Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Fri 9/1/2006 4:59 AM
Random Thought: Happy, A Word For My Dictionary Of Good Teaching

Before I get to the student's second question, I want to say more than a few more words about teaching and being happy. Happy! What a word! What a way to live! Want to get a high? Be happy! I am told that I am a member of a very small "fortunate minority." I am part of that very small percentage--a very small percentage--of people who make a living loving. Teaching for me is a labor of love without anything about it being laborious. Rumi was right. When I let myself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what I really love, I will not be led astray. That's true of my angelic Susan; it's true of my children and grandchildren; it's true of teaching; it's true of students.

Now, by happy I don't mean just whistling a happy tune or singing the sound of music. When I say I'm happy teaching, I mean I love what I do and I am doing what I love. I love where I am and I love wherever I am going. I love who I am and who I am becoming. I know what I do matters. I know I make a difference. I have fun at my work and work on having fun. I live a satisfying life. And, it has nothing to do with fame and, goodness knows after looking at my last paycheck, it has nothing to do with fortune. I find both meaning and pleasure in what I do. I find fulfillment and satisfaction in what I do. I live each moment in the purpose of a powerful vision. I am driven by an equally powerful demanding mission. I do something that is beyond myself and carries on into the future. I don't live bumper stickers; I live a philosophy of life.

It was not always so, and stand as living proof that anyone can change. As I look back on those many days before my 1991 epiphany I have to admit that I was fundamentally unhappy however much I didn't admit it, said otherwise, and struggled to put on masks to demonstrate it. All my publications, grants, renown, and accolades seemed so shallow, though I didn't admit it. Importance seemed so unfulfilling. I see now how I was longing for a meaningfulness and significance. Before 1991, I really didn't see them in the classroom and honestly didn't find it in my research and publication binge, but I had rationalized away, buried, explained, and excused all those feelings and attitudes. In 1991, at the ripe old age of 50, I suddenly began to realize that by acknowledging and coming to terms with all those less than comfortable feelings I could find an understanding of myself--if I had the courage to follow their path. Like Jean Valjean and Javert of Les Miserables, I peered into my soul. I discovered that I had an awful lot of work to do, that it was going to take a long time, a lot of hard effort, and a lot more perseverance before I became that proverbial overnight success. Habit made over years take years to be unmade. I had to transform my inner cacophony into a harmony, rewrite my inner dirge into a joyful ode, turn my sighs into songs. As I was able to slowly write a new arrangement of my spiritual song, note by note, bar by bar, I began to experience an energetic and creative love, a sharing of life-giving energy between me and myself, and between me and each student. It was like choosing to redirect my energy from my negative, self-centered, egotistical and self-serving pole towards my positive, communal, humble, and serving pole. And, I discovered a limitless energizing force: happiness.

Happiness is future oriented because it's a river of attitudes and actions fed by what I call those four "litte big words": love, belief, faith, and hope. Professionally, I began to see that it was in the classroom where my life could grow, expand, become new, and renewed. And, self-realization was the condition for this slow transformation that is still underway. That is, I began to see myself and others deeper than title, position, and renown, I slowly began to see myself and others, think of myself and others, evaluate myself and others in other terms. And, to the extent I was successful, I behaved in new ways. As I clung less and less to scholarly position, as I liberated myself and others from the identity of academic status, I felt a goodwill, compassion, and empathy radiating to each and every student. I saw that everyone is absolutely essential and infinitely precious. As my good friend Don Fraser would say, I started caring and saw how I and each student was capable, how each had a unique potential; I started caring about my and others' strengths rather than focusing on our limitations and weaknesses. It was, and still is, an unconditional love and boundless faith. It is an unconditional love and caring that is fraught with hope, a hope that is bountiful, inexhaustible, dynamic, vital, creative, and radiating. It's a good will that is willed goodness. It's has become more and more the center of my being as the nature of my being ever changes.

Let me give you a bit of my take on happiness. You don't always have to have things going your way all the time to be happy. To the contrary, if you constantly play the 100% game and the easy game, if you limit your happiness only to certain specific situations or certain, conditions, it will almost always elude you. If you bring happiness to every situation, you'll be constantly happy. You see happiness is not something that you get from others by taking it from others. Happiness is something that flows out from you. It's a matter of choice. It's up to you to count and name your blessings or your curses. Like Lincoln said, you can choose to be happy in any place, at any time, under a whole wide range of conditions, for any reason., as you make up your mind to be. You are your own source of joy or of aches and pains.

Let's take teaching. Now you've got to be honest with yourself. If you're fundamentally unhappy with being in the classroom, if the classroom is really where you don't want to be, if teaching is really not what you want to do, if you don't really care about each and every student, if you find teaching a distraction from what you consider to be more important endeavors, if you think walking into the classroom is not the path to success or satisfaction or fulfillment, if you find time with students--especially first year students--to be an encroachment on your valuable time, if you do not find the time for students, if you do not work to become as trained for the classroom as you are trained for your discipline, you'll go mindless, you'll go on autopilot, you'll become mechanical, your feet will become leadened, your senses will become dull; you will tend to be self-focused, withdrawn and distant, intractable, cool or cold, tensed up, pessimistic, disrespectful, agitated, insensitive, intolerant, brooding, frustrated, unforgiving, moody, unsympathetic, unempathetic, critical, maybe even hostile. That's when you don't really have peace of mind. That's when you have nightmares. These are the waters that douse the flames. On the other hand, if you're happy in the classroom, if your juices flow, if you're cookin', if your synapses are firing all over the place, you'll cheer rather than sneer; you'll stir your senses; you'll generally be in a good mood and have a greater awareness and a sense of otherness; you'll lighten up, be far more flexible, accepting, involved, relaxed, serene, healthier, creative, optimistic, imaginative, warm, compassionate, calm, sensitive, tolerant, respectful, nurturing, kindly, sympathetic, empathetic, loving and forgiving. That's when dreams come true. That's when you sleep a contented and peaceful sleep.

I'll let you in on a secret I discovered. Being unhappy in the classroom is not a victimless crime. I can't it enough: life reflects back. You, the teacher, the authority figure, create the mood of the classroom. You, not that gizmo on the wall, are the climate controller in the classroom. Your mood is contagious, and the fact that you're unhappy doesn't give you the right to inflict your mood on the students. I've always said that I can't control the actions of others. But, I can have a significant influence on how they act toward me. When I'm happy, the people around me will pick up on it; when I smile, it hard not to get smiles in return; when I display a pleasant attitude, it's hard not to meet me with a similar attitude. You know, the classroom, and the entire world for that matter, is a much more respectful, beautiful, and happier place when I choose to be respectful, beautiful, and happy myself.

We have a moral obligation, then, to be happy in the classroom, for happiness is a powerful and therapeutic nourishment just as unhappiness is an equally powerful and pathological starvation. Just as cheerfulness breeds cheerfulness, happiness breeds happiness. Happiness is like going to an emotion and spiritual gym; it's strengthens your heart; it tones your spirit; it creates a loving and beautiful world. Satisfaction, fulfillment, and achievement are not some future objects or destinations. They're not in some yet to be "some day." They're a present state of being. They're a present attitude. They're a present state of heart. They're an understanding of what of what goes into making them. They're songs that you go on singing. They're a whistling while you work. They're an inexhaustible source of creative energy. They're now the moment to appreciate, value, and enjoy who you are, where you are, and what you're doing along the way to achieve the results you're struggling to reach.

When you're sincerely happy, you'll be happy with what life in the classroom hands back to you. Yeah, "happy " is a good word for my Dictionary Of Good Teaching.

         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,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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