Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Thu, 13 Jan 1994

Hi there from dark, wet, cold "sunny, warm" south Georgia. Here I am dripping wet from the blasted rain that started coming down half way through my walk. I felt like I was in an Iron Man marathon, walking one way and swimming back the other. Anyway, between the curses and the "why me" I was thinking about an exciting and insightful discussion ensuing on one of the e-mail lists concerning grades. It is a subject about which I have very strong feelings, even more so having just reread a holiday greetings I had received a few weeks ago.

It's a lengthy letter from a student in one of my classes from last quarter. I'll call her "Barbara." All I will say is that as far as a grade is concerned, she received a "C." She did not have to write the letter. I guess she felt compelled to write it. She came into my office yesterday, maybe that's what prompted me to share this letter with you, gave me permission to share it, and said she wanted to do something to help my new students.

"What do you think you should do," I asked.

"I not sure," she replied.

We talked and she was off to class. A couple of hours later, as I turned off the music with which I begin each class to get us in the mood to "get goin', Barbara walked in and said, "Dr. Schmier, could you please sit down?" I looked at her, smiled, and while everyone was wondering, "What the hell is going on," I sat down. Barbara introduced herself as a veteran, a "Schmierite veteran." Her words told them about me, saying "he's for real," went over the entire syllabus always introducing a section with a "did he tell you this," intermixing her comments with "you ain't gonna be able to hide," or "help each other" or "think about the whys and don't memorize the whats" or "come in prepared" or "take a chance and do it," and ending a section with a "he means it. You're going to work your asses off." Then, she gave the class her address and telephone number, and strongly invited anyone who needed help to call or stop over at her room at any time of day or night. She also said she had talked and arranged with one or two other "Schmierite veterans" to be in the library each day at certain hours to help with the library reading assignment "or anything else that pops up. Use us", she urged. One student asked why she was doing all this. She answered, "because I didn't get anything near out of the class what I am capable of getting and I don't want you to be as stupid as I was." From their journal entries, it would be an understatement to say that the students were impressed by Barbara and put at ease.

I am sharing this letter with you to cause us to reflect on our craft and to applaud and celebrate a very courageous, yes courageous, young lady:

Happy holidays, Dr. Schmier. You are a son of a bitch. You're putting me through hell here at home. Actually, I did it to myself. That C grade I got has made me do some talking with two very upset parents who aren't used to anything but As. Mom was upset that she couldn't brag on me anymore. I told her she could, but in a different and better way. Dad called you a son of a bitch. I agreed, but I told him that you are a wonderful son of a bitch!!!

You put me through hell in your class. That wasn't supposed to happen. My parents couldn't understand why I had so much trouble. It was obvious to them that it was all your fault. After all, I was the valedictorian of my class, a straight A honors student. I was supposed to breeze through your class like I did in all my high school and my other college classes. All through school I was told that I was bright and smart and had a great future. I was told I was better than others. I was all this and all that. I really believed all that stuff and was really taken with myself and looked down on others. I thought I was really some hot stuff. All because of my grades.

I didn't like it one bit when I came into your office that second week of class to impress you like I did the other professors and you weren't impressed one bit. I was also annoyed when you took me out of the room into your real "office" in the hall to sit down and talked about my background and talked about yours, how because of trouble with your son you had realized a few years ago that you had a strong streak of arrogance in you and that it was standing in your way of being a better person and teacher, of reaching what you called "your truer potential." You didn't say a damn thing about me like you were supposed to. You caught me off guard. A teacher bearing his soul to me, a student. I could have cared less about you because I was concerned about me. Later, too much later when it was too late, I wondered why you had told me that. I figured it out, but wouldn't tell you and wouldn't admit it until it was too late. I kept blaming you to everybody for my trouble. I wouldn't cooperate with my triad members and did just enough to get by. You were telling me that I was arrogant and that it was holding me back. I was and it did because I wouldn't be honest with myself. I think you said about yourself during that talk that no one is best because your best can always be better, no one is best in everything and there is always someone out there who is better than you were in something even teaching. By the time we finished, I was so mad I could have killed you. You were at the top of my shit list for a bunch of weeks and I wasn't going to do anything you said. But, you were right. Well, this class has started knocking that arrogance out of me. I'm not sure when it happened, maybe it was that piece you read to us about blueberries, but Melinda said you were that one teacher for her and for a few others. Well, I had to write you that to tell you that I'm one of those others.

Now I know that all my teachers taught me was how to pass their tests and those others that everyone took including the SATs. They taught me how to memorize. I call it tell-memorize-test-forget kind of teaching. The only thing I really learned was how to forget very quickly after a test. My last year or so, I cruised on my reputation. Teachers gave me "As" I can now honestly say I didn't deserve. I once handed in a paper with some blank pages inside and got it back with no comments marked an "A." He never even read it! I think some were afraid to be honest and give me less than an A because it would reflect badly on them. I sure learned, not memorized, a lot of history in this class, but not enough. Just enough to pass. I'd like to take the class again and really dig into it. I appreciate it now, but I think the most important thing I learned was humility. There were people in this class and in my triad who had lots lower high school grades but knew how to think better than I could, and I had to start learning from them! Now I know what you mean when you say grades are worth shit. Everyone says we have to have them, and I guess I still have to play the stupid game, but now I know it's not the most important game in town because they don't say a thing about what I know and what I can know and what I am and what I can be and what I will become. I know now that what's important is that journey you always talked about in class, not the destination, that whatever I do, like that fourth boy, I do honestly and fairly and humbly while considering and helping others along the way just like you did for me.

Yesterday, Barbara showed that she got more out of the class than she thought. More than I thought. She became, in my eyes, a valedictorian in life.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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