Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Wed, 15 Sept 1993

Had an interesting but brief conversation this morning with a friend of mine in the hall of one the buildings on campus. He asked me how the triads were working out. I told him that they were a reasonable success, but it was a never-ending experiment since the students in each class each quarter are different. He next lamented how he wished he could try "some similar ideas that I am toying around with."

"Why don't you?" I asked.

"I'm not sure how the others in the department would take it if I broke with using traditional lectures," he replied, as I remember, in almost a whisper as if he were afraid someone might overhear him. "I'd probably get a lot of complaints."

"From the students?"

"Oh, I think they'd like it even if it means more work. It sure would be better for them and I'd be a better teacher."

"Then, what's the problem? Don't you think they're what it's all about?"

"I'm not like you. What if it doesn't work? "

"If it doesn't work, go back to what you were doing or try something else. Hey, don't think that I'm not nervous at the beginning of every quarter and almost every day. I always think about if the class is going to work and what will they say if it doesn't come off."

"You're tenured."

"So are you!"

"I can get fried on the student evaluations if it doesn't work or the students don't like it."

"I guess that is something that you have to decide."

"I'm no rebel. I not the kind to challenge the system. I know some of them. They'd see what I'm doing as a threat and an attack on their competency just like some around here look at what you're doing. Besides what if it all fell apart. I've never told anyone this, but I'm afraid of failing. I'm not sure that the results are going to be worth all the effort and aggravation. I sure wish I was like you."

"I am me," I sympathetically replied. "I can't tell you what to do or how to do it. My teaching boils down to what I do with me and how I use me. But, I'm not the me I once was. I've changed me and I'm still changing me. It took me years, struggling years, to get wherever the hell I am and do whatever it is I do, and I'll be working on it till the day they bury me. You can do the same thing if you want."

"I don't know. Maybe. Whatever."

You know, my friend reminded me that it's not really the method that we use that's important. There's more than one way to skin a cat. It's what motivates us to do what we do, our inner selves, that's important. There is a myth going around that somehow something particular, something external to us, a technique, a method, an approach, a technology, a piece of equipment, is going to bring us the automatic solutions. "Ah, if only we knew how to...," they sigh. "Wow, with this new technology we can....," they exclaim. So many want a quick fix. They want instant answers. They want immediate and total success. They search for the "easy" way. However, I have learned the hard way that I can experiment with techniques from now until the cows come home and I can get involved in the new technologies, as I have over the years, but until I addressed myself, until I sincerely asked, was forced to ask, "Who am I?" little truly came of my efforts.

My friend told me that his anxieties sometimes get in the way of his teaching and the students suffer. He's admitted that at times he's so busy worrying about giving the best lecture that he's distracted from the students. No, what you do is far less important than who you are. What you do will be affected, maybe determined, by what you are and what you strive to be. I believe that teaching rests far less on technique than most suppose; it rests far more on the personality, identity, and character, on the humanity, of the teacher. The measure of a teacher is not determined by the number of degrees, the number of publications, the number of committee assignments held, the number of awards received. None of that earns an automatic reservation for a seat on the summit of Sinai. I know colleagues with national reputations and professional vitae a mile long who are bores inside and outside the classroom, who are lonely and need to be the star of the classroom, who lack self-confidence and cower before a challenge, who are controlling, egotistical, power-hungry, dishonest, arrogant, self-righteous. I know some who are all talk and no walk. I know some who misuse and abuse their authority. I know some whose fire is extinguished. But, I also know some who are independent, humble, confident, enthused, curious, sensitive, compassionate and loving. We do not leave ourselves at home when we come on campus, and we do not leave ourselves outside the classroom.

My friend is a crackerjack in his field. He knows much about his academic subject, but how much does he know or want to know or understand about himself? And he's not alone. Most of us may have the technical skills, but do we know or want to know or understand the drives and desires that energize us or limit us? How can we help our students develop, transform, or change as persons if we can't or won't develop, transform, or change ourselves? We cannot give what we don't possess, and we cannot keep what we don't give. Maybe that is why so many of us clutch the lecture to our bosom, keep a distance, put on protective airs, wear masks, fondle the image, exercise control, use the impressive jargon rather than engage. Is that why some of us cynically pander to the students or dismiss them? When we engage someone, someone might engage us back and we might have to listen. Maybe that's why too many of us exercise power in our classrooms rather than create a sense of community. Maybe that's why so many of us deal more with facts and information than with knowledge and wisdom, more with the subject than with people. If we get too close to our students, they may get dangerously close to us. Maybe that's why our schools are far more academic than educational institutions.

To the degree, however, that we recognize and acknowledge that our own behaviors and attitudes are a significant contributing factor to the classroom situation in particular and education in general, we can do something about it. We can take an honest inventory of our inner selves, our strengths and weaknesses; we can learn about ourselves. We can identify and deal with the baggage we carry around through life, onto the campus, along the halls of ivy, and into the classroom. That is what I call real empowerment.

I know that if you want to change attitudes, it requires a more fundamental change than most us think we have to make or are willing to make. I know that it's stressful, to say the least, to alter life-styles and professional styles not to mention the bedrock of attitudes upon which they rest. I've taken a few of the many uncomfortable, painful, humbling and soul-searching steps that I need to walk. They may not be fun, but, oh my, they are releasing, and they have changed my life for the "better."

I think a true education may not be so much about getting "better" as letting go of everything, of expectations and beliefs, forsaking images and masks, and becoming a "truer" person. We were born with a brain, hands and feet, but we were not born with beliefs and attitudes. Those were taught and learned. Some help; some hinder; some I'm not sure about. I discovered that they have to be sorted out because only those ones which are true and help and promote are the ones to keep. I believe that there are things each of us need to do, should do, and can do if we are to have the chance of being a truer person as well as a truer teacher.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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