Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed 5/21/2003 6:52 AM
Random Thought: A Teacher's Biggest Challenge

Like a mad dog and Englishman I was out in the sun, heat, and humidity working in my front garden two days ago trying to beat the distant darkening sky and threatening thunder. As I was pruning my roses, a car suddenly swerved with a slight screech towards the curb that caught my attention and parked across the street.

As I turned. The car door opened. Out stepped Mary. She came over to me and said, "You live here, Dr Schmier?"

"No," I answered. "I'm the gardener."

"Let me give you a 'thanks' hug. I missed you at graduation."

I stood up straight and protested, "I'm sweaty and dirty."

"Who cares."

As she hugged me, I asked, "What's this for?"

"For being there all these years when I need someone even though you weren't my adviser. For being at my graduation. I saw you. It meant a lot when you gave me a thumbs up as I got my diploma. I'm glad I saw you. We've got to talk." She turned to look at the darkened clouds turning black. "Got time before it pours?"

We sat down on the grass cross-legged talking about her future. She was down. She told me how a lot of people were, in her words, "trying to steal my dream" with "why are you going into teaching" warnings about lousy pay, school politics, complaining parents, disrespectful students, overcrowded classes, loads of paperwork, overwork, and "just being treated without respect in general as an amateur who is doing something anyone can do."

For about ten or fifteen minutes, she said how those people got her depressed and didn't seem all that supportive of her choice of career. "I'm willing to work hard at teaching. I love children, but I don't know.... They make it sound so, so horrible. You always came into class so upbeat, so full of sunshine with your upbeat music and your 'Words of the Day." You didn't let anything really bother you for long. You somehow get over things. You never stopped believing in each of us. You were always there to listen even when we weren't in your class anymore. We never knew what was going to happen in class because you always came in with something new that you tried on us. I've seen it over and over again. I've heard about it from others since I was in our class over and over again. My friends and family have made think twice. I'm scared I won't be able to stick with it and do what I want to do. I don't want to become a cynical, distant, or burnt out zombie like a lot of teachers I've seen. If that's what my future is like, I'll go into something else...."

As she got up, she asked, "I've got to go to my job. I want you to tell me what you think is going to be my biggest challenge and how I should deal with it. If I really know what to expect, I can handle it."

"I'll do that if you do something for me."

"Always the teacher. What's that."

"Write down just what it is you want to do. Only two words."

"Two words?!?!?!?"

"Two words. Something I'm developing."

"Thanks for using me as a guinea pig again. You did that once with the Rodin Project.," she lovingly smirked. "But, I'll do it. I know you have a purpose. You always do."

And off she went with a "gotta run. You made me late. See ya around. Come into ....... and I'll serve you."

"Those two words?"

"....And you'll get your two words."

"Your two words!"

"My two words!"

She drove off and left with an equally tough challenge. This is what I wrote her this morning after my walk. I used more than two words:

"Mary, what will be your biggest challenge? On the first day of the first year in your career that you enter the classroom will be the same challenge as the first day of the thirty-ninth year that I enter the classroom. And, it will be the same each and every day of your career no less than it has been for mine in the past decade that I've seen myself as a teacher. It will be understanding that working at teaching is not enough. You have to constantly work on yourself. The biggest challenge you will face in your careers will be, always will be, each day, staying excited every day about teaching and especially about each student. You will have to learn how to sing in the rain as well as in the sunshine. If you don't stay excited about teaching, you're right. You'll stop or be stopped working at teaching. It will become just plain ole monotonous work. The tiring nitty-gritty detail, paperwork, meetings, conferences, obstacles, objections, preparation, politics, and long hours that necessarily go along with the work of teaching will lose any meaning. They will wear you down and wear you out. All that 'miserable stuff' won't be miserable if you see a purpose for it and have reason to be excited about it. If you don't, you'll stop living and will join the ranks of the merely existing, robotic, mechanical, bored, emotionless, dead-panned walking-dead. Your biggest challenge, then, is that you will have to to keep your powder dry. You can't light your fire or keep it burning if you're all wet. You will have to learn to be a constant student of learning how to stop people and things from demotivating, uncommitting, uninvolving, and especially 'unwhying' you."

Can you be excited all the time? I think you can, but allow yourself a slip or two here and there. After all, you're not perfect. You are human. But, just a here and there. No more. I know it won't be easy, which is why it will be your greatest challenge. Teaching, like life, doesn't just happen. There are no magic wands to wave or ruby slippers to click together. Your habits play a major role in how the future of your teaching will unfold. They will decide if coach will or won't turn into a pumpkin and the prancing horses into rats. So, you will have to program yourself to get into getting the habit of always doing four things each day.

First,, chase after and get a worthy and meaningful two-word purpose. You say you love children. So? Loving children is your attitude. For what purpose are you going to use your attitude and subsequent actions. I am talking about your precise, concise, and uncliched 'know-why.' However important is your 'know-how' and 'know what,' they are not much without your directing and kindling 'know why." Each day, look in the mirror, gaze at your navel, stare at the stars, peer into your soul, and go deep. Go on a daily hunt for your purpose, that 'why' that gets your juices flowing, your heart pumping, your minding focusing, your lungs heaving, your legs dancing, your belly burning, your spirit soaring, your face smiling, and your eyes gleaming.

Second, each day keep that 'know why' waving as a reminder square in front of your eyes. Tattoo it on your arm, paste it on your office door, tape it to your bathroom mirror, decopage it on the seat of your commode, hang it on your refrigerator door. It will keep you both going on and on-growing. Never put it on the shelf. Without it you'll lose your focus, determination, persistence, enjoyment, meaning. You'll start to wallow in a shallow and empty resigned "This is all there is to it. There ain't any more." You'll wind up leading a small life, arguing over small stuff, crying over small pinpricks, grimacing over small disappointments, and leaving control over you and your future to someone else. And, your 'know-how' will be harder and harder to use until it becomes a drudgery of 'no-hows.'

Third, believe constantly with all your heart that what you're doing is critically and incredibly important, that you are reaching out and touching others, enriching others, helping others, and leaving behind a world altered for the better.

And fourth, know that there's no time to waste, have a sense of desperate urgency that today is urgent.

Work hard on, focus on, expend a lot of energy on those four habits each day of getting, keeping, believing, and knowing until they become almost automatic, and each day you'll find the adjectives: challenging, motivating, inspiring, stimulating, imagining, innovating, and creating.

Keep in touch. You know where I am. And always....

         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" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier