That's all we're giving you. What would that one word be?"


"Now," she said with an impishness that revealed she thought she had caught me.

I thought for a second. "You know what it is."

"I do?"

"Sure. It was the first word I used on the first day of class as I greeted you at the door and gave you the letter."

She paused for a moment. "I don't remember."



"You got it. 'Welcome.'"

"Why 'welcome?'"

"It's probably the most important least used word in education, second only to 'love.' It says it all," I told her. "Love, support, encourage, hope, worthy, faith, belief, care." As we talked, we decided that "welcome," is a word for everyone on campus: staff, administrators, professors, advisers, coaches. It's also not just a first day word. It's a second day word, and a third day word, and a fourth day word. It's an every time word, a "each and every day" word. And, it's not just a "say to" word. It's a "show it" and "live it" word as if each and every day is a first day. But, you've got to mean it. You've got to be passionate about it. It's got to be unconditional. The bottom line is that it has to be real. You can't say 'welcome' with a snarl in your voice and a sneer on your face. Your voice has to sing it, your body has to dance it, your face has to smile it..."

"What does all that mean?" she asked in confusion.

Whenever I say welcome, I told her, I mean a bunch of things: I will be gracious to each of you; I will respect to each of you; my heart is open to each and every one of you; I'm really glad each of you are here; you're important and important to me; I'll do whatever it takes to help you care about who you are and what you do; I want to see you grow to your full potential. I went to explain that "welcome" means an unconditional and sincere greeting of each person without prejudice, bias, preconception. "That includes the brash, the confident, the tattooed, the uncooperative, the body pierced, the shy, the lonely, the loudmouth, the goof off, the hard worker, the special, the friendly, the indifferent, the interested, the uninterested, the easy, the challenging. It means each and everyone, no exceptions."

"Isn't that kind of dreamy?"

"Well," I answered, "dreams are pretty powerful stuff. They're the key to our choices, passion, spirit, energy, growth. You might say that our dreams always lead the way for each of us. When you dream you are saying to yourself, 'What if' and 'It could be.' You'll get and be what you imagine because you follow what you imagine to the places you imagine."

I went on to explain that I thought imagination is sort of an expression of our desires, and its tough to go against your own desires. Our imagination can go to bright, beautiful, energetic, positive, exciting, extraordinary, selfless, and constructive places; or, it can go to dark, ugly, lethargic, negative, self-centered, hum-drum, and destructive places. I prefer harnessing that incredible power to fertilize my imagination with uplifting faith, hope, belief, and love. If I imagine the best that's where whatever I think, feel, and do will take me. "I prefer to notice and embrace a student with an 'I care and believe in you' then ignore or push him or her away with an 'I don't really care and don't believe in you.' Then, I find myself in caring and believing places." Beats gagging on a poison pill of negative grumpy worrying and griping.

"Is it really that easy?"

"No. It's that demanding. It's easy to say it; it's harder to fight for it; it's even harder to live by it; and it's really tough to live up to it. If you want to keep on firing on all cylinders, you just have to work through a bunch of what some Zen masters call 'The Lazies' that are always there to stop you."

Nessie sat down on the grass and we talked some more, a lot more about "welcome" and about those debiliating "Lazies."

         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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