Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed 10/22/2003 4:16 AM
Random Thought: On Teaching, Part III

I was watching the Chiefs-Raider game on Monday night football. Sometime during the third quarter, John Madden started talking about injuries, rehabilitation, and comebacks. Marveling at the return from what had looked like a career-ending injury by one of the Chiefs' running backs, he said, "If you don't believe in what you're doing and the people around you," he asserted, "it isn't going to work. You've got to believe for it to work." And, that brings me to my next set of realizations about teaching.

(8) Eighth, I firmly believe a teacher has to be a believer in each student, an unconditional believer. Teaching is an "F" word. It is "F"aith-based, ever-freshened with free action and free thinking, and over the past decade, I have evolved into a faith-based educator. No, I haven't turned my collar around. And, no, I am not a Bush Republican though I won't leave a student behind without a fight.

If you're scared by the word, faith, or don't think it belongs in academe, use Madden's word, "believe." It's not as powerful of a word, but it'll get the point across. Whatever the word, it is a stand I take and the basis on which I make my decisions. It is something no student has to earn; it is something I freely admit that I have before I can prove my position is positively true. After all, faith, Paul said, is evidence of things unseen and the substance of things hoped for.

I have come to the realization that if I am to help each student help him/herself stretch out to reach for his or her potential, I must have unconditional faith in each student. That faith tells me, "Louis, go for it. Give it a shot. You've got the power and so do they." That faith tell me that there's an ability, a talent, a potential within me that is always available upon which to draw. And, I must exercise that faith that I have the power within me if I am to help students convince themselves that they have it likewise within themselves.

My faith in my inner ability and in each student strengthens me and gets me through the inevitable wet sand. Now I admit that the clarity of purpose endowed by my faith in each student often can startle those around me. Some think it is a recklessness. Some think it's serendipity. It's not. It does make me far less hesitant and more fearless than I otherwise would be. It makes me attentive and attuned. It sharpens my senses. It makes me look for, hear out for, recognize, see, listen to each and every student. It's a lens that gives me a startling magnification of purpose and vision and mission, of belief and hopefulness and optimism. It's doesn't turn me into a proverbial bull in a china shop. It does turn me into a demolition ball that smashes the walls of my own fear and the walls that the congenital naysayers would brick around me. It frees me to go out and feel free to express an idea, to try a technique, to reach out to someone. I rely upon it as I ply uncharted waters and try the novel. Faith lets me unload self-doubt, shed insecurity, silence the belittling inner murmur and outer clamor, vanquish negativity, shrivel the denigrating criticism--and help students do the same for themselves.

This attitude, however, has evolved, this faith has manifested itself, only over the last decade. Until then, I was at the place so many students and faculty are right now. I had been more of a teeth-grinding "F"ear-based teacher, fettered with frightened thinking and frozen action. There had been a wrestling match within me between a strong deeply and long rooted FEAR and a newly planted, but not yet sprouted FAITH. It was a struggle of biblical proportions--and that is no exaggeration-- between the old, well-established inner censoring, negative, eroding, voice of self-judgement and the fledgling inner, strengthening voice of self- confidence, belief and hope. My ears often had hurt from the loud cacaphony of a shouting match between a noisy yakety-yak fear and the firm, positive, reassuring music of faith.

Fear, by any other name, is that daunting voice of the self-critical inner silencer that shriveled my ideas before they ripen. It makes it hard for anyone, student and faculty alike, to believe that he or she has any good ideas at all. Fear crushes impulses, impales ideas, shoots down attempts, ties your hands and feet with inner knots of anxiety and self-doubt. Trust me, when I say that if that self-critical voice gets hold of your spirit, it will lead you into a maze of depressing negatives and discouragements and inhibitions and prohibitions and depressions and weaknesses. The battle always goes on through the day, affecting mundane actions and thoughts and interactions that impact on both your and each student's well-being. The inner war goes on and on and on as your inner voice tries to cut you down with a cannonade of negative messages: "Who do you think you are?" BANG! "They'll think you're crazy." POW! "What does he want?" BOOFO! "If you blow this one, you'll never get another chance." BOOM! "Better keep quiet and let someone else do it." POP! "You'll look like a jerk." SMASH! "Remember that they said you'll never amount to anything." WHAMO! "I'll never get tenure." CRASH! "They won't understand." CRACK! "What can I do?" CRUNCH!

Yesterday, I came face-to-face with the realization that when I enter, am in, and leave a class each day, my inner censor, fear, it really quite puny without my support. I alone supply the energy, darkness, and power on which it thrives. Likewise with faith.

One of the students came up to me as I was strolling along munching on a very sinful but delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven glazed doughnut.

"Dr. Schmier," I heard coming from behind me. I turned. There was Nancy (not her real name) .

From out of the blue she said, "Your story about biting your nails and your painted pinky really hit home. Mine were just like yours."

She held out her hands, fingers spread apart, "I haven't bitten mine in four weeks! I feel so much better about myself. I have so much more faith in myself. I honestly believe I can kick ass about anything now!"

"I have so much more faith in myself."

"You sure do," I quietly answered.

Believe me when I say faith is a powerful state of teaching and learning. It puts a bounce in my step. It's than a state of mind, more than a state of heart, more than a state of spirit. It's a powerful state of being. It's not just believing. It's a magical, mysterious, mighty force that changes you and your teaching every day and changes students as well.

For me, faith-based teaching is that mountain-moving thing as faith-based learning is for a student such as Nancy. For each of us, faith is a "pow" thing when we believe we have the power and a "wow" thing when we see our power move the mountain. If you're going to be the teacher you want to be, if want to go anywhere you want to go, if you want to make your own decisions, if you don't want to be manipulated by people around you, you've got to have the faith and live the faith. It's an positive assumption of potential idea, a positive and possible and potential that I let go to my head and get into my heart. Faith-based teaching gives me the purpose and meaning; the purpose and meaning give me the confidence to vision the dream; visioning the dream gives me the direction of the mission; the mission gives me the enthusiasm and excitement, the commitment, the dedication, the perseverance; and they give me energy;

Without faith in each student, I would revert to the educational derelict I once truly was.

Wow. Didn't mean to go on with this realization. It's enough--for now.

         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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