Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu 9/30/2004 3:59 AM
Random Thought: The Happiness in Teaching

I think the questions thrown at me that I find the most curious, and admittedly at times annoying, are: "Are you still teaching?" "Why haven't you retired yet?" The question is usually wrapped in an air of disbelief. It's as if they're wondering why don't I go off into the wild blue yonder.

Because I'm already flying high, my usually quick answer is a beaming, "I'm still having fun." And, I am.

Lately, I've been thinking about the meaning of that sentence. I'm not sure why. Maybe it because when I look at their faces, read their body language, hear the tone of their voices as they throw that question at me, I always sense a subtle forlorn dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, and despondency in their lives. It's as if they're really struggling to understand, "how can you still enjoy what you're doing after so long?" It's if they're asking for directions out from their imprisoning rut. It's as if they're not having fun, don't really enjoy their work, aren't truly happy, can't believe or understand how I can be, and maybe are jealous that I am. Sometimes I even sense a resentment that I haven't died inside as they have. It's as if there's an emptiness they're wish they can fill that's conveyed in that Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?" Maybe, I'm putting too much into it. Maybe it's just the timing.

I'm in a particularly reflective mood. It's sort of a spiritual morning after the night before. We of the Jewish faith have just finished a period of deep, nearly hypnotic, reflection induce by the High Holy Days that begins with Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of a new year, and ends with Yom Kippur, a solemn day of atonement for our human shortcomings. It's a powerful and profound ten days called "the Days of Awe" It's a daunting time when we give ourselves a moral report card. The idea is to pause from our daily lives and evaluate how we feel about ourselves and our lives when we're alone, to examine the state of our souls, to assess our moral and ethical strength, to hold ourselves accountable for the inevitable gaps between professed values and taken actions. The purpose is to reaffirm our moral duty to improve who we are, to come closer to being a "mensch," a person of character.

So, here I am examining my professional life. After 36 years in the classroom at Valdosta State, about to become the senior faculty member on campus, what do I mean when I say I am having fun? I mean, especially after the last week, that I don't know what lethargy, listlessness, apathy, dreary sameness, or boredom are. I mean I know that I am still doing good, which certainly does me a lot of good, and there is more good to do. I mean today I've got my pedal to the metal and am not coasting. I mean I've got get up and go, and I am not counting down the days to go. I mean that I feel my place is in the very place I am. I mean I am spry and agile. I mean everyday is a new and unique day of adventure, quest, and discovery. I mean still jump energetically out of bed each morning and dance joyously to campus with a committed "yes" in my heart and passionate throwing of all of myself into teaching. I mean everyday I feel like the burning bush: still on fire, but not getting consumed and burning out.

I guess what all this means, and could go on, is that when I say, "I'm still having fun," I really mean "I'm happy." I think being happy conveys a less intense of a state than fun and pleasure. I think, however, it is a more lasting and more durable feeling of well-being, accomplishment, and fulfillment. It's an excited wholeheartedness that's at my core that carries a special kind of warm, fresh, vigorous, and boundless energy. Happiness, for me, is a state of quiet, and sincere, satisfaction with my life however imperfect and underpaid it may be. If there's an art to living a life of happy teaching, it is banishing routinous and dulling busyness; it is fertilizing your own lawn with nutrients of excitement, so that it is greener than the other guy's; it is enjoying--truly enjoying--what you're doing and who you are, but also working at getting better at both.

So, maybe my better answer to those questions should be: "I'm still happy with what I'm doing.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
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