Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 10/31/2003 4:21 AM
Random Thought: On Teaching, Part VI

God, I hate this time change. I wonder if the squirrels set back their clocks and the ants got an extra hour of sleep. Anyway, here I am, cooling off with a cup of hot freshly brewed coffee after a brisk five mile walk in the brisk pre-dawn hours. I had to burn extra calories in the icy air this morning in preparation for a caloric overdose tomorrow on my angelic Susan's sinfully delicious birthday cheese cake she has been preparing for me the past two days.

Anyway, I walked the streets this morning at about 5 am. There was such silence. I loved it. It's mobile meditation for me. While by body got chilled, my mind and soul just chilled. I stilled my thoughts, took in the experience, just listened, and discovered. I need my time to let go of the noisy confusion of my own thoughts, just stop talking, and just listen to refreshing silence. When I do, my batteries get recharged and things get clearer. You just have to back off, let go, get vulnerable, and to let the pure experience of living touch you directly. At least, I do.

And so, refreshed, failing in my struggle not to think of Susan's yummy cheese cake, I am at the keyboard with some more realizations for Tina.

(12) Inside. It's all inside. For me, "teaching" is not "out there;" it has no being of its own; it is, therefore, not independent of me. It is me. It is something I create or participate in the creation of every day through my feelings, through my thinking, and through my actions. When, over a decade ago, I slowly stopped acting in a particular way, when I slowly stopped thinking in a particular way, when I slowly stopped feeling in a particular way, I slowly began to be a different person, a different teacher. And, I slowly began to teach differently. That can happen anywhere, any time, with anyone because teaching is an expression of an outlook, a philosophy, and a way of life. If this is the case, and I stand as an avowal that it is, the "what do I want to accomplish" magic bullet is not in some method or some technology. The magic bullets are in my own chambers, in what I feel, what I think, and what I do. Any one of us can be a great teacher the moment we decide we want to be a great teacher. It's all inside.

(13) Confusion. Lots of confusion. Lots and lots of confusion. Life. Vibrant life. Always on the move. Full of life. I have to admit that I never have a handle on it. Teaching is like trying to grab proverbial jello. It's so mercurial. If you think you've got it, you don't understand teaching. If you've think you're there, you don't understand teaching. You never get it and you're never there. You're always searching, always journeying. It you're standing still, you're dead. If you're not confused, you don't understand much about teaching. It exists in the world of the living. If you teach lifelessly, you're dead. The world of the classroom is an unfolding, confusing, and complex world that is in a state of far greater continual change than most of us realize. It is a world of organized chaos or chaotic organization. The fundamental reality of the classroom is relationship and the center is the students' lives. A totally different set of rules apply in this kind environment. You hang back, you observe, you withhold judgement, you make sense as you go along, you observe, you act out of an inner feeling, you improvise. At times, you're not even thinking. At times, you're going on instinct and intuition. If you want to control, if you have to stop to think, you're going to be creamed. You have to learn how to unthinkingly react as if you were surfing a wave. If you don't, you're going to be creamed. In some respect the key held by the great teachers is to surrender to the wave and ride it. In some respect that surrender is an awareness of the wave and a willingness to act on that awareness.

(14) Movement. Lots of movement. Change. Lots of flux. Difference. Lots of uniqueness. Lots and lots and lots. Great teachers know the classroom is not uniform, fixed, and static. Instead it is frothing with growth and development. They know the classroom is pulsating, modulating, forming new relationships, reverberating, changing, throbing, evolving, emerging, shifting, submerging, reforming, transforming, moving. Each class is, as I never hesitate to shout, a "gathering of sacred 'ones'," each with a specific set of past and present experiences each with specific learning habits each with specific strengths and weaknesses each with specific current and future strengths and weaknesses and, as someone once said, each with a specific set of itches to scratch. The classroom is neither predictable nor controllable. There's that jello and mercury again. The great teachers know they are living today and can't use the methods and answers of yesterday. They know that "there" and "here," "then" and "now," "those" and "these" are never identical. The great teachers, to be sure, learn from experience, but such experience is a bank from which to draw as the occasion calls. Experience should not be an enslavement of simple "how to" rules and routine formulae. The great teachers know there are no "tried and true" answers of yesterday, only new ways of looking at a new today.

(15) Unconditional intimacy. You have to be riding the wave if you want to surf. You cannot be intuitive or spontaneous or whatever in the classroom without actually being in the classroom. You've got to be where it's at; you've got to be there when things are happening. You got to be "present;" you've got to have a presence; you've got to be "presencing" the doing of your faith and hope and love. As Peter Senge might say, presence is not merely about being physically there; presence is about love; love is about intimacy; and intimacy is about deep, deep regard. Call it connection. Call it communication. I think "intimacy" is a far better work because it is something that is in every fiber of your being. It is a constant "I see you" thing, a consistent "I have a deep regard for you" thing, " an always "I can empathize" thing, and a deep "I want to help you make a difference in your life" thing. The great teachers have a genuine interest in each and every student in that classroom. They never forget that there are others in that classroom with them, that they are connecting with other human beings and not just dealing with subject matter. They struggle to know each student and to let the students know them. The deep regard they hold for each student doesn't mean all goes well and all is always smooth and they are push overs. They get irritated, disappointed, annoyed, even angry, but none of that ever dominates how they feel about each student and what they do. It's like saying "I do not love what you're doing. But, I still love you and will continue to act out of that love." The great teachers also realize they, no less than the student, are human. They can say "Been there, done it. I know what you're feeling; I've felt the same way; this is what I have found." And finally, the great teachers are altruistic. Without hesitation or reservation or equivocation, they commit themselves, dedicate themselves, to do morally, legally, and ethically whatever it takes to make it possible for each student to have a rich and fulfilling life. But, most important of all, by deed, by modeling, not merely by word, they let each student know they are valued, worthy, trusted, and respected.

(16) No labels. No "at risk," no "disruptive," no "special needs," no "dumb," no "smart," no "challenging," no "honors," no "failures," no "poor," no "bad." Not even "student." No, no restricting, confining, segregating, imposing, depreciating, denigrating, distorting labels. Just "human being." Only the Golden Rule. Just simple respect and dignity of a person who has talents, gifts, abilites, potential. It's not something you create; it's something you accord; it's not something you implant; it's something that's already there; it's not something earned; it's already there; it's not something you give; it's something you acknowledge. No theory. Just the way you see and act. The great teachers help students see themselves through the lens of dignity and respect. And, I don't care how high a student's GPA may be, I don't care what honors a student receive, no student has much of a real future as a person without a strong sense of dignity from which flows self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence.

Enough for now. Gotta go sneak a peek at my birthday cake.

         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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