Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Sat 3/18/2006 3:27 AM
Random Thought: One Blasted Sentence

Well, I went out real early this nippy morning breathing a warm sigh of relief as my beloved third seeded Tarheels escaped from Murray State in the first round of the NCAA roundball tournament. I left the house wearing my Carolina blue grubbies; I came home looking like the "golden child." In fact, I was lucky not to have gotten lost and to have found my way back to the house. Ever hear of Arctic "white out?" Well, down here in South Georgia, at this time of the year, if you're not careful, you'll become a victim of "yellow out." Mother Nature is play acting at being Gold Finger. She is gilding everything in sight. We have a golden fog that is as dense as London's thickest. Jason doesn't have to look very far for a golden fleece in these parts. All the plants have been mutated into streaked, golden variegations. I have my own "golden pond." We can only see through gold colored glasses. Our streets are lined with gold. We all have golden voices. The sky is a plaid of golden vortices that trail the flapping wings of mosquitoes swooshing through the golden haze. You can see the towering clouds of pollen storms rolling across the countryside, tinting everything in their paths with their jaundiced hue and suffocating all that they come into contact with them. Pandemic outbreaks of South Georgia "yellow fever" with its symptoms of swollen red eyes, sinus headaches, raw throats, stuffy noses, runny noses, clogged lungs, hoarse voices, coughs, wheezes, sneezes, and runs on antihistamines and nasal sprays are the true heralds of our South Georgia Spring, not robins or exploding azalea bushes or blooming dogwoods.

In the midst of this plague, I had to concentrate on an assignment I had been given by a student that is due this coming Monday when we all return from Spring Break. I had to come up with one blasted sentence for him about what a good teacher should be doing. One sentence!! I think I would gladly take an "F" if I could. But, the penalty for missing the deadline will be far more severe than mere failing grade. It'll be an empty wallet. I will have to supply donuts for his class during the remaining six weeks of the semester. Six weeks! That's four dozen donuts at $24.13 a pop!!

That's a lot of dough!!! With what was going on in my immediate family, I don't knead that. Puns intended!

You ask how I got into this. My answer is simple: by blowing bubbles! Yeah. Blowing bubbles. Let me explain. Every now and then--lately more now than then--I sit somewhere on campus to get away from it all and regain my balance by blowing bubbles. The Friday afternoon before the week of Spring Break was one of those "nows." The campus looked like an old western ghost town. The students had abandoned their dorms and had jammed the roads heading for the beaches. The only thing missing from the scene was tumbling tumbleweed and swirling dust devils.

I was by the fountain in front of the library. It was my luck that a first year student, whom I'll call Jonathan, from one of the classes hadn't left yet. He passed me and gave me a smiling "hi." I winked back as I dipped the ring into my Mr. Bubbles bottle, whiffed a breath, and sent a large, shimmering, soapy globe slowly drifting into the air. He stopped, turned, impishly popped my bubble (in more ways than one), came over, and sat down. He reached over and gestured that he wanted to share the soapy ring. I passed it to him. We dipped, whiffed, and played with the bubbles like we kids do when we blow bubbles. Anyway, as we chit-chatted about the therapeutic effects of blowing bubbles, he told me he was thinking of becoming a teacher and had been glancing at my website that archives all my "Random Thoughts."

After about fifteen minutes of this gloriously relaxing kid stuff, he stood up with a "gotta go. My ride to Key Largo is waiting on me." He hesitated. Looking down at me, without a warning, without the permission of a by-your-leave, he threw down the gauntlet. "I want a sentence from you, one sentence, telling me what a good teacher should always be doing. And, I want the answer by the time we come back from Spring Break."

I looked up at him. "Leave me alone!" I shook my head and moaned. "I've got enough on my plate. Are you trying to ruin my down time while you're playing it up down at the Keys?" I asked. "That's not fair."

"You just told me you'll be working over Break on a computer seminar on teaching, passion, and burnout that you got to give in May. So you'll be thinking about it. By the end of Spring Break. We'll swap out assignments. My community will show our project film and you'll hand your sentence into me."

"You're going to show your film anyway whether I give you your sentence or not," I said, flexing my professorial authority. Then, I made the mistake to ask, "And, if I don't give you your one sentence?"

He swept aside my mock defiance with a smile, "Like you always tell us, there are consequences to our choices." Then, he rattled off the consequences like a pistol firing on automatic: Donuts. Four dozen donuts for the class. Assorted. Fresh. Dixie Creams. Once each week. For the rest of the semester."

I quickly added up the cost. "You've got to be kidding! That's a hundred and fifty dollars worth!"

"Each week."

"You know I've got the power of the grade over you?" I reminded him in an impish tone as I tried to checkmate his demand.

Unfazed, he fired another automatic burst: "You heard the rules. One sentence! Only one sentence! Monday! When we get back! Or else! Remember the Chair!! Have a great break." With that, he walked off with what seemed like a gleeful "gotcha" trot.

So, for the past week, as I've been working in my flower garden, putting in a sprinkler system, furiously putting together the powerpoint aspect of that "webinar," feverishly working on my synagogue's fund-raising corn beef sandwich sale, being there for my very, very sad and emotionally drained Susan as she daily tended to her mother whom we had placed in a depressing nursing home--there's the ultimate redundancy for you--and is now in the hospital with a second bout of pneumonia, and thinking about that one sentence answer to Jonathan's "What should a good teacher always be doing?"

But, "ha," I'm going to make my deadline. My garden gave me the answer. So, here's my one, albeit long (I remembered "The Chair), sentence answer:

Just earning his or her eulogy by enlarging his or her life through selflessness giving, by doing what matters for each student, by doing meaningful work in the service of each student, by using the classroom's lessons as preparation for life's lessons, by making a difference in each student's life, and by living a life that encourages each student to strive to become the person he or she is capable of becoming.

But, while I'm on a role, I will give Jonathan four additional sentences. Maybe I can get some "extra credit:"

1. A teacher should always be about his or her students, giving every ounce, every heartfelt effort in every moment to each of them."

2. The highest benefit for a teacher is not what recognition he or she receives in whatever form; it is what he or she becomes because of his or her efforts to serve and give, because you cannot hold up a torch to light another person's way without brightening your own path.

3. A teacher's classroom lessons serve no true purpose if they don't prepare each student to deal with life's lessons.

4. Of a teacher each student should be able to say that he or she: was taught, was mentored, and was loved.

Remembering Jonathan's departing "gotcha" grin, I don't know if he is going to be disappointed that he won't get a continuous supply of tummy food for the rest of the semester or delighted he's going to get a continuous supply of soul food for the rest of his life.

It was a good assignment for me.

         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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