Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sun, 26 Feb
There was about fifteen minutes left in the period, but the triads had completed the last of three days of skits. The students decided we couldn't do much in the remaining time, and it was Friday. So, they decided to call class. As I wished them a TGIF and asked them not to drink and drive, turned on my boombox to play some Joe Morello jazz drums, and sat crosslegged on the desk sucking on a Tootsie Pop, a student quickly came up behind me, leaned his arm over my shoulder, dropped a cheery, yellow envelope addressed to me in my hand, and quietly said, "because you won't let me disappear." I turned and looked at him curiously. Before I could react, he smiled and walked out.
This wasn't something I would have expected of him. All quarter he has been a source of frustration. I had spoken with him, nudged him, encouraged him, ignored him, faced him. At various times, in an effort to get him involved with the class, I've asked him to bring in a question and raise it with the class, suggested that if he didn't want to talk then write up his reflections, reminded him of his responsibility to the others in the triad as well as himself, recommended that he talk with the others in the triad, told him how journaling helps me reflect on my "shadow self", decided to back off and let him find his own way. Nothing seemed to work. I knew the reasons for his lax attitude and performance. He was more afraid of believing in himself than being irresponsible, more afraid of being wrong than taking the chance of being right, afraid of taking a chance on himself after so many years of being told he wouldn't amount to anything because of his ADHD, and setting himself up for inevitable failure. I have to admit that I felt a special empathy for his plight because of the similar experiences of my ADHD son. But, I felt I wasn't at all getting to him. There were times he would get to me and I would leave the classroom venting to myself: "I don't need this aggravation! Why don't I get smart, just go back and lecture, not get involved, and not give a damn." There were times, in frustration of his refusal to see the potential that lay within him and was squandering, I felt like lovingly spanking him, wringing his neck, or grabbing his shoulders and shaking out his confusion, lack of self-worth, while I screamed in his face, "don't listen to those bastards' voices. You're here aren't you? What does that say to you about you?" He would just sit in the back corner, leaning against the wall, in continued silence, disengaged, often unprepared, participating in his triad only when he had to--but then he did participate with the rest of the class in the games the triads had to create, got up in front of the class with his own triad when it was their turn to play their game, and took a role in his triad's skit.
Anyway, while the other students were filing out the door, I opened the envelop not knowing what to expect. "Maybe it's a letter bomb," I thought. I was right. It was, for what I pulled out hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a caring, loving "things-will-get-better" card offering "a cupful of LOVE for when you run low, a cupful of STARS for when you get lost, and a cupful of DREAMS for when you need hope." The card's front flap, inside, and back flap were filled with many-colored, hand-written pick-me-ups and signed individually by almost every student in the class.
Maybe I should backup. A few days before, a non-traditional, working, single mother in the class had stopped me as I walked across the campus and had asked, "You ok?"
"Why do you ask?"
"You seem a bit out of focus and down lately."
"I am," I admitted. "My son is having trouble and I'm worried, and I'm fighting not to let it control me. But, I'm not winning every skirmish."
"Sorry," she said. "I know how that feels. My teenage daughter is giving me a hell of a time again and I can't stop it from consuming me. Maybe we can help each other."
We unrolled the two Tootsie Pops I always carry in my shirt pocket for such occasions, sat down on the grass, talked, and shared. I guess it got back to Chris (not his real name). He and the other student decided to take matters into their own hands, and orchestrated this magnificent act of caring by refusing to let me stand in my own corner of my soul. I am not embarrassed to say that, as smiling students filed by, I sat there on the desk frozen, my teary eyes glue to the card, carefully feeling each written word and signed name with the tips of my fingers.
I slowly walk to my office in the next building in almost total silence and wrote in my journal something that the students had just reminded me. My hand seemed to move in slow motion:
How often and easy it is to leave the human reality of education unrecognized, let the fact that people are the key to education go unacknowledged, and ignored the truth that education is a living thing which requires constant attention to detail, upkeep, time, effort, nurturing, nourishing, and between saying you "love God" and living a godly life. I think we should think less and feel more. We should hear less intellectual talk and more compassion talk. We have to exercise our feelings. Feelings have meaning only to the extent that we act on them. We have to teach from the heart and with the heart, not just the brain. Each day we have to enter class with love and leave it with love.If this is true, and I think it is, why is it that as we progress up the grade levels into higher education our embarrassment factor with the involvement of emotion in learning increases. We become increasingly repelled by anything other than being brainy. It often creates a curious paradox. Not too long ago a very special group of nine year olds, whom I now lovingly call "my favorite fourth grade class" from Noxon Road Elementary School sent a letter of love out on e-mail. It was greeted with a great deal of enthusiastic response by a number of adults. But when was the last time that kind of message came from a high school class much less a college class? Why is it that when we talk about emotion and learning at the higher grades and in higher education and everyone gets skittish? Why when I distributed that message of love on my campus it was called "silly," "a waste of air time," "childish" and "kindergartenish?"
We seem fearful of it and embarrassed by it. We wince at it thinking that it is so out of place in the intellectual and rational world, and do our darnest to banish it. Why? Is it because we equate emotions with a sentimentality and vulnerability that attacks our protecting rationality? Is it because we equate tenderness with immaturity and dependence which erodes our sense of adulthood? Is it because we equate love with diminishment and weakness that questions our strength? Is it because we equate passion with a naivete that questions the depth of our knowledge. Is it because we equate caring about others with the loss of our independence? Is it because some of us are too lazy? I can understand, for to teach from the heart as well as the head is far more difficult than merely transmitting information. It requires the delicate skill and knowledge of a surgeon, gourmet cook, master architect, master artist, or a weaving spider. Is it that many of us are afraid to examine our relationship to students and explore that what we feel and how what we feel affects that relationship? Is it that many of us are locked into safe, familiar, predictable routines, that shadow life of sameness, that we like to control that serve us. Looking at myself when I was more the professor than the teacher, looking at many of my colleagues, looking at the students, the answer to all these questions is, I think, more often than not, sadly, "yes."
Yet, the few studies I have read, my own recent classroom experience, and observation tells me that teaching from the heart rather than from lecture notes and/or a textbook matters, that our ability to relate with one another directly correlate to increases in both my performance and that of the students. And, the absence of caring is largely responsible for the classroom anxieties and stress that inhibit achievement.
I will go out on the limb and say that the absence of heart is the greatest ailment of education. I will go even farther out on the limb and proclaim that the heart of education is an education of the heart.
Now, I am not sure I know how caring in education is demonstrated. I'm not sure it is any different from any relationship we have with other people or with ourselves. Anyway, I'm not a philosopher. Nor am I a theologian or a psychologist. Actually, I really think the best answers for each of us are already within us, and "all" each of us had to do is realize that, recognize them, and struggle to act upon them. I do know heart must be demonstrated. For a person is not what he or she says; a person is what he or she does. But, I think a caring teacher doesn't put price tags on students, encourages each student to believe in their own worth, and guides the discovery of their own value. I think a caring teacher teaches with compassion, treats each student with dignity, warmth, and consideration. I think a caring teacher is not sensitive, but sensitive to the students. I think a caring teacher caringly teaches when he or she doesn't take him-/herself so serious but takes each student seriously. I think a caring teacher listens instead of hearing him-/or herself talk. I think a caring teacher is more concern with what he or she takes from the classroom rather than what he or she brings into it. I think a caring teacher is genuine, and shares his or her hopes, dreams, and fears. I think a caring teacher doesn't wrestle for control or tries to dominate. I think a caring teacher invests a great deal of time and energy in touching students. I think a caring teacher respects each student for the human being each is. I think a caring teacher never idealizes him- or herself. I think a caring teacher is not afraid of giving. I think a caring teacher never forces students to do anything for him or her. I think a caring teacher exercises his or her heart and soul with smiles and laughs, keeps the child inside alive and plays with him or her (that's what my favorite fourth grade class told me), and doesn't lose touch with the zaniness within him or her. I think a caring teacher never points fingers, and allows mistakes to make him or herself, as well as the students, more aware and sensitive. I think a caring teacher values him or herself. I think a caring teacher lets go of pride. I think a caring teacher expects what is reasonable, not what is perfect of both him-/or herself as well as of the students. I think a caring teacher is a looker, maybe better, a see-er. I think a caring teacher is a friend. I think a caring teacher is polite and thoughtful. I think a caring teacher is a tireless worker. I think a caring teacher is serendipitous and full of surprises. I think a caring teacher finds peace and liberation in the unpredictable. I think a caring teacher trusts, and often just lets things go and allows them to tell their own story without interference. I think a caring teacher is truly happy. I think a caring teacher sees the unplanned and the unknown being full of surprising and rewarding possibilities. I think a caring teacher prefers the full sunshine of surprise and spontaneity to the half shadow of sameness. And, I think a caring teacher never lets a student die of neglect.
I think it is heart which brings human reality into education, which acknowledges the humanness of both teacher and students, and which makes teaching the creative challenge that is. I think it is caring which demands we have great enthusiasm, seemingly endless energy, and take bold risks if we are to meet that challenge. We have to have persistence, will, effort, and courage; we have to extend ourselves towards our outer limits of ability and doing. We have to have the courage to be ready to sacrifice at a moment's notice what we are for what we may become so that the students can have the courage to sacrifice what they are for what they may become.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____