Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 29 Aug 1996 07:24:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: A Random Thought: A Small Bit of Advice

Limits and perceptions. That's what I was thinking about this morning as I moved along the dark streets. But, I almost didn't make iohe streets this morning. I DID NOT want to go out for a walk this morning. When I woke up I felt like every movement need an earth-moving effort. I was tighter than a proverbial drum; my muscles were in knotts; my joints ached. I felt as if I had just come off a medieval rack after being torturously drawn all night. I gropped and staggered as I put on my walking grubbies and shoes, brewed some coffee, and muttered and moaned as I lay on the floor enduring each torturous undulating stretch--that rack sounds good. "Aaaaarg! Why aren't I in bed next to Susan? Daaaaaamn! Normal people aren't doing this at this weird time. Ooooooooow! The blasted (not the word I used) sun is still sleeping! Aaaaaah! Who's gonna give a flip (not the word I was thinking) whether I walk this morning or not." I was not convincing.

I reluctantly opened the door, slowly went down the driveway, took a quick few steps on the street, and stopped, saying to myself, "You don't have it today." I turned back towards the house without moving. I was not convincing. Then, I turned again towards the street, started off, went about a half block, and stopped, saying "It's not there." I was not convincing. Finally, I said to myself, "No, you can do this and you are going to do it." So, off I went with feet feeling so leadened I almost looked back to see if I was leaving tracks in the asphalt.

It was a tough walk for the first mile or so, but then....slowly...the plods turned into prances, the bumpiness smoothened into a glide, the resounding thuds stilled into a blissful silence, and my grumbling quieted into a listening. My spirit was taking hold.

As I danced along the back half of what was turning out to be an unexpected refreshing walk, I started thinking about how I had almost succeeded in placing such limits on myself about twenty minutes earlier that I wouldn't have found out that "it" was there and I did have "it." "It" was only buried a little deeper than usual, was harder to see, and took a bit more effort and determination to get at. As I was thinking about what I almsot had done to myself, I slowly discovered an answer for a question a graduate who had been in my classes threw out at me as we met at the checkout counter of a local supermarket. (I was getting ingredients to prepare a candle light dinner for Susan--we're still celebrating our 30th)

As the cashier was running the groceries past the scanner, Sandra and I started chatting. She told me that she had just started teaching and nervously had entered her first classroom last week. I congratulated her. "I care about the students. I want to be like you," she said, "and do for them like you did for us, but I'm not sure how to do that."

"Well, the first things," I replied. "is just be Sandra, not Louis. You can't be me, but you can work at being you and help your students be themselves. Still got the syllabus from the class?"

"You kiddin. It's my bible."

Well just keep struggling to follow those 'Rules of the Road' and the rest will usually take care of itself, just like it eventually did in our class."

We chit-chatted some more. "Good luck, you'll do fine," I reassured her as I departed. "Stop in for a Tootsie Pop and we'll talk."

Last night she sent me an e-mail message saying that she wanted to talk some more when she had the chance. She wanted some "guideline" for acting in the classroom as she started his teaching career. "How about telling me something more than I got in methodology classes. No lengthy message or long set of rules, Schmier," was her charge. "Just a sentence, not more than two, doc, and more than just to really care. I need to know more then what technique to use. I need to know when to use something and not use it and how to use it, maybe even why to use it." I could see her smirk as she inflicted the confining agony of economy. But, it is a fabulous, penetrating, and challenging question.

Then, a discussion in which I am enbroiled on an e-mail list over whether students are getting worse and a brief conversation about what business we're in I just had with an e-mail friend, Sanda Kelley-Daniel in Hawaii, started popping into my head. Sanda and I talked about how what we do in the classroom, how we relate to both ourselves and the students, depends on whether we think of ourselves as laborers, teachers, scholars, learners, researchers, and/or professors; whether we see being in the classroom as a job, a profession, a craft, an art, a calling, and/or a mission. We talked about how so many of us delude ourselves into thinking that we see people and things objectively as they are, when we really subjectively see people and things as we are; that our perceptions, which drive--and brake--our actions and expressions and thoughts, come out from within us; and that we create the vehicle of our own unique world view of things. I told Sandra that I thought language is far from neutral. It is very involved in this process of perception and self-perception, as well as our attempt to evaluate and create reality. Our language does not get its meaning from "people and things out there" but we stick signs on them that are fashioned from within ourselves. In other words, people are anything until we make them into something--students, for example--and then they "are" whatever we make them. If I say "Mary is dumb" or "James doesn't not belong here", what I'm really saying is "Mary's and James' performance don't reach the expectations I have set. They are disappointing to me. I am frustrated or angry. When I say "Mary is dumb" or "James doesn't belong here", I'm not really putting my finger on their characteristics. What I am really expressing is my evaluations of them. So, when I say "Mary is dumb" or "James doesn't belong here", I talking about myself, my perceptions--the limits or freedoms I place on what I think and how I act and interact--a heck of a lot more than I am talking about Mary and James.

So, as I turned the corner at the end of my walk and approached my house, it hit me. I screamed out a, "YES", and clenched my fists as I raised both arms skyward. I felt like tearing off my grubbies and walking the last few feet butt naked as if I were Achimedes. This is what I decided to write Sandra:

	Sandra, you gave me a two sentence limit.  That was not
	very nice.  But, here it is:  Let the students strive for
	their fullest potential and struggle not to restrict them 
	by the limits of your own perceptions of them.  At the same 
	time, let yourself strive for your fullest potential and fight 
	tooth and nail not to be restricted by the limits of either 
	your or others' perceptions of you.  Hey, coming to think of 
	it, that's a great guideline for me to follow.  
I'm sure Kim and I will talk some more.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
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