Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri, 26 Dec 1997 08:01:42 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: What Have I Learned This Year?

Well, five more days to New Year's Eve. We're at that time when everyone is recapping the past year with the best, worst, least, and most. So, who am I to argue. Feeling like Janus with one facing looking forward and the other backward, as I wonder about what is to come in the coming year, what have I learned in what is about to become last year:

Through my ups and downs, successes and failures, gains and losses of this seismic year, this is some of what I have learned. And if they are not new lessons, I've learned more about old ones:

In the scheme of things maybe it is less important to impart information than it is to offer students opportunities to learn how to discover on their own. I truly believe that the more I empower students, the more I empower myself; when I control someone, I am restricting myself. The more I struggle to control the classroom, the less faith I have in students and myself; if I truly trust them, I will help them to learn how to educate themselves. Otherwise, I'll only have trained and schooled them in dependency; As the chinese proverb says, don't give a man a fish to eat for one day. Teach him how to fish so he will eat all his life. That is not a "dumbing down" or "watering down;" it's just taking out an academic triptik and finding another scenic, enjoyable, meaningful route to reach my destination.

What I do each day in classroom is determined by who is in the classroom. I, therefore, must struggle harder than ever to know who is in the classroom. By "who," I just do not mean the students.

It's not enough to transmit information. It's also our responsibility to see that such information is used well. Information and knowledge is of no value, if values are not learned; and, the character of the application of such information and knowledge rests in the character of the person. No, if I only focus on today's class and only on the subject material, I am shirking my responsibilty to tomorrow.

Teaching is not a on lower rung than scholarship, nor is to be a teacher something lesser than being a scholarly professor. If I consider teaching beneath me, of lesser value, I will not find it valuable enough to rise to the occasion and do it well. No one can make me feel a lesser person for being a teacher or make me believe I am doing something lesser by focusing on my teaching without my consent. I have to let my teaching be led by me, not by others

If I believe the absurdities or abberations told about the students or dwell on the extremes of the good and bad, I will find it harder to commit myself to each student and easier to do harm by ignoring them. A student uneducated or miseducated, is a person tossed away and lost. The way to value and love each student is to realize that very horror can happen so easily.

If I display a disdainful attitude towards students, I am not displaying a misuse and abuse power, control, and authority. I think I am revealing weakness and fear and insecurity and perhaps inner hurt, as well as a disdain for what I do and for myself.

Students may act ignorant, but they are not in a state of ignorance; their spirit is not stained by original ignorance.

I've come to the frightening and humbling conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. As the teacher, as the role model, it's me, my moods, my personal approach, my beliefs about myself and each student that makes the classroom's weather warm or cold, that makes the air polluted or clean. It is awesome to think of the moral authority I as a teacher possess, how I can be a humiliating or uplifing, sour or humorous, hurtful or healing force. It all depends upon whether I dominate, recognize, humilitate, respect, hurt, care, notice, ignore, love, reject, accept; and that I am so not just with my words, but with my eyes, face, lips, vocal tones, body. I have to be conscious of and sensitive to the fact I possess a tremendous power to make a student's life miserable or joyous, suffering or enjoyable. I can turn the lights up the classroom or throw the classroom into darkenss. I can make the classroom as bland and sterile as an operating room or as exciting and enchanting as a Martha Stewart room; I can be a thumb-screw or a rack and make the classroom into a torture chamber or I can be a singing violin and make the classroom an inspiring orchestral hall; I can make the classroom into an imprisioning dungeon or a releasing cathedral. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a student will be humanized or de-humanized.

A student is never simple; nor am I.

Complaining about students is such a waste of time and energy. I can't use it as a foundation upon which to build. It's only a mudhole in which to wallow, a quagmire in which to sink.

Each class, which may seem ostensibly the same--the title of the course is the same, the room number is the same--is, in fact, quite different from any other. I should always be walking into the unknown as I realize the people inside are different not only from those in another class which might be listed under the same title, but are different from one another. And when I walk into that class the next day, it is different and the people are different from the one and the ones that I left the previous day. Nothing is ever the same. Every day of every term of every year, then, should be a day of wonder and wonderment; it should be count down time; it should be a special first day; it should be gearing up for a new game, a new challenge, a new venture, a new adventure, a new unfamiliarity, a new excitement, and a new unknown. When the butterflies are not aflutterin', when I'm not on the edge; when I am not on edge wondering if I can still pull it off, I've lost my edge. I've dulled and it's time to quit.

What is important about students is not visible except to the heart.

So many of us want to work in a risk-free, mistake-free environment. But, I tell the students that if they are afraid to fail, they will not strive to succeed. And so it must be with me. If I never make a mistake in what I do then I have not challenged myself to grow, develop, change. It is entirely too easy to take the safe way out, to do what I know what will work. But if I do this, I will soon find out it will not always work, for as each student is different and so is each gathering of students. If I am afraid to take a risk, then I will never have the opportunity to find out what I can do for both each student and myself. We can get so doggone cluttered up trying to be perfect.

There is no greater joy than giving to worthy causes. I can't think of a worthier cause than a student. I can't think of doing anything more beautiful for life and the future.

I have found that familiarity and the expected can subltly inflict a paralysis of the body, a stifling of the spirit, and a deadening of the soul. How do you say something new about that which is all-too-familiar; how do you do something new with that which you do routinely; how do you see something new in which you see the expected; how to you get excited about something that is old hat? No, teaching each day should be like the birth of a new unfamiliar child, the taking of an unfamiliar route, the unexpected sights of unknown scenery. It's the unfamiliar and unexpected that innoculates me from the ravages of getting flacid, dull, stale, old; it's the unfamiliar and unexpected that keeps me fresh, alert, excited, and alive.

Above all, I've learned that all of these lessons are first of all an affiar of the heart, not simply a matter of behaviour modification. As any AA member will tell you, the core of change is emotional. It's primarily spiritual because we are a spiritual being, not intellectually driven. When people tell their stories, whether they are conscious of it or not, whether they admit it or not, they always start with the heart story, not the mind story. There is room for partnership of the heart in academic life, for academic life is not divorce from life. This partnership is a necessity if we are to be truly educated and to truly educate. But as the heart struggles to change, we have to understand the depths of that struggle; we have to welcome that struggle; we have to offer support and encouragement; we have to provide community and comfort; we have to provide remedial training and education.

Now that I look back on what I have learned this past year, none of them are lessons in ease or safty or comfort, but they are wondrous instructions in personal growth, reward, fulfillment, meaningfulness, joy, and beauty. And if I have truly learned these lessons, the year that was will continue to be.

What have you learned during this year?

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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